There are moments in a life when you must make a choice. For better or worse, that choice can define that life. Mine did.
In 2000 I undertook a European adventure with my good friend, Robert. Our trip encompassed a large amount of the continent and lasted more than a month. We were Inter-railing, a very popular undertaking back then, now, who knows?
Rob was and still is a tall, gangling fellow, with glasses- though now he wears contacts- and a gait to him that resembles a bob. Myself, I came short of Rob’s 6’4”, and topped out at 6’-6’ 1”, dependent on the tape my Mum used to measure me at the time. I was slim, less sporty than I ought to be, blond haired and to be honest, with a dreamy outlook on life in general.
Our month away was Rob’s idea. He came to me one day and proposed the idea and lacking another suggestion or inclination, I agreed. I was excited about it, sure, but I was nervous too. Until that point, the only time I’d ventured away from the Island without my parents, had been the college trip to New York that previous summer. Naïve, apprehensive, armed with around thirty words of German and even less French- Rob knew considerably more- we were deposited at the Sheffield Bus Station by our respective parents.
A three hour coach ride later and we arrived at the Dover to Calais ferry. The journey was a little bumpy and uneventful and upon arrival, we took the first of our trains- this one to Paris- whereupon I was made to order my McDonalds in French- to the great amusement of the Parisian behind the counter.
As luck would have it, Rob and I had arrived on the day of the Euro ’98 final between Brazil and France. Try taking the subway to the central station from downtown Paris, with an obscenely large back pack, tent and sleeping bag when the entirety of the city descends upon it. A squeeze, I nearly suffocated.
We boarded our train and embarked proper on our adventure through Europe.
A touch of France, a glorious bit of Spain, an embarrassing financial oversight in Morocco (note to self: check exchange rates before taking taxi rides in Marrakesh), beers in a Subway restaurant in Austria, a Venetian marvel and eventually, arrival in Munich.
Like Venice, Munich was busy and financially Rob and I were penny pinching. At this point my University overdraft had already cancelled on me and but for an intervention by my parents, my trip with Rob would have ended in Austria. Our alighting in Munich called for some creative thinking, vis-à-vis our accommodation. Given that we had used our sleeping bags but once- in the south of France- we chose to stay at ‘The Tent’, a campsite on the outskirts of the city, all of a modern tram ride away.
This is where the story begins. Forget the preamble, forget the exhortative taxi rides and the failed attempts at French, this is where she was.
Rob and I set up our tent on the grass, not too far from the central fire site and over to our right lay the large barn- which provided single mattress bunks for those without tents. Despite the summer heat, the barn itself provided little warmth and merely succeeded in keeping would be rain from the tenant’s heads.
That first night Rob and I sat at the fire, drank beer and conversed in slurred English with a pair of Irish gentlemen. Our night was enjoyable and without event, until Niall (Irish fella) pointed something out to me. Over the camp fire sat a girl, black haired (or at least she was in that light), wrapped in layers- as we all were- and starring, starring right at me.
A little back story is possibly required here. I was all of twenty years old and rather backward with the ladies, having only had the pleasure once before and that being a few months prior. I was drunk and when you add alcohol to a young man, what you get is invariably a mess. Given that I felt conscious of my ineptitudes and total insecurity- given her direct stare- I decided that a coy look and avoidance of the girl in question might be advisable.
The next morning Rob and I listened to the campsite’s loud speaker and decided to take them up on their offer of a free tour of Munich- having not bothered with the organised method of tourism on our trip to date. Low and behold, who should be part of the group?
Her name was Clarissa- a Brazilian, touring Europe following on from a few months in London and she was something else. I’d struggled to keep my eyes from her over the campfire the previous night and through some coincidental manoeuvring, we were together for much of the day. I must say, the manoeuvring was mainly on her part, but happily I complied.
It didn’t start our quite as smoothly as I might have liked. Upon our verbal meeting, I asked her nationality and given the answer, promptly responded; “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Brazilian”. To which she clarified that she didn’t either- she spoke Portuguese. Smooth David, smooth.
Thankfully she found my stupidity charming, or at least she had heard this before and was prepared for my lack of geographical education.
Lunch- she brought chairs to add to the round table the ten or twelve of us in the group shared and insisted upon my sitting by her- I didn’t object. We spoke and spoke and spoke. Rob glanced over and joined in from time to time, but didn’t interrupt and it would seem had an instinct for what was conspiring between Clarissa and I at that point.
A little time later and we found ourselves back at the campsite. A Two V Two game of football was convened and in a bid to not seem too interested, I chose the 8 year old son of the campsite owners to be on my side. This visibly irked Clarissa.
The night came and the conversation between us never lagged. A camp fire again and when that began to diminish and people drifted off to be, we found ourselves on a swing set and sat together, telling each other everything we could think to say until 5am rolled around and I had still not kissed her.
Clarissa went off to bed in the barn and I to the tent past the fire sight. The next day was leaving day. Rob had expressed interest in moving on and given that the Morocco debacle had been as a result of my wanting to go there in the first place, I felt I owed him.
Our agenda for the day went as follows; leave to see a Museum with a bunch of other people (Clarissa had decided to see a Palace), then return, pack and go. When I told Clarissa the plan, she seemed a little annoyed and headed off on her own to the tram stop and out of my life.
I watched as she left the sight and did nothing. She didn’t turn. Rob and the group were forming behind me and we were not far from our departure. A full five minutes had elapsed since Clarissa had gone and movie moments played through my mind.
‘Run, David’ RUN!’ I heard and being a good boy, I obeyed.
I didn’t say a word and at full pelt I ran up the path to the entrance of the camp site, down a small paved area, around the corner to the right and bolted- hell for leather- to the tram stop.
The tram was fifty yards down the road when I got there and I could see her- Clarissa- at the back of the tram, looking back. I stood there, feeling all kinds of stupid and loss. We were leaving and she would be gone forever.
I walked slowly back to the campsite and told Rob what had happened. He kind of shrugged and said he was sorry. A little while later we took our tour of the museum and arrived back to pack our things.
As luck would have it, we had missed the check out time. We had made an assumption and as with most assumptions, it was wrong. We had to leave before 11am to avoid another daily rate and given that we were paying anyway, well, why not stay.
I was clearly pleased by our miscalculation and even more pleased when only an hour later, She was back.
My memory from there is fuzzy. I recall running to her and telling her how happy I was to see her and getting something close to the same reaction. The rest of our day and night continued similarly to the previous, save for the omission at the end of the previous night- I wouldn’t fail to kiss her this time.
Europe continued for the three of us, but as it had started- Rob and I together, Clarissa on her own. I took note of Clarissa’s email address and promised to contact her later in the trip. We said good bye and that was it, until some point in Prague, when we decided to meet again- in Amsterdam. This was out of the way for Clarissa, but as Rob and I were on our last week, she agreed to make the detour, forego some of her previous wants and head to Holland.
Amsterdam came and following a rather confusing and worrying miscommunication regarding where to meet at the train station, Clarissa arrived and we (the three of us) spent five days together, touring the museums, canals, pubs and cafes. I will omit some other personal moments, but you’re no doubt a creative audience, so you feel free to imagine whatever you like.
Rob left us a couple of days before we left- stating he wanted to see Belgium, but as we all know, there’s little to see there. Clarissa and I travelled back towards France and in a small train station in Belgium we parted- tearfully. She even took my straw hat that I had worn so stylishly throughout the trip and made for her airplane in Lisbon.
I re-met Rob at the Calais Ferry crossing and following a long boat and bus ride- I slept and dreamed of Clarissa- and arrived back in Sheffield a very different man. To my parents I told my story, almost all of it and made specific reference to Clarissa. My Mother smiled and my Father gave the knowing look of a Worldly wise and smart arsed Dad.
I collapsed into a much needed rest and all of a few hours into that first afternoon back, the phone rang.
What followed included two years of long distance love, trips back and forth to Brazil and England, email after email with declarations of love and longing and want, but ultimately what had been discovered was lost.
The years passed and relationships came and went- for both of us. The occasional email arrived in my Inbox and I clicked open with a lightning fast finger each and every time. We hadn’t parted because of a lack of love- it had been distance, time and money that kept us apart.
At the end of 2012, following years of thoughts and yearnings and wonderings, Clarissa and I decided that we should see if what was there before could be found again. The date was set for February- 2013. She would stay five days and we would see what happened. To avoid added stress, we thought it best to avoid contact until the date in question.
The months passed and the weeks and then finally the days. I would get the coach down to London and meet Clarissa at Heathrow- the sight of which was destined to be reminiscent of all those other times we’d met so long ago.
I rode the coach, powered on a stressful night’s two hours of sleep and wide eyed, drank coffee at the café by the departure gate and stared, two hours early at every woman that exited the gate, just in case the plane arrived early.
Eventually the gate doors opened and the Porto Alegre (Happy Port) -London (London) passengers appeared. One person, two, three…they kept coming, but not her. Five, six, ten…where was she? Eleven, twelve…there! There she was. She appeared to be…shopping? I could see here from where I stood, by the railing that separated the friends and family from their loved ones. I stared and stared, willing her to turn…then she did and in a flash she came.
She looked the same. She hadn’t changed. I beamed a smile ear to ear and with her but a few steps from the gate, I rushed the railings and grabbed her. I picked her up and held her tighter than a Boa Constrictor. I couldn’t care less about what people thought, who looked or protocols infringed, I held her and held her and held her.
We rush from the departure gate and once free of the throngs of people I kissed her.
She kissed me back.
My previous months and weeks had pondered this move and eventually my heart won out.
I kissed her with over a decade’s worth of pent up loss, love and longing. I kissed her for us and I kissed her for me.
The year is now 2014. We met in the summer of 1998. We were together for two years, then apart for twelve.
We have been married since February 2013. We have two dogs (7 legs between them) and we will live in Cambridge from September this year.
My wife is a miraculous creature and if I had to wait another decade or more for her
… I would.