August 9th, 2016
Two months premature to my original plan, my plane landed in Hamburg Flughafen. Even though leaving that much earlier to be with a man I had never actually met was an enormous risk, I was excited for what the future held. Also terrified, anxious to the point of nausea, and not to mention harboring more than a shred of annoyance at the smarmy American douche seated in front of me. He was the typical asshole caricature one would encounter on any flight: staying reclined the entire time, obnoxiously making out with his out-of-his-league girlfriend 6 inches from my face, and rude to the flight staff while making inappropriate comments about the “sexiness” of their Icelandic accents.
I thought about actually using the barf bag tucked into the back of his seat, both to ease my nerves and to make the two of them feel just as repulsed as I was. The thought made me feel a little better. But I had spent too long primping and carefully applying my makeup in the minuscule airplane restroom to ruin it.
Besides, by the time I stepped off the plane neither the gross man nor his bimbo girlfriend mattered; I had my whole new life ahead of me. After living through a year of sadness, what awaited me on the other side of that gate represented a hope for happiness and love. Despite wearing three inch heels, I practically ran to collect my luggage as they clacked along on the shiny tile floor.
Is my hair okay?
Maybe I should touch up my lip gloss.
No time, Laura. Just go!
I wrestled an airport-issue dolly from the rack and made my way over to the luggage carousel, which seemed to take an eternity to add my bags to the rotation. Twenty excruciating minutes later my bike, three suitcases and my carry-on bag were hurriedly piled onto my luggage cart. Smiling in excitement and shaking with nerves, I made my way over to the exit.
He’s on the other side of that door.
Just a few more steps.
My enthusiastic gait was interrupted by a friendly German officer asking to see my passport. He fired off the standard questions; Where was I from? Have I been to Germany before? Why was I there? Was I carrying more than 10,000EUR in cash? He stared at my passport in silence for a long minute, which made me a nervous. Immediately my paranoia took center stage in my brain.
Does he suspect that I’m trying to move here? Will they force me onto the next flight back like they do to people on those border patrol shows?
After 11 hours of traveling, my nerves were just too shot for me to be rational.
He handed my passport back to me and gave me a nod of approval.
“You’re making my job too boring!” He joked in his deep German accent, and I laughed with relief. A herd of tourists brushed past us just then, collectively singing a song in some other language. We exchanged glances and shrugged.
He then directed me to the other exit door leading to the receiving area so to bypass the slow-moving chorus. Suddenly, this overwhelming jolt of excitement quaked through my veins as I remembered that Matthew was waiting for me on the other side of that door. I couldn’t have pushed my mountain of luggage through that exit fast enough. Craning my neck in all directions looking for him, I scanned the faces of people awaiting the arriving passengers. Some of them were smiling and holding flowers and balloons while others stood there expressionless, displaying names scrawled on paper. I didn’t see him, though. I had never seen him in person, but after months of Skyping and exchanging photos I felt I could easily pick the real life version of him out of a crowd. But the more faces I saw, the more of them weren’t his.
Where is he?
Maybe I can’t see him because he’s shorter than he let on?
What if he’s really short? Like, a midget?
Is he really a midget?
Stop it, Laura.
My thoughts then wandered to more realistic worries.
Did he change his mind?
Oh God. I hope he didn’t change his mind.
The rickety cart, piled high with my packed-up life, wobbled and groaned as I fought to navigate it. The worn wheels petulantly refused to be guided in the direction I needed them to go, at times just stopping in mid-roll as if in protest to the hefty amplitude of shit I chose to bring with me to this country. I know I had packed too much. The $150 overage charge from the airline had made me well aware of this fact. But after that, a long flight and months of waiting for this moment I wasn’t about to take any shit from a goddamn buggy. Wrestling and negotiating with each push, I somehow managed to steer this rolling episode of “Hoarders: Buried Alive” over to the other side of the gate. I continued my search and skimmed the gaggle of people waiting for their loved ones.
And there he was. Even though he had his back to me I recognized him immediately. His broad-shouldered, 6’4 frame towered over the crowd, watching the other door in search of me.
Definitely not a midget.
And no, Laura, he didn’t change his mind.
I smiled and silently laughed at my ridiculousness.
After all this time, effort and baggage wrangling I wanted to bound over to him and throw my arms around his neck in elation. But instead, I had a playful thought. I wanted to see if he’d recognize me. If I just casually stood next to him not saying a word, how long would it take? His back still to me, I attempted to slowly creep forward, thinking I would somehow manage to sneak up on him while dragging this enormous screeching monstrosity along with me.
I got within about 5 feet of him when he turned around. Our eyes met and he smiled wide, moving toward me with his long arms outstretched. He was just as adorably boyish in person, with his smiling dimples more pronounced and his eyes just a slightly greener shade of brown than his pictures had let on. He had a sort of humility about him that hadn’t translated across our Skype chats, which I found instantly endearing. He kissed me on the cheek and pulled me into his embrace, where we stayed for a long time. His hug was warm and genuine, the kind I could just sink into and never want to let go.
He helped me navigate the dolly over to the taxi stand, and as I took those first steps into my long-sought new life my heart soared. This new place, a blank canvas, was waiting. I could barely contain my curiosity as to what the future would bring.