“Ma’am,” the airport security officer said, with a thick eastern European accent. “Honey must go in checked baggage.”
I groaned. As a well-seasoned traveler I knew better, but in order to avoid over-weight baggage fees, I convinced myself the small earthenware pots would act as camouflage. Those pots were loaded with honey, one of the things Bulgaria is most known for producing. Damn these new x-ray machines — I couldn’t hide the fact that each of the half dozen clay jars actually contained twice the legal limit of fluid for carry-on bags.
I returned to the ticketing counter. Checked my carry-on. Paid 75 Euros and nearly punched Mr. TSA when, once through security, I realized I was allowed to buy and carry-on a life-time supply of honey from the terminal gift shop, if I so chose.
One of those folk craft jars of honey was being carried home for “My Honey” — the tall, blue-eyed, Ivy League Senior Project Manager who sneaked into my life a few months earlier. As per his requests, I had also secured a magnet from Paris for his collection and also from France, a “very little something lacy ” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)
Frank Hampshire (a nickname he earned at my friend’s birthday party) and I had only become “official” a few days before my departure for a two-week sojourn in France and Bulgaria. I didn’t expect there’d be much in the way of communication for the next 14 days — is there internet near the Black Sea? But when I finally touched down on European soil, I found an email waiting for me. He wanted to make sure I’d had a good flight and wanted to offer some google-inspired dining suggestions for when I finally made my connection to Sofia, Bulgaria.
I admit, I was quietly pleased with myself for landing such a good guy who seemed to like me so much. That started a daily email exchange, our rapport acting as a kind of diary of my travels as he recounted all the things he wished he could tell me in person. It was like we were traveling together. Of course, until he asked why was it that on his one good hair day in 30+ years, I was 3,000 miles away?
It’s easy to travel the world when you know someone is missing you at home.
I was bemused — the two weeks and 3,000 miles apart had codified our relationship. A year earlier, two weeks abroad brought about the end of a relationship, and I couldn’t help reflecting on how a break from life as usual had produced such different outcomes.
I flashed back to a cold windy October night and a street corner in Manhattan’s theater district. A passionate kiss and a promise we’d work things out before we headed separate ways. I had suffered delayed trains and Times Square crowds to break up with The Admiral (my Ex with a capital E), but when he took my hand at dinner and told me he didn’t want to lose me, I chickened out. We agreed my vacation would be a geographically-imposed break from our relationship, and we’d talk things over when I got back. We agreed that if we decided not to stay together, we’d stay friends… we’d leave the door open. We just needed time to think and lighten up. I left the States convinced we’d stay a couple — we loved each other, after all, and we owed it to ourselves to try to make it work.
As I wandered through Austria’s wine region, meandering along the Danube, pausing in hillside medieval towns to lunch on farm-fresh goats cheese and Apricot brandy, it all became clear. I imagined retracing the same romantic trip in the future with a different travel companion. He had a face and a name, and neither belonged to The Admiral.
I touched down in New York the morning Hurricane Sandy swept through the region. It would be another week before the Admiral and I finally spoke, in the cocktail lounge where we went on our first date, and agreed to shelf the romance.
And now, here I am two years later, a few days away from another two weeks in Europe. Frank Hampshire faded away into the history books, and the Admiral and I are “just friends.” I’m in the early stages of a new relationship and I’m not sure how 14 days off-line will affect the course of things. One way or another, my time abroad will help us decide our next step, if there’s to be one. Maybe, we’ll miss each other and hurry to make things more serious. Or, and this is more likely, one of us will move on. But, of course, this is what vacations are for — taking the requisite break from reality to help us decide what’s really real… in life and in love.