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This is Karina

by Guest

Tara is one of my best and oldest friends, so it should come as no surprise that, for years now, I've been following her and Tyler’s worldly adventures with a ravenous appetite. The story I'm about to share is an improbable, synchronicity-filled tale, and it begins one fateful day in the spring of 2010, when I was reading about their travels in Vrajne, Serbia.

On that particular day, Tara and Tyler were stopped by a gregarious man on a bicycle by the name of Sladjan. Immediately upon meeting, he excitedly invited them to his home, where they met his parents and his younger brother.

Slajan, Ivica, and Us

While I was reading the story, I was struck by one of the photos. It was a picture of Sladjan's father, and in the right side of the frame, Sladjan's brother, Ivica. For some reason, the image silenced the usual chatter in my mind, and I was filled with an intense feeling I can't quite describe. Something about the gentleman on the right spoke to me.

Serbian Father and Son

For reasons unknown, I was convinced he was “my man," and that I had to get in touch with him as soon as possible. In my customary outgoing manner, I left a flirty comment:

BTW, can you hook a sister up with Ivica? That man is beautiful, dissident and nice. Priceless! Couldn't you just pack him in a pannier and bring him home for me? As a graduation present? :) Love you! <3 me, three years ago

Then, I contacted Tara, who chuckled at my excitement and said, “We’re friends with him on Facebook now. You should send him a message!” And I did. Something to the tune of “Hi, I’m Tara’s friend. I think you are beautiful, nice and dissident. You should come visit the USA. I would take you on adventures.” Ivica politely responded that it was nice of me to make such an invitation, but that he was happily in a relationship.

I was crestfallen, but proud that I had had the courage to be vulnerable, sticking my neck out to someone halfway around the world. For a month or two after, Ivica and I continued to chat on occasion, but there was nothing flirtatious about it; he was loyal to his partner. Eventually, our communication stopped, and life moved on with its reliable rhythm of growth and change.

Fast forward two and a half years...

Out of the blue, I received a message from the now single Ivica, one I would later learn was prompted by Tara and Tyler mentioning me in their journal. Amused, I chatted with playful gusto, knowing there was no chance of it ever becoming serious. It was loads of fun, and when we finished I had no thought of ever hearing from him again.

…until he showed up the next day, at the same time.

Then, with the clockwork and consistency of the sun and moon, Ivica kept appearing my life, and our chats continued. Within a matter of weeks, we were spending hours in each other's online company, sending letters and packages, dedicating songs to one another, staying up late discussing poetry and life and love and the universe.

The rule we both lived by—no long-distance relationships!—was eventually abandoned with both trepidation and excitement. We were falling head over heels in love. Of course, Ivica and I wanted to meet in person as soon as possible. Plans were made for him to visit the US, but sadly he was denied a visa. So, we decided I would visit Serbia instead.

This winter, I purchased a ticket to see him the coming Spring. It was only a few months away, but the wait felt unbearably long. In the meantime, we kept talking, buoying one another through life's challenges, navigating the rocky waters of a modern, technological, long-distance romance, despite the uncertainty and improbability of our future together.

The five months since Ivi and I began our relationship have been transformative. We've grown so much, and learned so much from one other. His stable, steady presence in my life has been a soothing balm, healing the wounds of many past romantic mistakes. But while it has been the most nurturing, mature, and grounding relationship I've ever been in, it has not been without sorrows.

In January of this year, Sladjan, the man who invited Tara and Tyler to his home in the first place, was hospitalized due to severe back pain. Just three days after doctors finally diagnosed him with a rare form of cancer, he passed away at thirty-eight years of age.

The shock of this tragic loss hit hard, and left us reeling. And yet, despite we found ourselves even more committed to one another. The shock galvanized our desire to seize the day, and to live life to the fullest while we're blessed with it. We owe Sladjan a great debt of gratitude.

Tomorrow is the day Ivica and I have been waiting for, the day I'll leave for Serbia to see how well our long-distance romance will translate into flesh and blood. When we finally meet in person, our situation will no doubt irrevocably change, launching us into unknown territory. I am both exhilarated and terrified by the thought of it.

Karina's Plane Tickets

Until recently, I haven't wanted to share our story— it's felt like a delicate, magical miracle, and I've wanted to protect it as much as possible. The more I open up, however, the more I find that people are rooting for us, wishing us well, finding joy and excitement in our story.

It is thus that I share my hopeful tale with you. I wrote this entry not only because Tara asked me to, but also because I have a favor to ask, fellow Going Slowly readers: please hold witness to this unique relationship, this unique possibility. Keep us in your happy thoughts; send love and light our way.

At the moment, there is no clear path beyond my visit. And yet, knowing where our romance will lead is not important. What is important is the endless gratitude I feel towards Tara and Tyler for all of their friendly adventures around the world, to Ivica’s brother, Sladjan, who invited them to his home, and to Ivica and myself for being brave, strong, patient, and just curious enough to see how far this story could go.

Poljupci i zagrlijaji,

Karina Lepeley

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Posted by Tambra on March 27th, 2013 at 5:25 AM
Best wishes to the two of you!
Posted by Mel on March 27th, 2013 at 12:03 PM
I hope you had a safe journey to Serbia, Karina! What a beautiful story! You have filled my day with love, inspiration, and light. And I'm sending you two blessings and love in return. Keep us posted.
Posted by Sarah on March 27th, 2013 at 1:09 PM
I haven't commented on here in awhile but this story is amazing! Have a safe trip to Serbia (a country I'd love to return to) and sending you lots of happy thoughts!
Posted by sarah j on March 27th, 2013 at 5:40 PM
This is amazing! Best of luck to the both of you! What an inspiring story!
Posted by Lena on March 27th, 2013 at 10:00 PM
Beautiful. Straight out of a film. Karina, if you've not been approached by a film-maker so far, I sure you will be pretty soon. Best wishes to both of you from India.
Posted by Meher on March 27th, 2013 at 10:01 PM
Twenty years into a relationship that happened because of coincidence in a land far from my own and had me trusting my gut and throwing caution to the wind I'm sending blessings and love!!
Posted by Jeanne on March 28th, 2013 at 7:44 AM
Dearest Karina,
I wish you the very best. Relationships don't have an exact formula or path. It is an adventure of trust, patience, love, humor, respect and more patience. All good things, in hard and easy times, sweet love. sally
Posted by sally duncan on March 28th, 2013 at 2:24 PM
Karina, I have heard about you for years from Tara and I hope to meet you some day. Until then many blessings on following your heart!
Posted by Eliza on March 28th, 2013 at 7:57 PM
How lovely! Thanks for sharing your story. I hope you have a wonderful visit together!
Posted by Kristy on March 29th, 2013 at 3:03 PM
I hope everything you hoped, dreamed, and prayed for this visit is exactly what you are getting......and I am thoroughly hoping we all get an update....
Posted by Kara on April 1st, 2013 at 7:25 AM
Any news? Karina, say something, I can't stand the suspense ;)
Posted by sz on April 12th, 2013 at 8:43 AM
sz - Ivica wrote a journal entry for us, which we'll publish soon! It will have most of the exciting updates. Needless to say, they are positive. :-)
Posted by Tara on April 12th, 2013 at 9:17 AM
Hey, awesome, smiling ear to ear! Finally I would be able to sleep at night ;)
Well, then I guess there are no more excuses for me for not sticking out my neck ;)
Posted by sz on April 13th, 2013 at 6:26 AM

This is awesome! So much love to you both.
Posted by AnnaS. on May 31st, 2013 at 12:30 PM