As a teenager, Elizabeth Scarboro pictured herself as an international journalist, moving from one country to another, and from one boyfriend to the next. Then one summer she met Stephen, a friend of a friend who was older than his years, with a happy-go-lucky attitude toward life and living with cystic fibrosis, and her dreams vanished as she fell slowly, raggedly and wholeheartedly in love with him.
From the beginning, Scarboro resisted her feelings for this man with a life expectancy of 30 years whose medical condition lurked always in the background. After high school, she set off for the University of Chicago, and he headed off in the opposite direction to Berkeley. As she writes, “We were supposed to be setting out. Whatever we did, we were not supposed to compromise for relationships. . . . I had ambitions and the urge to experience all kinds of freedom, and the last thing I wanted to be was a girl following some guy around.” In the end, however, Stephen’s illness called her bluff, and she realized that, compared to Stephen, “most things would be there [later]. If I wanted him, I had to hurry up.”
In My Foreign Cities, Scarboro invites us to accompany her on every mile of her joyous, often terrifying, sad and exalted journey of love. A natural storyteller, she brings vividly to life her struggles both to protect Stephen, who has a “lightness about him,” and to keep him at her side as long as she can so that they can embrace life to its fullest. She leads us down the path where his medical condition consumes every waking minute of their lives—including a lung transplant, its results and Stephen’s eventual decline—and shares her agony, her joy, her anger and her indecision with us.
In the end, Scarboro hardly feels sorry for herself or the young man who died too soon: “This was what we wanted, to live out being together for as long as we could. It’s hard to explain—the life was difficult but not lacking.”