My first love was out of this world. Okay, so maybe more like out of this country. Looking back, it’s surprising how the last moments I spent with her still seem so clear. The year I spent with Rika I mostly remember as illuminated memories in a fog of forgotten days. It’s not like I don’t recall the time we spent together, it’s just that the last day stands out more than anything else. Catalogued in my mind with precision, I can remember everything that happened within those last hours.
The plan was that in the morning I was to pick up Rika from her host family’s house. My parents had offered to drive her to the airport. Things were messy with her living situation, and it was probably the best thing for everyone involved. She was a strong willed European, and not to insinuate anything, but this was her second host family of the year. It’s the little things that draw people together.
Driving to her house, it was a rainy day. Not to be melodramatic, but it fit the mood. I still remember watching two black squirrels running through the front lawn as I parked on the street next to her house. She isn’t black, and neither am I. Just a useless parallel that I can’t believe I remember.
A sappy country song played on the radio, making it clear that my mom had driven my car last. I let it play and nodded my head to the down home idea that a man and a woman had a fighting chance. On any other day my cynicism would have taken over and Kurt Cobain would have been crooning Heart Shaped Box within a few button pushes. But what did Cobain know about anything? Especially love, or squirrels, or raising a family on a farm. Nope, this country song was cool by me.
I walked into the house and helped Rika with her bags. She seemed happier than I’d seen her in months. Truth was, she missed her family a lot. It’s easier to forget about the weight of the situation when the person leaving genuinely wants to go. Actually, it doesn’t help at all. But it makes you feel like you should feel less bad about it. Selfishly I wanted her to feel like shit. To feel like I did. This is how love works.
We drove to my house and loaded her bags into my mother’s vehicle and began the hour drive to the airport. In the back seat of the SUV, we held hands and exchanged looks that star-crossed lovers give one another when they’re planning on embarking on a cross-continental relationship. So full of hope. It wasn’t as if we hadn’t thought about and discussed this moment every day since we began dating. Being two realistic people, we knew where we were headed, and if we had forgotten at any point, people around us had no qualms about sparking our memories. But we had decided to try and stay together. You know, for the baby. I’m just kidding, there was no baby.
Occasionally we would kiss in the backseat, and I would catch my mother’s eyes probing us from the rear view mirror. Ah, to be young. Nothing like dependence mixed with a little motherly intrigue. The type of cocktail that makes the awkward unbearable. Eat your heart out, Molotov.
We arrived at the airport and coincidentally parked a few spaces over from the host family that had housed Rika for the last few months. Housed. Yeah, that’s probably the correct verb. Did I mention how awkward things were before? Fake smiles and cliché hugs have a strange multiplier effect. The whole thing seemed so staged. And here I am, the person that spent the most time with Rika during her stay, getting only an equal amount of attention in her farewell.
Inside the airport, in the time I do get to talk to her, the conversation turns to her excitement in getting back to Germany to see family and old friends. I do my best version of a Middle Class, 21st Century John Wayne and say some selfless confirmations that do anything but exude my true feelings at this moment. In tone with the manly façade, I take off my favorite zip-up hoodie and put it on her shoulders. She says she loves the sweatshirt and I say I know. Then I tell her it’s hers to keep. She smiles and throws the hood over her head, inhaling deep to smell the Hugo Boss Dark Blue that she had turned me on to. It was fitting that the Nike zip-up had an Olympic USA logo that had been licensed for the upcoming summer games. A memento from a memento.
Rika hugs me and we embrace for a period of time that isn’t enough. Then we kiss. Not the type of passionate kiss that a time like this is supposed to evoke. Movies are bullshit. Truth is, in real life, these situations are anything but inspirational. They’re downright fucked up, and I’m left with a “the host family I hate is watching and so is your mother and I’m kind of happy to go home” kiss. Not exactly the type of exchange that makes you want to duck into the nearest washroom and give it one last go. Washroom. That’s her word.
The goodbye begins to lose its luster as the boarding is delayed longer than scheduled. At some point, she has to get up to make her way towards security. It’s funny how when you’re young you think you can escape the inevitable. It’s like you know forces exist that will make certain things happen, but you believe that if you try hard enough, you can remain in purgatory. You can live the rest of your life in your uncomfortable airport seat—somewhere between two homes and completely free of emotion.
Eventually she gets up, and we say goodbye one last time. Rika makes her way towards her plane and the cast of “Goodbye: The Foreign Exchange Student Experiment” take a bow and begins walking towards the exits. I remain where I am. Then I begin to walk away. Then I stop and look back, hoping for one last glimpse. Nothing. Then I walk a few more feet and stop at a distance that is likely the point where I could realistically see Rika one last time. I look to where she had disappeared to and finally see her face peek up and wave, blowing me a kiss. She has a smile on her face, so I do my best monkey see, monkey do. I blow her a kiss back and she waves one last time. I wave. Then she leaves. Just like that.