Going the Distance
I am getting ready to travel again because my husband is living in Copenhagen for work. People describe our situation as “so cool.” I wish they would stop. There is nothing cool about a long distance marriage. And I’m certain the “so cool” people have never done long-distance with a spouse working twelve hour days in a time zone nine hours ahead. These are people who have never spent a significant amount of time on a plane going back and forth. Our family planning has been suspended. My life has become a waiting room in perpetuity.
I do feel guilty. It’s the should that gets me. I should think it’s cool. But it’s sleeping when he’s awake. Awake when he’s sleeping. It’s a million dropped calls, a million miles away. I tell him about the vegetables I bought at the farmer’s market, squash, kale and peppers. And how the dog ran into the coffee shop, staring at me like a serial killer until we resumed our walk. I can tell he’s not really listening. He’s doing work. Reading an email. I am annoyed. My stories seem banal and only interesting to me. But who else would want to listen to them? When will you be coming home for good, I ask? He doesn’t know.
I can pretend though. I can wear the Valencia filtered glasses, blurring the line between real life and fantasy. And Copenhagen is beautiful. The people are friendly. Be positive, I think. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” someone tells me at a party. Does it? Absence makes the heart grow lonely.
The plane ride is a surreal mini-ten hour vacation where I eat Scandinavian food, like reindeer sandwiches. I watch two movies and take a pill because I’m too anxious to sleep without assistance. What if the trip doesn’t go well? We only have two weeks together. The best of everything has to be neatly squeezed into fourteen days.
We land early and the baggage claim is crowded. A screen informs me that my bag will not appear for another twenty minutes. While I wait I have a coffee from Joe and the Juice, a Danish bro-tastic franchise serving coffee, juice, and sandwiches, reminiscent of the way frat boys serve beer at keg parties. It is odd. My body brims with the floating sensation of waking up at three in the afternoon, which is really the middle of the night California time. It’s hot as hell in the airport and I am wearing my winter coat and scarf. I begin perspiring buckets and my shirt sticks to my ribs, coated with slimy sweat. I desperately need a shower. My bag! I collect my suitcase and head to arrivals.
We are excited to see each other. The filter is not Valencia exactly. More Perpetua. There is a crispness mixed with humid rain in the fresh air. After eleven hours in a plane it feels glorious. Leaves crunch under my feet walking to the car. I am energized and happy. We drive to pick up my used bike. It’s a city-bike with pedal brakes and a black basket on the front, like the one I used to ride growing up. I test it out in the parking lot, riding around in little circles, the light mist on my face. I love it.
“Yes, yes,” says the man selling it. “Nice, nice.”
We say this the rest of the trip, laughing when we agree or when things go well. Yes, yes. Nice, nice.
The location of his apartment is perfect. But it is less hyggecozy and more closet cozy. This doesn’t bother me although the bathroom presents a couple of problems. The water comes out in a slight trickle, which means there is a zero percent chance I can wash my thick curly hair. Not washing my hair for a week is fine. God bless dry-shampoo. But two weeks might get a little funky. The towels are rough and disturbingly stiff. I use one after my rinse off and promptly break out in a rash. But I will stay positive. Crema filter.
My jet-lag is terrible. I am up until four and feel like a zombie. I need to be out, exploring. Doing. Moving. Seeing. I am also alone all day while he is at work. But I find a favorite café. I discover oat milk cappuccinos and probably feel the same way men felt when they discovered fire. I get three shots of espresso because I’m a caffeine mutant. I get my bike and go on my way.
The streets are easy to navigate, the lanes wide and constructed to move with the flow of traffic. I peddle faster, the wind blasting my face. The sky is a foreboding gray above me. I pick up speed, feeling the burn in my calves and fire in my chest. A lump rises in my throat and I am homesick for somewhere, some moment I cannot name or even picture. I clench my jaw, this tired frustration, this irrational jet-lagged induced rage sweeping through my limbs. I want to scream. I’m not sure why. No I’m sure. It’s my sense of having no place and wanting to know my place. It’s trying to live through a filter, through a screen when I just want a hand to hold. And then I’m crying and my tears and snot are freezing on my face. It feels good to cry, a temporary release.
My cycling skills are surprisingly decent and I begin to enjoy myself. I pass glimmering cobblestone streets, grand palaces, and colorful buildings on the canal. But I’m panting heavily. A beautiful woman in a miniskirt, printed tights, a leopard coat and biker boots glides by, smoking a cigarette, her basket full of groceries, chatting on her phone frenetically in Danish. I feel like the huffing dumpy American. I frown. I should go shopping. Inspired by the chic biker, I buy a leopard dress. Leopard is very in here.
He comes home from work early and we go to a Nordic-Peruvian restaurant. The tiles are painted with warm sienna flowers, cobalt blue skulls. We drink margaritas and eat green-fried plantains with passion-fruit mayonnaise. We are both in very high spirits and go dancing. This is the fun part. My dress swishes as I move.
I’m alone again in the morning. I decide that in order to fully absorb Danish life I must eat all local delicacies. Unfortunately, I have a history with international stomach ailments. But why let the past be a helpful teacher and indicator for the future when I can indulge in curried herring smorrebrod and beef tartare? My eagerness to embrace Nordic cuisine endears me to the Danes I meet and socialize with. My belly is not endeared as much. I am in intense pain. My body is telling me to drink water and take a nap. My mind interprets this to mean I should have another cappuccino, glass of wine, and some kind of sugary carb.
I am substituting. I am compensating. All of the important conversations we are supposed to be having are postponed. It’s never the right time. The house. The dog. The imaginary kids. I can’t walk out the door of the waiting room. I’m stuck.
It is the weekend and we are finally together for a full forty-eight hours. We bike in Assistens Kirkegard a lush cemetery with canopies of burnt gold and copper colored leaves. The air smells green and sweet. We go to a café and drink hot tea outside on benches with blankets and picnic tables with white candles. There are young women smoking at the next table. Stay present, I think. We’re together. But the cigarettes are driving me crazy. Making me cough. I feel like a hypocrite. Ten years ago I might have bummed one to amplify my hip, new Scandi lewk. But instead my eyes tear and I frown. We finish our tea.
He takes two days off from work. My cup feels half full, finally. But I wake up early peeing glass. I think I have a urinary tract infection. Despite this, we decide to go to the museum like we’d planned. My symptoms get worse. A traveling doctor meets us and I pee in a plastic wine cup in the bathroom. I do have a urinary tract infection and he writes me a prescription. Now my cup is literally half full. We decide to postpone the rest of our voyage into the Viking age and pick up my medicine from the pharmacy. Yes, yes. Nice, nice.
The landlord fixes the shower and I can wash my hair. I am happy but travel-weary. I miss the dog. My stomach still hurts. I feel like I have gone to every museum, seen every landmark, and eaten every morsel of food I could find in the city of Copenhagen. I’m on two kinds of antibiotics. I still have my rash.
We eventually have a talk resulting in nothing. He needs to stay. I’m not ready to move. By this time we are both crabby. We go to dinner and there is a wait. I haven’t eaten since noon and quickly morph into a hungry monster. We are finally seated. I have picked sushi because sushi is “our thing” at home and I want to re-capture “our thing.” The tables are too close together and we’re basically eating with our neighbors. This means we begin to argue. We argue about Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. I become heated. I am shouting things like “double standard” and “patriarchy.”
But this isn’t what we’re really arguing about. We’re arguing about us. I am spitting white rice everywhere. We laugh at the absurdity of it all. We don’t decide anything except that we love each other. I no longer feel as lonely.
We look out of the big window in the bedroom and we can see the lights of the city and the stars in the sky. The apartment isn’t so bad, I say.
I’m going home and we are both sad. This trip was not “cool” but real. No filters. Every filter. Every color. No edits.
Cynthia Singerman is a writer living in San Francisco with her husband and rescue dog, Barnie. She recently completed her first novel. You can follow her on Instagram @cynthiasingermanauthor.