I was supposed to be there for his 30th birthday.
But planes break down, flights get delayed and life doesn’t always go as planned. I held it together through the four-hour delay, the announcement, and the queue to collect vouchers for the taxi that would take me back to my Toronto apartment instead of to Lisbon. The tears came later, hot rivers of frustration at all the kilometers between us for the past sixteen months.
I gathered obediently at the gate the next morning with the other passengers, unexpectedly bonded together now by our shared misfortune. The sound of a guitar brought me back to the present. A voice joined in, deep and sad and smooth as Portuguese wine. The mood lightened and the crowd urged the musicians on after each song with applause. I wondered where they were meant to be today. A performance? A wedding? A funeral? It was a beautiful reminder that we are all in this together. I applauded along with the rest of Gate 28.
Encouraged, perhaps, by the interest I was showing in the performance, the gentleman sitting next to me leaned a little closer.
“This is fado,” he said, nodding towards the musicians. “It is typical Portuguese. They sing stories of love and lost and longing. They sing of saudade.”
After fifteen months of enduring a cross-Atlantic relationship, I felt I was qualified to speak a little to saudade.
We made the decision together, and from the beginning there has been no question that it was the right one. Haseel had his interview over Skype in a café in Varkala overlooking the Indian Ocean. I sat by his side and listened to him answer every question to perfection, while I ate spicy calimari and kicked the resident cat away. Two years in Glasgow for a lifetime of rewarding work. People make larger sacrifices than this every day.
Of course the silver lining has been the opportunity to continue to travel together. Every six weeks or so I have told all the well-meaning people in my life how great Glasgow and Budapest and Prague was. While I am eternally grateful to have had the time and the means and the support to visit as much as I have, what I don’t often share is how the distance has tempered the joy of each of these adventures.
We argue. About normal couple-things. About petty things. We waste the precious time we have together and then get angry with ourselves when we do. Sometimes we argue because we’re hungry. Sometimes because we’ve forgotten what compromise feels like. Sometimes out of frustration that we live so far apart.
I feel guilty. For being away so much. For flaking out on the friends and teams in Toronto that mean so much to me. For my unconscionable carbon footprint.
Although my heart may be split on two sides of the Atlantic, I know it is temporary. Time is precious, and it is never wise to wish it away in order to rush to the next chapter.
I of course eventually made it to Portugal, and Haseel and I made the most of the time that we had together once I did. We ate too many pasteis de nata and quickly developed an espresso habit. We wandered through the black and white cobblestone of Lisbon. We drank too much in Lagos. We walked along the cliffs in the Algarve where the edges of the world seem to erode away into the azul of the sea. We fell in love again, with a country and with each other.
I spent my last night in Lisbon alone after Haseel’s flight had taken him back to Scotland. I got off the metro at Santa Apolina and returned to my favourite neighbourhood, the old Alfama district. Its narrow streets crisscross uphill towards São Jorge Castle, concealing restaurants and coffee shops down hidden lanes. Many believe that this is where fado was born.
It was Sunday during shoulder season and the streets were quiet. Glasses clinked and smokers talked in hushed tones under the glow of street lamps outside of the few restaurants that were open. The sound of music called me down an alley lined with laundry hanging from ornate windowsills. A small crowd hovered around the entrance to A Baiuca. About seven tables were crammed into the tiny space, each covered with empty plates and bottles of wine. Tea lights flickered in the window. A pair of fado players sat in the corner, serenading the diners and those of us huddled around the open door.
Although I didn’t understand a word, I knew the meaning of their songs. Love and loss and longing. Only eight more months to go, I thought.
Have you endured a long distance relationship? Let us commiserate in the comments below!