It’s Sunday. The house is quiet in these early morning hours. I’m tucked away in my she-room, sipping fresh coffee. In summer, when the sun rises early enough to angle through the small window, it falls across the corner of the antique maple dresser I stripped down to the wood and then hand-rubbed with tung oil to reveal the grain.
The sun beam catches the glass of the framed mirror above the small chest of drawers and the room glows with the sweet promise of the season. Whispers fill my inner ear, I’ll bring you fragrant bouquets of roses and peonies. We’ll share lazy afternoons on the two-seater porch swing, and long nights tangled in the sheets when your body glistens from the heat of my touch.
Oh, lover Summer, be still my heart.
Meanwhile, a friend shares a photo of her morning coffee at a sidewalk cafe in Paris and I feel a pang of envy for the life that got away.
I thought I’d journey to foreign places at this juncture in my life. I thought I’d sip coffee in a Paris Cafe, eat pasta alla Norma and visit the La Pescheria Market in Sicily, dip my toes in the Mediterranean, and drink Ouzo in Greece.
Alas, my husband’s health makes it extremely difficult to travel, and the stress of it when we do only worsens his conditions. He worries about getting where we need to be when we need to be there, with all the medical paraphernalia in tow and on board. But his concerns are that of a general running a campaign. I am the foot soldier with boots on the ground, carrying out the mission—and all the bags.
My travels worries are different. The possibility of a sudden crisis, even death, is something I live with every day. At home, or anywhere within the borders of the continental U.S., I know what to do.
With overseas travel, the thought of navigating unfamiliar territory and being unable to speak the language in an emergency makes it quite a different prospect. I worry about hospitals and transports if his heart, his burdened lungs, and his blood sugar all conspire to attack, deflate, and spike or plummet at the same time. I worry about simply getting us both back home if he dies.
Even when I imagine the best possible outcomes, I still see barriers everywhere. He won’t be walking along the ocean’s edge with me, strolling the maze of cobbled streets in historic cities, or climbing the stone steps of seaside villages, ancient ruins, or soaring cathedrals.
It seems rather a lot of work, worry and expense just for me to spend most of my time in hotel rooms and sidewalk cafes, even if they are quintessentially European. Sure, I may be able to savor an authentic croissant with my French Coffee or wash down a plate of good Italian pasta with a goblet of chianti, but is it really worth all that?
The heart wants what the heart wants, and despite knowing the reality, considering my husband’s limitations, would be disappointing at best, my heart still aches for this unrequited encounter. Friends tell me to go without him. He tells me to go without him—lot’s of women do it.
We made these plans in a time when we thought we’d both be strong and healthy forever, or at least until we were, you know, really old. My husband has been to Europe, as a soldier, and numerous times after that. Our dream was to go together, to share the beauty and wonder with each other.
I have traveled without him since we married, though on a smaller scale. It only exchanges one ache in my heart for another, the longing for him to be at my side sharing the moments that photographs can’t capture. It casts a pall of loneliness.
My friend is traveling alone with others—sans husband. When she returns home he won’t be there to greet her; he died before they could share this time of their life.
One heartache for another.