Tealights flicker inside frosted-glass candle holders on the tables of the darkened café, throwing playful shadows over the coffee-drinking, cigarette-smoking patrons of the Blue Moon. A song – smooth and muted – plays in the background; maybe it was jazz.
It’s 1995, and I’ve come to this downtown Ottawa café with a close girlfriend. I’ve come for cappuccino, conversation and a twist of adventure; tonight I’m spending $20 of my hard-earned money to have my palm read.
Memories…fleeting moments in time…moments that suddenly surface with vivid clarity so many years later. It was a whim, partly a joke. I’m skeptical; as a Christian I’ve never put much stock into astrology, horoscopes, fortune telling. It seemed more like entertainment than anything.
We sat at a table in the corner, by the window. As she examined my palm, she first commented that I was from quite a large family. Three kids…maybe four. I was the youngest of four, I admitted, thinking that was not bad for a first observation. But then again, perhaps I’d given something away; she could have gathered some information from something I’d said during our conversational preamble. Perhaps I’d been too open.
She moved on to relationships. “You’re in a romantic relationship right now,” she said. “No, I’m not,” I replied flatly, thinking of a long-distance relationship that had gone down in flames a year earlier. Silently, I started thinking that maybe I should have hung on to my $20. “Perhaps you’re about to meet someone significant soon,” she continued, undaunted. “You will have two or three great loves in your life.”
Leaning closer to look carefully at my palm, she added, “I see travel in your life.” My naïve, 20-year-old self took the bait. “Oh! I travelled here from Edmonton, to come to university,” I babbled. “Maybe that’s it!” But she didn’t seem to be hearing me. “There will be much travel in your life…you might as well get used to it.”
A short time later, my friend and I wrapped ourselves back up in scarves and woolly mitts – bracing against the late autumn wind that played amongst the leaves. Walking home, our laughter and chatter filled the air as we scrutinized the comments made by the palm reader. There will be much travel…what could it mean? Where would the future take me?
It would only be a handful of months till I met Ian; we had a university class together. He had a sort of irresistible, gravitational pull – that casual confidence and playfulness, that wicked sense of humour. And those eyes…those dark chocolate eyes that made my knees melt and my cheeks flush. My heart dropped; surely a guy like this has a girlfriend. But stunningly – no. So I set out to make him my own.
My first trip, then, was head over heels. We studied together, graduated from university together and, three years later, moved in together. Shortly thereafter, we were engaged. We married, bounced between downtown apartments, bought our first house in the ‘burbs. We grew up together.
“You might as well get used to it…” is the turn of phrase that stands out in my mind now, nearly 20 years after that night at the Blue Moon. It comes back to me, suddenly, on this sunny spring day as my five-year-old daughter and I drop off my husband to the airport for yet another business trip.
“Bye Daddy!” she yells out the window, as we watch him wave and disappear into the airport doors. “Mom, how long will Daddy be away this time?” she asks in her little voice as we start our drive back home. “I’m not sure, sweetie…probably two weeks – maybe a little longer,” I say with forced cheeriness.
I swallow a lump in my throat. This is nothing new – my husband’s work as a sports reporter takes him on the road for at least a third of the year, every year. Across the country, the continent, even abroad.
It was very hard to get used to; the stints where I was home alone with a newborn and a toddler may have been the toughest. I hated the suitcase then, despised it. I didn’t want to see it; a trip was imminent when it reappeared on the bedroom floor. Likewise, I hated having it sit there for any length of time after a trip. I wanted to tuck it out of sight, so I didn’t have to think about the next time that I’d be solo for yet another long stretch.
It’s been over 10 years of intense work travel for Ian now; a blur of boarding passes, sleepy early-morning goodbyes, time changes, phone calls and sweet reunions. The kids are bigger and it’s much easier to manage long stretches on my own. But although it’s easier, it’s still never exactly easy…saying goodbye. Watching his suitcase – and half of who I am – roll away, again.
But this is the life we’ve built, for better or worse. The suitcase is a bit battered now – it will inevitably be replaced with a newer model soon. But it doesn’t matter like it used to; I don’t hate it anymore. For I’ve learned that it doesn’t symbolize a distance between us, like I once felt it did. I know now that you can be sitting next to each other – sleeping in the same bed – and be worlds apart.
These days, we might be in different time zones but our hearts remain closer than I ever thought possible, and I know that the suitcase will always find its way back home.