Australia, 20 years later

Harbour bridge from Circular Quay station

Harbour bridge from Circular Quay station

During my first night in a dorm room (in a “college”) at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, I was greeted by a thunder storm the likes of which I had never seen before. I was used to occasional thunder storms in the winter but this was completely different. Here, being late summer, it was warm and humid out while the rain fell in sheets and the lightning flashed with a frequency and strength that I had only read about. I remember laying in my bed and being absolutely amazed by the storm. It was a bit scary but also exciting beyond compare, very much how I was feeling about starting my year in Australia.
February, 2016 marked the 20th anniversary of my arrival in Sydney, Australia. I went my junior year of college to the University of New South Wales as part of the UC Education Abroad program. I’ve kept a running count of how many years it has been, 5 years, 10 years, etc. The 20th was no different, but it served as a kind of milestone, since that trip was almost half of my lifetime ago. I don’t tend to fixate on past events as much as I used to, but I still can get very nostalgic. Seeing pictures of me and my friends from that time brought up a lot of really good memories and induced a heavy wave of nostalgia.

I started thinking about the nostalgia for that period that I was feeling. The obvious factors were the lifestyle. I was studying seriously, but unlike my time at Berkeley I was going out a lot more, had a close group of friends I spent a lot of time with and even got to do a bunch of traveling with a friend around Australia. There was also the effect of seeing how young I and the friends I am still in touch with looked in those pictures. I also remember how optimistic I was for my future, I wasn’t even worried about a career because it seemed so natural that I would go into academics.

The positive memories were the ones that came up first, but I had to remind myself that I initially had a very hard time. After deciding that the rooms in the college/dorm were too expensive, I decided to look for off-campus housing. I crashed on my friend’s floor for a week while I was searching. I eventually found a room nearby. The house was okay, but one of my flat mates turned out to be rather difficult to be around, and the biggest roaches I had ever seen were waiting for me at night when I had to walk out of the house itself into an enclosed laundry room to reach the toilet. I also was missing home a lot. Being away from California made me appreciate a lot of things I had taken for granted (Mexican food was a huge one).

Besides being homesick and the suboptimal living situation, the main issue affecting me was my, still bewildering, choice to try and keep a relationship with my on/off girlfriend back home. We’d met 6 months before my trip and I insisted that we keep the relationship going. Obviously, trying to maintain the relationship while I was overseas was emotionally taxing and led to unnecessary drama. I also feel that in trying to maintain that relationship, I was much slower in fully become part of my new environment. I think perhaps knowing that I had a relationship back home to attend to kept me preoccupied with home too much. I also missed out on several potential relationships with female classmates. On the upside, I also got to experience a truly dysfunctional relationship with the same girlfriend when I returned home, and was much more appreciative when I met the woman who was to become my wife.

Sydney really only felt like home the second half of my trip. I remember returning from my month long trip around Australia during my winter break. It was night, and coming in over the Harbour Bridge I could see the lights and familiar landmarks. I felt at home, and was surprised to have that sensation. I went on to move in with a much better group of people which made my living situation much more comfortable and fun (and I am still in close contact with one those flatmates). I knew how to get around, had my favorite cafes and restaurants and was more aware of the music scene. I also noticed that more of the Australia students at the university approached me that second semester and I made more friends.

I look back on my time in Australia as a remarkable year. It was a turning point in my life; I learned that there was more to life and college than just studying all the time. I learned to go to my friends for help when I needed it, and to be there for others. It also just exposed me to a very different world for a year. There are so many indelible memories and images I have from that year. A small sampling include walking home one night and having a flying fox drop out of a tree close to my house just as I walked by and then seeing another one silhouetted against the moon as I looked up, the animals(emus, kangaroos, etc) at the nature preserve coming to eat our leftovers as we were leaving during the orientation week, having dingos steal my friend’s shoe while sleeping on a tarp on Fraser Island (and discovering that Sand Flies are a million times worse than mosquitos), my flatmate and I hiding behind a door trying to swat a flying roach and seeing the Crowded House farewell concert outside the Opera house. These images and memories never fail to warm me inside, and opens a deep longing that period of my life.

On my last day in Sydney two very close friends, that I happen to still be in contact with, drove me to the airport. We had some coffee in the café, laughed and joked and reminisced about my year. Then it was time to go. It was odd to find myself feeling that I was leaving rather than going home. I started crying as I hugged them goodbye, and my tears fell like a late summer storm, sheets of warm rain, well after Sydney’s beautiful Harbour and Opera House fell out of view.

Adíos Tata

Me and my grandfather, 1978

Me and my grandfather, 1978

My grandfather(we called him Tata) passed away in Novemeber, at the age of 93. The last time I saw him in December of 2013 he was enjoying watered down Scotch. However, the drinks I will always associate him with are two Chilean cocktails, the Vaina*(recipe below) and the Pichuncho. As both drinks require sweet vermouth, we’ve gone through a couple of bottles in the past week in his memory. I am glad that I got to see him last year during our trip to Chile. Even at that point, though he was lucid, he seemed a shell of the man he had once been. It was tough to see him so frail and slow. He had always been such an imposing figure, full of life and energy, even if his hearing and patience were getting worse over the years.

It makes me emotional to look back over the pictures of my grandfather and to realize I’ll never see him again. I think I knew it back last December when I broke down crying as we left his house after Christmas. I’m glad that we made the trip, and that I got to see my grandfather one last time, and that he got to see my kids. I also am glad that I got to see the house(my grandmother will probably move in with my aunt in a different city). That house was where my mom grew up, and where we would always come to at some point during our trips to Chile when I was growing up. Since most of that generation is gone, their house was the last remnant of the locales that used to be a home of sorts to me in Chile. I was glad to be able to consciously experience it, to see the various rooms and decorations and have them remind me of my past, to take pictures, to breathe in it’s smell one last time. It’s comforting to know that my grandfather passed away in his beloved house with at least some of his family there.

My grandfather could be a very difficult person at times. I grew up hearing stories about how he had been very strict and even abusive towards his kids. He got into the stupidest fights with his children and my cousins. I saw him demeaning my grandmother on many occasions. Even with my sister and me when we were in our teens, he would often try to pick fights, making racist comments, criticizing our music, or just being purposefully annoying. He also had all kinds of affairs, and even into his old age was trying to seduce the household help. He professed so much love for my grandmother, yet he often made her life a living hell, by being rude, dismssive, or berating her in front of other people.

Despite his mean side, he could be very sweet and charming. On one of my trips to Chile, during the winter break of my last year of college( Dec 1997), I went to see him and my grandmother after staying in Santiago with my aunt and cousins. I awoke to the sound of hammering, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I went into the huge pantry, and he was cutting corn cobs to prepare humitas (a Chilean variant of a sweet corn tamale) as a treat for me. I remember him and the way he could play cute and coquettish, especially when there were girls around. My wife and I were reflecting back on my grandfather and she remembered during out first trip to Chile in 1999, how he kept playfully flirting and smiling at her the whole stay, and how he insisted on speaking English to her, although his hearing wasn’t very good and he couldn’t really understand her responses. To me he would always recount the story of when I was about 2 or 3, and he had taken me for a walk on his shoulders and I kept saying hello to passerby’s and asking their name. He would light up with glee every time he told that story. I still remember when he came along with my family to visit me at college, and how a friend found him so cute because he was wearing vans along with his regular outfit. Growing up, him and my grandmother came out many times, and we did many trips, including one to the Grand Canyon(6 of us in a car for 5!).

He was also very good with his hands. He had been an engineer by training, and had even worked and lived in Sewell for many years when my mom was young. I have memories of him splicing in thumb switches into electrical cords, securing a ladder to my loft bed in high school, all sorts of little engineering and tinkering projects around the house. Maybe that’s where I got my interest in fixing things. His desire to fix things led him to have his house fixed after the chilean earthquake of 2010. I didn’t see the house, but everyone was urging him to move out and to sell the land. He absolutely refused and made it very clear that he expected to die living in his house. His stubbornness paid off well, he got his wish, and he also left my grandmother with the house to sell or rent so that she can be taken care of.

During that same trip with the humitas, we sat and talked for awhile one afternoon. After much time and several pinchuchos later, he got a bit tipsy and admitted to me that he had cheated on my grandmother, but that he loved her more than ever. It’s these contradictory sides of him that really make an impression on me. I guess it serves to remind me that everyone has something good in them, something to look for. Yet, also I think that it taught me that it’s not just enough to love your partner, or kids, you really have to make an effort to treat them and with respect for it to really count.

So I say a tearful farewell to my grandfather, thank you for nearly 40 years of memories. I will always keep a bottle of sweet vermouth around to celebrate you.

*his version of a Vaina, as gathered by watching my sister make them:
Enough for 4 people
4 shot glasses of sweet vermouth
approx 1 shot glass or less of creme de cacao (to taste)
1 whole egg
spoonful of condensed milk(to taste)

Add ingredients to blender(can add ice if desired), blend until frothy. Serve in champagne flutes and sprinkle a little cinnamon on top.

10 years and still learning something new everyday, even if I’m not surfing

Where I didn't get to surf

Where I didn’t get to surf

Last weekend my wife and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. As has become custom, we watched parts of our wedding video and looked over the photo album. The kids, as usual, complained that it was boring but at least they were able to comment on how many people that they knew looked younger. It made me nostalgic to see us so young. The world seemed so open to us and family and kids were an adventure waiting to happen. I still lived under the illusion that my parents would be together forever. I looked so happy! Later, I wondered what I would have told myself if I could go back in time. No clear answer, but I wish I still had that optimism.

My mom was kind enough to take the kids for the weekend while my wife and I went to Santa Cruz. We had chosen Santa Cruz with the idea that I could go surfing while my wife did her daily run. There would be something for both of us(on previous getaways I felt kind of stuck while she was off running). Of course the one time I make it to Santa Cruz there were no waves, so my surfboard and wetsuit ended up just coming along for the ride. I ended up joining my wife on hikes in the redwoods for both days, and really enjoyed the experience. She ran off a few times to get her jogging in, but overall we spent a lot of time together on the trails. I realized how much I missed being in nature and started getting a bit depressed since I obviously was so out of order in taking care of the things I value. The interesting part was that I shared my experience with my wife as it was happening, and she was able to redirect me to acknowledge that I wanted more nature in my life, but without the judgment. Amazingly enough it really helped me feel better.

Coming back home was not too difficult with the kids (I tend to miss them when I’m away and they didn’t have a difficult readjustment this time), but I was kind of swallowed up with the stress at work. Since I’m leaving my current group I have to train my replacement and also try to finish up some loose ends. At the same time I am attempting to get trained for the group I will be joining since there will be no overlap between existing group members leaving and me officially starting. It’s been hectic.

In our couples’ therapy after our weekend away, I triggered a big episode because I said I had a “nice time”(I’m not the most verbal person) during our weekend away, but I was back to the grind. From the ensuing discussion, among other things, I was reminded that I tend to have a very porous sieve for holding onto the good stuff in my life. It made me think back to the origins of this blog, and how it was an attempt to keep track of the good things in my life, to hold onto them longer.

It’s good to be reminded of my intentions. Seeing the video and photos from 10 years ago reminded me that we got married so as to go through life together. We were vowing to be there for each other. In the subsequent years I think I’ve forgotten that fact when it comes to my own issues, and have tended to operate under the assumption that my depression is my problem to deal with on my own. However, between our couples therapy and the experience during our hike, I am learning that it’s not just my problem and that I can get support and help from my wife and in doing so brings up closer together. Being alone with my wife reminded me of how well we tend to do with each other when we get time alone, and also of our connection and bond from all those years ago. I don’t know if this blog will be around in 10 years, but I am working to make sure the marriage is. Maybe for our 20th anniversary celebration I can convince my wife to go surfing with me.

Parenting Overseas (for two weeks)

My youngest daughter and my grandparents

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, At times I’ve felt a bit ambivalent at times about the whole concept of parenting. Sure there are good moments, but those tend to be quickly forgotten when the hassles and stresses of parenting come roaring back. I’ve felt somewhat redundant as a parent at home, perhaps this leads to my ambivalence? In my more gloomy moments I feel my sole contribution is bringing home money(grant is running out, so for how much longer?). The kids go to their mom by default since she does such a good job with them, and I often feel useless and ignored. However, for two weeks this past December, I had the amazing opportunity of being the sole parent to my kids while on vacation in Chile. That experience changed my idea of my abilities and enjoyment of being (at least under ideal conditions) a parent.

The reasons I went without my wife are several and complicated, but a major factor was the desire to be the sole parent to my kids. I thought it would be an opportunity for me to bond with them. My family (mom, dad and sister) were coming along, so I felt that this was the rare chance to not only give the kids the chance to learn more about their family origins, but to do so with support. I had considered doing a trip just with my wife and kids, but I felt a bit nervous about getting around Chile on our own. Despite the fact that my parents are separating and knowing that other than Christmas and our last weekend my parents were not with us at the same time on this trip, the thought of having at least one of my parents and my sister around was reassuring; I could focus strictly on the parenting and not on the “survival” aspect of the trip. Not that Chile is hard to get around, in fact it’s quite the opposite, but it made me feel more comfortable.

The trip itself was wonderful. We arrived in Santiago and stayed at my aunt’s for two nights. We saw some of my dad’s cousins and his sole remaining aunt. Then with my dad, aunt and sister we drove south to the Lakes Region in the south of Chile and stayed at amazingly kid friendly accomodations in Lican Ray. The kids got to see a volcano up close, go swimming, and of course play at the playground(they LOVED that playground). From there we drove back up north to meet my mom and spent Christmas with my grandparents (my mom’s parents). From there we drove to the beach town Algarrobo, home of the largest pool in the world (although we didn’t get to see it because it’s a private resort) and stayed at my mom’s cousin’s beach condo for about 4 nights before coming home.

For me there were several aspects of the trip that made it truly wonderful. First was seeing how resilient and adaptable the kids were. Before going on this trip, the idea of longish car rides with the kids had been pretty scary. We’ve done long trips a couple of times, but tend to avoid them. Here, at home, my oldest daughter is prone to start whining and complaining after 15 minutes in the car. My wife actually thought I was being irresponsible for planning the trip with long car rides. During the trip to the south, we were driving about 4 hours each day. There was some whining, but I found that it wasn’t too hard to distract the girls by playing a game or putting on a movie on the portable DVD player. They even were fine when our rental car broke down on the side of the road and we spent several hours waiting for a tow truck and cab. We ended up turning it into an adventure, playing near the railroad tracks, watching movies. Even trying to squat while peeing was an adventure for them! Importantly, throughout the trip they were fine. They weren’t traumatized by the time in the car and once we reached our destinations were full of energy and ready to go.

Interestingly, spending all that time with the kids made me appreciate them more. Before this trip, the thought of spending 24 hours a day for 2 weeks straight with the girls would have probably been overwhelming. However, I found I really enjoyed it. Granted, we were on vacation and we avoided any major illnesses, but I still had to manage minor flare-ups and and bouts of tiredness. I found that I really enjoyed being able to soothe them, and being the person they went to when they needed something. I also feel that I gained a better sense of their individual personalities. My younger daughter was so outgoing and chatty and friendly to everyone she met. My older daughter’s resilience surprised me as did her sharing and observational skills. I also loved how good they were to each other, taking turns, sharing toys and objects, playing together; it was just a joy to watch. They also have such a great sense of humor. My dad is still in awe of how well the girls did on the trip.

I also got to be the person standing up for the kids. There weren’t that many chances that I felt I had to step in and make changes to plans because of the kids, but on the few minor occasions that It was required I was able to, and I felt fine doing it. I also think I was able to accurately judge how much the kids could handle (the car break down being a case in point). I’ll even go as far as to say that I think I did a really good job as a parent (I almost never say I’m good at anything). It was empowering to feel good at something for once, and to get such positive feedback from the other adults around me.

I’ve also gained much more appreciation towards my family, which makes my parents’ separation harder. Everyone was present and helpful, but my dad and sister really did an amazing job. My dad was fantastic at getting us around and making the necessary arrangements, and was also available to help with the kids. My mom was creative in finding ways to entertain the kids, especially over Christmas at my grandparents house. My sister was the best aunt a kid could ever hope for and the best sister I could ever wish for. She was such a huge help with the kids. She was always there for me, and could take care of one of the girls if I had to attend to the other one. She helped me entertain them during the car trips, and was just a soothing presence all around.

Spending time with my grandparents was also very special. My grandmother has been in love with my girls since they were born. She got to see them nearly four years ago, but my youngest was only a few months old at the time. On this trip, we were at the house for almost 3 days and they are old enough to interact with her. The kids spent a lot of time running around the house exploring the rooms, but they also spent a lot of time with hanging out with grandparents (my youngest particularly). My grandmother got to practice her English with them, watch TV, just spend time together. My mom later told me that my grandmother was ecstatic after their stay and even weeks later can’t stop talking about them or showing pictures to her friends.

For me spending time with my grandparents feels like coming full circle in some way. They have lived in the same house my entire life and it has always been kind of a base of sorts during my trips to Chile, the sole exception being our trip right after the 2010 earthquake because it was being repaired. My grandparents are both in their nineties and are beginning to show their age, as is the house. During my last trip, I was convinced that I would not get to see them again. The chance to share my grandparents and the house itself with my kids was important. It was a joining of two very important parts of my life, my kids and the family in Chile. I don’t know if I’ll get to see them or the house again, but I take comfort in knowing that I got to spend one last Christmas with them and the kids and that my grandmother got to enjoy her great-grandchildren.

Coming back has been a bit harder. Almost immediately the girls have gone straight back to wanting “mommy” for everything, even to the point of telling me to go away since they don’t want me. I don’t take it personally, but it’s still hard at times. They’ve also reverted back to the usual whining. My wife and I had some issues to sort through, I think stemming back to me asking to take the kids without her. I’ve also noticed that my patience and engagement is not what it was on vacation. Obviously it’s more stressful at home with school and cold season, but beyond that there is something different. Thinking about it some more, I wonder if the reason I enjoyed “parenting” so much was that it was my sole focus during the trip. At home there are usually a million competing things I want to do or feel I have to take care of and I’m often tired and feeling rundown. It’s harder to be patient or fully pay attention if I feel something pulling me away. During this trip, other than having arranged the main destinations I didn’t have an agenda. I brought along my wetsuit in case I got to so surfing, but I didn’t make it a priority and was not upset that I didn’t get to use it. At least for those two weeks, focusing on the kids, and mostly putting my wants aside was somewhat liberating. Being so attentive to them I guess I couldn’t help but get to know them better and gain a better understanding of who they are.

In the end, I hope the girls look back on this trip fondly and that they learned a bit more about the Chilean part of their heritage. Now that I’ve had the practice, I’d be happy to do it with my girls and my wife. They asked several times during the trip if we could come back with mommy so I know the enjoyed it at least. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been back, but I hope the memories and the discoveries about myself and my girls will stay with me for a lifetime. At least for now, even though I get stressed out a lot at home, I don’t feel so ambivalent about being a dad anymore.

Turning inwards for warmth

parents

From the onset of autumn and up to the New Year are perhaps the most nostalgic time of year for me, perhaps even a bit melancholy although I really love this period. The chill in the air for some reason makes me think of my childhood and all the holidays. I actually remember my first week in Australia as an exchange student. Despite the buzz and excitement of the first few days in sub-tropical Sydney, the chill in the air at night in Canberra felt comforting. The cold makes me think of being at home with my parents over the school breaks, watching movies and reading. Just that joy of being at home and feeling snug and secure. Even as an adult with my own kids, I could still get a sense of that by going to my parents’ house during this time of the year. I could feel snug at home(usually we would light the fireplace), watch movies, and for a short period feel taken care of and not have to be the caretaker. I could forget my worries for a bit and imagine I was a kid again.

The refuge that was my parents’ house is gone as my parents are going through some sort of separation. It’s a long story involving feelings of neglect, my mom’s attraction to another man, two years of couples therapy, and the discovery that the contact never ended and my mom declaring that she is in love with this other man. It’s been a few weeks since the latest round of events unfolded, so at this point I think I have really removed myself from the situation. At first I was mad and felt lied to by my mom. However, I’ve come to realize that there is nothing I can do. My mom doesn’t want to seem to end her affair and my dad feels too betrayed to want to do anything regarding the relationship. They are still living in the same house, but I’m not sure how long that can last.

Dealing with both of my parents together has been stressful. They put on a good front (they were last over for Halloween) when together in public, enough that I get fooled into thinking there is some hope. However, at some point I hear about what is going on at home and I realize that it is hopeless. If I put aside my wishful thinking I can sense the tension between them. My dad is hurt and angry, despite his claims that he is fine and “more calm” than when the affair first came to light. My mom seems uneasy and to me dangerously delicate, almost as if this world she inhabits could come crashing down at any moment.

I feel a bit stuck. I don’t want to cut the kids off from seeing my parents, but going to their house is no longer comfortable for me. Beyond the immediate sadness of seeing my parents separating after 40 years of marriage(apparently the Divorce rate for those over 60 is rising), I get hit hard by the little things. One that really gets me is thinking about the bunkbeds at the house that we finally assembled a few weeks ago with my dad. My mom bought them earlier in the year and the girls were so excited. Now I wonder if they will ever be used again. I just imagine those beds in an empty house. It represents a lost memory for the kids, one that they never got to really form. What other experiences with both of their grandparents that I had imagined will never take place now? Obviously they can still do things with my mom or dad, but sadly it probably won’t be with both of them together. We even had to re-shuffle our trip to Chile this December. Now it’s basically going to be two separate trips, one with my dad and another with my mom. I have so many treasured memories of trips and events that my sister and I had with my parents that I had wanted my children to have some of their own with them as well.

The positive result of this mess is that it has helped me turn in towards my own family. That sense of lost opportunities for the kids has made me feel so protective and so loving towards them. It’s something about their innocence and vulnerability that really pulls at my heart. I’m not perfect but I’ve tried to be much more patient with them and not get annoyed as much. I’ve tried to spend more time with them doing stuff they want to do. I want them to feel loved and to keep them as safe as I can from the hurts that I can control.
I’ve also gone to my wife for support and help during this period. I’ve tried to let myself be open and share my concerns and feelings with her ( I tend to be more of a silent brooder). I’ve also been reminded by all this to not take her for granted. A lot of my mom’s frustrations over the years are based on my dad’s bad habit of cutting off conversation on certain topics. He does it to my sister and me as well, so I know how off-putting it is. I think I have that tendency as well. I don’t know what the triggers for my dad are, but I know that for me, I would often shut down if I felt I couldn’t explain something, or if a question by my wife pointed out a flaw or made me realize I hadn’t thought something through. It’s more of a self shame process, but my wife feels it as punishment towards her. I’m trying to remind myself that it’s okay to not know everything and to let myself feel that frustration of not knowing or discovering mistakes. I’m also trying to let my wife know how much I love her, leaving short messages at random times during the day when the feeling hits, trying to be gracious when she asks for small favors, doing small things that can make a world of difference.
I may not be able to change what is happening with my parents, but hopefully I can spare my kids the hurt of having their parents separate. By working on my own marriage, now and always, I can hopefully avoid the pitfalls that plagued my parents. As long as we are alive I want the kids to always feel that we can offer a place of comfort and love, a place where they can be warm on a cold night.

Inspired by St. Valentine

running001

So I think due to all of the stress going on at home since I started this blog I have somewhat drifted away from the original intent of paying more attention to the positive things in my life. I mean, I could launch into yet another illness related post here: my wife was sick over the weekend and I now have a persistent cough and sore throat. However, rather than do that and in honor of Valentine’s Day last week, I hope you will indulge me while I write about the best thing in my life, my wife. More specifically the story of how we met.

So as I mentioned in the About section here on the blog, we’ve been together for about 15 years now. We actually met for the first time a week from today 15 years ago. The encounter itself was an odd string of coincidences and decisions that used to keep me up at night with panic realizing that I almost didn’t meet her.

It was my senior year at college. A few weeks prior to our meeting I had run into an old friend from the dorms at a local coffee shop. He told me that his band was going to be playing at a party at a bar the next week, and that I should check it out. I was planning on going out that night anyhow since it coincided with my birthday. I made plans to meet up with some friends and go hear the band. I took the metro to the city where the party was to be held. I had planned to call my friends from the payphone at the metro station when I arrived so they could come pick me up. However, when I tried to call, I kept getting a recording saying that the line was not available. Since I had nothing else to do that evening I sat at the underground station for about 2 hours trying to call every 15 minutes or so. I was tempted to call it a night and head home a few times, but I stuck with it and eventually I got through. It turned out that the phones were off on my friend’s block due to construction. It’s funny to think that for people just a few years younger than me that whole scenario is totally foreign. First of all, I don’t think you could find a payphone in a metro stop anymore because almost everybody has a cellphone. It seems that fewer and fewer people have a landline anymore! I’m a bit old fashioned and still have and actually prefer using a landline, but I digress.

My friends picked me up and we drove to the site of the party. We got to the club/bar and there were two girls smoking out front. I mentioned my friend and his band and was it alright if we went in? It turned out that party was the birthday celebration for one of those girls. We wished each other happy birthday and I went downstairs into a huge space. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but it turned out to be totally and completely…. dead. There were some bored bartenders waiting around and a group of maybe 5 people sitting on some couches near the bottom of the stairs. I didn’t see anyone I recognized. Suddenly this beautiful girl came up to us to say hi and find out who we were and what we were doing there. I remember her huge smile and her clothes and shoes which implied she might have been a raver. My friends and I being the types to save money when we could (and not having a lot of money anyhow) had brought beer from the local liquor store hidden in our coats, so we went to sit down at a table to chat and drink. She came over a little bit later and after talking to all of us she started talking primarily to me. I also remember the way she stared so intently into my eyes when we talked. As the night progressed we would talk for awhile, then she would go off to see friends(it started filling up later) and I would talk with my friends, then we would talk some more.

It was an amazing night, we had all kinds of interests and experiences in common and it was so easy to talk. We had both lived abroad, we both spoke Spanish (her via living abroad). There were many people we knew in common, even though we had never met. Anyhow at some point it was time for my friends and I to go. I have always been extremely insecure about expressing interest in girls and of getting rejected, so I wasn’t harboring any plans of trying to see her again and said something to the effect of “it was really nice meeting you and I hopefully I’ll see you on campus” and left. At the top of the stairs my friend said “Dude, are you going to get her number? She was totally into you!” I was a bit surprised, but after some forceful prodding I went back down to ask if I could call her sometime. She said she would “really like that” and wrote her number down on a metro ticket(which I still have). So my friend from the dorms and his band never showed up, but it was a worthwhile night.

Swingers(the movie) had been out for about a year, so the “wait 3 days” mantra was firmly in my head. On the fourth day I called her number but she wasn’t in and I left a message. I called once a week for the next 3 weeks since she was either of town, or I got the answering machine. I felt dumb but really wanted to reconnect. On the final call, I said that just in case she had missed the previous calls I was leaving my last and final message. Didn’t hear a word. I was bummed, but chalked it up to my usual bad luck with women. I’d actually been in a similar situation a few months before where I was getting signals of interest but no returned phone calls. What killed me the most was how sincere the “I would really like that” has seemed. This rejection served as confirmation that I was better off not making the effort to start a relationship since I was just going to get rejected anyhow. I shouldn’t have gone back and asked for her number, it would have been safer to just leave with the memory of having a really nice night talking with her and my friends. Oh well. I resigned myself to not meeting anyone, and it didn’t seem to matter since I would be graduating in a few months.

Those months passed. As part of graduating we had to attend “Loan Exit Interviews”. It was an informational session about loan repayments and deferments options. I chose a date at random, and got there early. About 10 minutes in the girl I had met at the party walked in. I was trying to convince myself that I didn’t find her attractive anymore but it didn’t work. I then decided that I was not going to go up to her(why get rejected twice?) and wait for her to leave before I did. That didn’t work either. She stood at the foot of the seats while everyone was leaving and seemed to be jotting down information. She stopped me and flashed a smile and said my name as if questioning her memory. I hadn’t forgotten hers, but I played dumb. We talked and talked all the way back to campus. In the interim since our first meeting we had both independently decided to move to the same city(far from where we currently were). She remembers me using a golf umbrella as a cane, and I remember her eyes and mouth (and this overwhelming desire to kiss her). We came to a junction on campus where we split ways, and this time I gave her my number(I wasn’t about to get rejected twice!). I wasn’t sure what to expect but she called a few days later and we talked a lot during the next couple of weeks before we went on our first date, the rest is history.

Recalling this story is interesting. I don’t go into the cold sweats I used to reliving all the events that led to us meeting; the encounter with my friend at the coffee shop, waiting at the metro stop, the chance encounter at the loan exit interview. I used to wonder, what if I had given up on reaching my friends via the payphone? I didn’t sit in the metro station for as long as I did because I felt that there was a larger purpose or something important was going to happen. Rather, I didn’t have anything better to do, and I was feeling a bit stubborn and sorry for myself. What if she hadn’t gotten up earlier than usual to go that specific exit interview? From the beginning of our dating it felt so right and meant to be. Despite the distance from the cold sweats, so many things aligned perfectly for us to meet that it still seems scary. Our relationship was the first time that the idea of fate or synchronicity seemed remotely possible.

I am also reminded that taking risks and being disappointed is often necessary to achieve greater things. If I hadn’t sat at the metro station for as long as I did or if I hadn’t asked for her number I might have avoided the disappointment of not having her call me back. However, I wouldn’t have met what I truly consider the closest possible thing to a “soul mate”. I think I need to keep that in mind in regards to other aspects of my life. I tend to minimize my exposure to risk or failure and I think that gives me a sense of safety but it’s very shortsighted. What other great things in my life am I missing out on because it’s too scary to fail?

What I also feel in recounting this story is the joy and lightness and warmth that we had when we first met. It’s like a getting a whiff of a perfume and instantly being transported to a different time or place or really having a vivid memory of someone. For me our story is a whiff of the excitement and discovery that we had getting to know each other and also a reminder that my wife is such amazing and stunning person. Going back to when we first met helps distance me from the stress of our lives now and reminds me that she is her own person with her own dreams and longings. Remembering she is separate from me makes her more real and precious and makes me desire her even more. It reminds me how much I love and appreciate her and how I cannot imagine my life without her. It makes me want to treat her as I did when we first met, and be more happy to do things for her rather than bitch and moan when she asks me to get something or I have to interrupt whatever I am doing(especially when I am tired).

So to my wife, I love you so much more than I can ever tell or show you and despite all the stress and craziness I love my life with you. And to all the players involved in us meeting, I’m eternally grateful.