My dreams felt so big, and yet so simple.
I wanted love. I wanted to share my life. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to see the world.
For a while, the dreams coming true seemed entirely possible. They seemed possible with him.
There are so many moments in my life where I recall him. Every inch of my memory is covered in him, the light spots, the dark corners, the dusty eaves, and the cobwebbed knooks – each one is covered in the memory of him.
We were so young. There we stood, backpacks on our backs, as he attempted to navigate the huge airport with his limited Spanish. I was afraid. I had never travelled with him like this. But there we stood, him, asking questions in his broken Spanish, while I looked out the window at Mexico City. I wondered what life was like for the people in that huge city. I wondered what it smelled like and felt like to stand on a street corner there. Before the questions were done being formed he had grabbed my hand and we were off to our next gate, the one that would take us to the plane that would take us to Merida.
The days were so hot. The work was so hard. I stayed in one house and he stayed in another. The hammocks that he loved to fall asleep in gave me a back ache and the heat felt endless. I took the girls with me to prank the guys in the house where he was staying. We laughed until we cried at waking up a house full of men who had fallen asleep after a hard days work. We wandered the dusty streets of that Mexican town in the dark, listening to the soccer games that were literally alive in the living rooms around us. We ate wonderful food and made friends despite the language barriers. We cried as we said our goodbyes. I was newly married, but still felt 15. The entire world felt exciting and beautiful.
As we reunited in our hotel room after a week of sleeping apart, I looked at my young husband and felt proud of him, and tears sprang to my eyes as I realized for the first time I was seeing him, where he belonged, among people who would never be like him. He was alive there, using his Spanish, making friends, walking the streets.
We returned again a few years later. I had the same sense of him that time as well, that he was himself most in this foreign place. I was more settled into him and into us by this time, but I still felt as though I was seeing him new all over again. I remember the hotel room we had there, his sister sitting on the bed opposite me, making me laugh as he showered in the bathroom. I fell asleep that night in his arms, the loud air conditioner blowing on us, at peace with being reunited with this man I called mine.
Seeing him like that, alive, dreaming, laughing, easy, made me desire more of that. I didn’t see it again for a long time. Years passed, years of schooling and work and obligations and suddenly there we were again. Backpacks on our backs, a large foreign airport, him and I, unattached by the big things of life, navigated our way through the airport in Buenos Aires. We were headed north, another flight, but at that moment we found an empty area of the airport. As I settled in for a nap, resting my head on my backpack, I caught the look in his eyes. It was there again. Alive? Excited? I napped while he sat and stood and wandered. Our final flight that day took us north, where we stayed for two months. We had our own apartment there. We stayed up late every night, enjoying the culture of Argentina. We ate lots of pizza and empanadas and steak. We walked everywhere. We played endless hours of card games. We drove north and saw Salta. We saw the mountains. We created our first son in that place, where we were unburdened by life and worry, where every day became an adventure.
Later still it was my turn to show him my world. It was his turn to see that light come alive in my eyes. It was my turn to show him my first love – the dusty and smoky streets of Africa. This time we weren’t unburdened though. We had two boys, who we learned to manage quite well as we flew, first to Amsterdam, and then onward to Kampala. It didn’t feel that hard though, watching him walk the aisles with our one year old, or comforting our four year old as he slept. It felt right and as I watched him discover my first love, I saw it there too, the love, the shared dreams, the hope for that place.
Our life together was spent dreaming, dreaming of those places and those people that we had the privilege to meet in our travels. We were most alive when remembering those moments in time spent together discovering this incredible and diverse world.
I knew him then. I know I knew him then. I knew him in those moments when he wasn’t managing himself, when I saw in his eyes the life he was excited to be living, when I saw the unmanaged emotion and excitement and awe. Even if I didn’t know him in any other moments, not really, I knew him then. He was my husband and my love and my partner and my best friend. It was easy for him to hold that position, all I had to do was remember that look in those eyes, that look, that told me he wanted to change the world and be a part of it.
My last flight didn’t take me somewhere foreign. It brought me home, without the man I called husband for 12 years. I stood in the airport in Santo Domingo allowing myself to cry, just one time that day. I sat between my boys, managed drinks and snacks, backpacks, movies, music – the very beginning of my new life as a single mom. As I sat at a table feeding them chicken in Atlanta four people commented on how brave I was for traveling with two young kids by myself. I just looked down, willing myself to not cry, to keep it together, to appear okay, only if it was for those boys in my care. It wasn’t bravery then, it was survival. He stayed though, in that place where he came alive and discovered himself, he stayed and went to the beach, made a steak dinner, and had our home to himself.
As I have relived that day again and again in my head, the goodbye, the walking away from fifteen years with this man, the gathering of his children and running for cover, the leaving behind my heart, I know that even as I knew him in those moments, that even when I had him, it wasn’t the foreign soil that made his heart come alive, it was something deeper. It was the idea that perhaps he could achieve what he wanted. He wanted to see the world, he saw it. He made it happen. If that was possible, then what else was?
Sometimes I can’t imagine the torment he lived with his entire life. Sometimes it breaks me. Other times I am too angry to think about it. I don’t want to imagine it because the torment that was his life became the torment that was mine. Even as I had him, I never had him. It’s a hard truth to understand, a hard reality to make sense of, but it’s mine.
What I have though, are my memories. They aren’t all tainted. My time spent with my beloved husband, in Argentina, the last of our lives together before we had kids, was the most beautiful time in our lives up to that point. We learned about one another, we grew, we changed, we fought for one another, we even created life. It’s a moment, a snippet, a picture captured at just the right second that made us look happy and centered and well. I was. Sometimes not really knowing where his heart was at the time hurts so deeply, but mostly, I know where I was when that picture was captured, and it was enough for me then, and it’s all I have now.
I spent years with a man who could never fully love me as I was. That has broken me. But it hasn’t removed every good thing we had together. It doesn’t take away our precious children or the laughter, the life, the travel, the good moments we shared together. He will always be woven into my story and many times that will cause me to weep, but many times it brings up smiles and laughter. Even when it’s not all good, it doesn’t mean it’s all bad either, but sometimes, finding that balance is hard.