This is the 2nd article in a summer series on the life lessons that traveling has to teach us.
It was a near miss. It was a three month near miss. I was on my parents’ front porch when I heard the news through the front door screen and to say that I was emotionally pushed to some unknown somewhere was an understatement.
I had taken a big risk in 2004, that would ultimately lead up to my standing frozen on the front porch of my childhood home that late July evening. It was a risk I was glad I took. A risk that I would find out later could’ve gotten me killed but not for the reasons you would think.
After I had broken up with my son’s father, I wanted to talk to everyone without the intention of falling for anyone. I wanted to know that life was out there since I had been so secluded during the previous years. I wanted to breathe deeply again, after spending years trying not to. So I cast my net online and made sure the catches would be too far for a midnight drive by, booty call or night out. Communication by email or instant messaging was fine with me, as I had a young child and was not the least bit interested in interviewing any potential daddy stand-ins.
My previous relationship had been an engagement gone awry, that brought a child into the world but almost lead to my losing my life. At this point in my journey, I was happy to keep every man outside of my home, away from my street, zip code and if they lived outside my home country, even better. I was not done with love but I needed a break from it. I needed a break until I was ready to jump back in without a life preserver, swim wings, pool noodle, nose plugs, goggles and swim hat as my armor. I cast my net worldwide and waited for winks, smiles, hints or anything that said that a conversation was on the horizon. I wanted to meet interesting people who could tell me interesting things about interesting places I had never been and create interesting moments in a life that had been far too interesting for too long in all the wrong ways.
After a couple of tugs on the net, someone got caught up in it. He hailed from Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, was intelligent, street-smart, funny, had great stories to tell and worked for British Rail. We hit it off immediately and soon got to the point where we would look forward to navigating the time difference in order to speak to each other. Emails turned into instant messages and IM’s turned into the occasional phone call. Soon we were sending care packages to each other. I would send letters, music and anything U.S. or Ohio-themed I thought he might like, while I looked forward to his massive gift boxes crammed full of chocolates, Jammie Dodgers, Jelly Babies, newspapers, and any other treat he thought my son and I would love.
After a while, having 4,000 miles between us wasn’t good enough anymore. I was still on the back foot about being in a relationship but I did feel something for him. We had spoken to each other for months by this time, so he surprised me by telling me that he was coming to see me. I was all at once panicked, honored and excited but was 100% on board with his arriving in America for the first time.
It seemed like twenty years until the time came but when he finally showed up at the door my heart was overjoyed to see him. I didn’t want to stop hugging him for fear that it was all a dream. I took a leap of faith when I wanted to build a wall around me and it had paid off. He was handsome, funny, charming, a wonderful cook and I felt myself falling hard and dreaming about a life that might be possible for the first time in over five years.
We spent that week and a half in September 2004 meeting family, friends and driving to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. We did a fun photo session with one of my friends and when we returned home, talked endlessly into the early morning. Time spent around my son was limited but they got along very well, which calmed my nerves a bit more. I was glad that it was working out with my child, because as any real parent knows, if it doesn’t, that’s a deal breaker no matter how much the boyfriend/girlfriend thing is working out in your favor.
When it was time for him to go, I experienced the pain of watching someone you loved disappear between the crowds of the airport and out of your arms. As I cried over the unmistakable feeling of a part of me gone missing, I wasn’t sure if he was ever coming back. Due to the expense of the trip and my own silently suffocating insecurities that I carried for years, I didn’t think that he would. I hoped. He had said that he would. But I was jaded enough because of recent love scars and too skeptical of life to take him at his word.
Once he was safely back home, our conversations picked up right where they had left off but took a more serious tone. We had moved to a new place with each other. We were a couple now and he was coming back to spend Christmas with me and my son. In hindsight, it all seems unbelievably hurried but this would turn out to be the whirlwind romance of my life that would change me more than I had ever bargained for.
He flew over for Christmas and would stay until after New Years. It was a magical time together—with new tastes and endless DVD marathons of Only Fools and Horses, Coupling and Little Britain, which would fast become my favorites. I loved how he loved to laugh—it endeared me to him. He laughed from his soul and would make you laugh harder just by his laughing. We would have Christmas pudding, Christmas crackers and sumptuous meals together. He spoiled me with chocolates, gifts from Harrods and spent quality time with my son, who absolutely adored him by this time. But the biggest gift he gave to me was going to be a surprise trip to the UK so I could meet his family as he had already met mine. I didn’t let on, but I quietly kept my doubts until plans were set in stone.
Overjoyed at his generosity, I was also seized by a different feeling. It would be the first time I would leave my son. This was April 2005 and, as a single mom, we had been inseparable since his first breath. We had gone through so much already in his young life, and I felt like a mother tiger with her cub, in the middle of the wilderness of the world. I knew that he would be taken care of but any parent knows how strong that pull on the heart can be. I wasn’t going to be just out of town, in another state or even in a country with the same language.
You see, as it turned out, my boyfriend had changed our plans. Because he realized I would enjoy it more, we were now going to be spending the majority of our time in a place he had always loved to visit on holiday: Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. That’s right. With a few days at the beginning and end to be spent in the U.K, I would now be able to claim the title of globetrotter, traversing across both the European and African continents over the course of eleven spins of the earth.
I had never even been out of the country in my life. I had certainly never been away from my child for more than a weekend at a time. So deciding to take this trip was an emotional canyon my mind had to bridge, a leap I was conflicted over. Ultimately, I felt that I had to go, in order to salvage some part of myself that had died horribly during my last tumultuous relationship. I was a good, vigilant but frazzled mom who was in need of a break. And truth be told, my kid really could use a break from me by that point. It was settled then in my mind AND in my heart–I was going.
I left Pittsburgh for Newark, New Jersey, spent an uneventful six hour layover in Newark International, and then boarded a plane for the rest of my journey into Gatwick. It was early—super early or unbelievable late by Ohio standards–when I got in, walked a mile to the gate and through customs. I grabbed my bag and saw my man standing there with the biggest smile on his face. Even though I was beyond exhausted, I was rescued by his boyish smile. And of course being tired, I sort of flopped into the wrong side of the car. After I got into the side of the car without the steering wheel in front of me, he drove me all over Portsmouth. He was my teacher on this new adventure and I, his willing student. We went to the seaside where I got the obligatory photo in the red phone box, had an ice cream complete with a Cadbury Flake in it from D’Agostino’s, felt the cold April English rain for the first time, met his mum at a pub by the water for a pint, and then drove to his parent’s flat for coffee and conversation.
After leaving his parent’s place, we drove to the very top of Portsdown Hill, overlooking the whole city of Portsmouth and had a burger from Mick’s Monster Burgers. This burger was as big as my head. On any normal day this would be a formidable meal to tackle. Since I only had a fruit plate and peanuts on the plane hours before, an ice cream, pint and then coffee at his parent’s flat, I ate the whole damn thing. (If you get a chance to have one, do it, plus the view is amazing.) Once we got back to his place I crashed. We only had a few hours before we were due to arrive at his brother’s flat for dinner with the family.
Up and ready after a much needed rest, we picked up his parents and drove to his brother’s flat. While there, we laughed, ate an amazing home-cooked meal and had a marvelous time. His mother had made a wonderful lemon meringue, and we finished the night with everyone chipping in with their most funny family memories and random stories. At the end of the night, my boyfriend and his father sat in the front while his mother and I continued to chat and giggle like schoolgirls in the back of the car. Every once in a while they would jokingly tell us to settle down and not make them pull the car over. His mom and I got along very well—she was just one of those people who was easy to talk to— and reminded me of my mom. After we dropped them off, we drove back to my boyfriend’s flat for a few hours sleep. We had a plane to catch in the morning.
The sun woke me before the alarm did and in that peaceful time, I admired it. I was waking up for the first time in a country that was not mine. I watched the sunny fingertips slowly caress the crisp white bed sheets and gradually ignite the room. I thought about the sun not yet out of hiding in Ohio, my son still sleeping and his sweet face that I could not just walk into the next room to see. I looked at my sleeping man and enjoyed the quiet of his breathing, the aura of peace that glowed upon his skin and how in the morning sun, I could see the slight red in his hair that didn’t easily show in the careless mop of brown dancing upon his pillow. The air in the room was cool on the places where my skin did not hide and beyond the window, a light rain had fallen and enhanced the colors of the new leaves on the trees and the flowering buds that were brave enough to chance the new spring that could flirt with winter at any moment. I stayed still until we had to stir. The morning was perfection and if I could’ve bottled it, I would’ve.
After a lusciously quick morning hello, we tumbled out of bed to greet the day with some shade of purpose. We piled our gear into the car, and after a quick stop at Tesco’s for a few things and their version of an English breakfast, it was off to the airport. Once there we enjoyed a Guinness before boarding the plane.
He had been to Sharm El Sheikh many times before and his father had done business at one of the resorts, so I felt comfortable going there with him. Still…I had slight reservations because in 2005, the U.S. war with Iraq was in full swing. Even though I deal with people as people, the news, no matter how hard I tried, had created a slight fear within me about how the Egyptian people would receive me. Since there was no way I could hide my accent in a Muslim country, I just hoped for the best. I only had two perspectives on the area I was going to—my boyfriend’s perspective and the nightly news. Other than that, I was flying solo as a Christian-raised, African-American woman in a transcontinental, interracial relationship who was on her way to parts unknown. After the obligatory safety speech for the plane ride, we were on our way. What would happen while we were there was anyone’s guess…..
Image Credit: Ulrich Dregler/Pixabay