One of my favorite movies called Love Actually opens and ends amidst London’s busy O’ Hare Airport at the international terminal. If you travel to other countries, you may be familiar with the waiting areas found outside of both the arrival gates and the departure gates. I have traveled for business and for pleasure for about a decade, and it is hard to ignore what is going on around you. Crowds of people waiting to be reunited with or struggling to let go of loved ones. People hugging, crying, happy, sad, letting go, or holding close.
The arrival gate’s waiting room can be one of the most anxious, nervous, joyous, exciting, and personal places found in every city and every country. People wait with anticipation as passengers one by one come through the exit from customs. Private emotions too strong to hide must be shared amongst dozens of others waiting with similar anxiety.
Conversely, the departure gate’s waiting room can be filled with sorrow, fear, loneliness, heartbreak, and tender moments. People are waiting only for their loved ones to walk farther and farther away from them until they can no longer be seen.
I was privy to these touching moments at many airport arrival and departure gates. Then the time came for my first memorable moment. I met a beautiful boy from Italy online, and he decided it was time to visit me in San Francisco. The day and hour I was waiting at that airport’s arrival waiting room was arguably one of the very most exciting and nerve-wrecking moments of my life, even when I think about it five years later. I had imagined the moment of our meeting in a hundred different ways, and now it had arrived. And, to tell you the truth, it wasn’t the way I would have wanted. The anticipation was more dramatic than the actual meeting. A few months later, he did move to California to be with me and we were together for two years. Every winter when he traveled home to Italy for the holidays, I was a sad, crying girl watching him walk away towards his gate until he was gone from my sight.
A few years later, I developed a relationship with a boy that is now my true love. He lives in Costa Rica, and because he has not been able to get a visa to visit me in California, I travel to see him as often as I can, which is only two or three times a year. I can only imagine how he feels as he waits for me outside of the arrival gate at San Jose International Airport. I know that customs can never move fast enough for me, and being a few hundred feet away from him as I find my way to the exit with my bags is exhilarating and a relief at the same time. Finally, being in his arms and hearing him call me “Preciosa” is a most comforting and blissful moment for me. Each and every time it happens.
When departure day comes, I hold the thought as far away from me as possible. I try not to let the reality sink in. The reality that this is the last day for months that we will be next to each other. That this is the last morning I will wake up in his arms. The last morning we have desayuno together. One of the last moments we will be holding hands. The waiting area for the departure gate is the outside parking lot of the airport. We are usually sitting on the concrete sidewalk trying our best to make each other laugh. We wait until the clocks say it is time for me to go. My private moment becomes public. I never cry as hard as I do when it is time to go. It is the only time that I ever see him cry. He always finds the strength to say to me, “We’re going to be fine.”
The saddest act I somehow gather the strength to do is the moment I finally let go of his hand. My arm extends as far as it can with just our fingertips holding on. Sometimes, I can’t do it and we end up holding each other one more time. But as is necessary, we step away from each other. Then, we finally let go.
I imagine he is watching me as I walk away, as many others have done with their loved ones, standing in his same place in the waiting area. I turn around only once before I put on my sunglasses so others do not see me crying. I pray that we make it until the next time I return.
When I am back at my hometown airport’s arrival gate, it is bittersweet. I walk through the familiar exit once again. These days, I relate to the emotional people surrounding me. Happiness, anxiety, relief, joy. They unknowingly give me comfort and a sense of camaraderie as I leave the airport, alone.