I wanted 2020 to end as fast as possible.
No, I needed 2020 to come to its end.
A year in which a lot of events had taken place, most of them worse than better. A year without the possibility of travelling to La Paz and seeing our beloved people there because early in the year there was a virus outbreak far away in the world that, eventually, would reach our lands and make almost everything stop on its tracks. When you looked at the streets from the comfort of your house or building, you could see them almost as empty as when the national football team is playing a very important game and everyone is watching it from home. Or when you walked around your neighbourhood and none of its shops was open because they weren’t considered as “essential activities”. Even when you read a statement from your school or university saying “due to public knowledge matters, classes have been suspended for the time being; we will keep you updated” and you thought to yourself “yes, two more weeks of holidays”, but then you realised you were wrong, for they had found a way to deliver their lessons without needing to open the house of studies.
No need to say, to avoid getting infected by the virus, we had to remain at home as much as we could and only get out when we needed to go to the closest supermarket or when we offered to do the shopping for people at risk, generally the eldest.
For me and Val, it wasn’t difficult to adapt to that new way of living. The lockdown meant we could spend more time together at home than we used to the previous year, which was something we had been looking for since the day we moved to Mendoza but rarely had the chance to because of our busy schedules. And contrary to what other people might think or experience, we never got tired of being around each other almost all the time. We got to help each other in the house, try new recipes, watch more TV shows and movies, even study together, among many other things.
Everything was going so well for us. No infection because of the virus, no need to expose ourselves to the large queues of people waiting for being tested positive or negative.
Until one day in early December, when Val got a call from Entre Rios. Once she picked up the phone, I walked towards her and stood by her side.
“WHAT??? ... HOW??? … Please tell me it’s one of your usual daddy jokes, dad… Ugh for f*ck sake.”
Wow, that must be really serious.
Unable to hear what her father was saying, I decided not to interrupt and remained next to her.
“Alright, I’ll talk with Agus about this and we’ll keep in touch. Bye, dad.”
Giving away a look of defeat, she hung up and immediately reached for my hands.
“Mum is now in Parana” she said to me, and I didn’t need any other words to understand what she just told me.
“Oh, geez” I answered, pulling her into a comforting embrace. “What did your dad tell you?”
“He asked me if we could go there to make them company.”
“I think only you should go. Not because I don’t want to be there for you and your family, but someone must take care of the apartment and little Lara.”
She leaned back to look at me, her eyes visibly about to let some tears fall.
“But why don’t you come with me? We could ask someone to take care of the dog-”
I interrupted her with a soft kiss, one that could be reassuring for her.
“Look, I definitely want to go with you, but I promise I have no problem staying home. I won’t be alone here, and we surely can be in touch.”
“Are you sure, alskling?” she asked, a little calmer. “Will you be okay?”
And I kissed her again, this time a little longer and with more intensity.
“As sure as I can be, cara mia.”
At first, I really didn’t care about the fact that she was going to be gone for God knows how many days or weeks. However, deep in my heart, I was scared that she would stay there way longer than planned and wouldn’t be with me for the holidays.
I trust you, love. This is the right thing to do.
December passed by in a blur. As I promised Val, I stayed home while she was in Parana with her family. Her mother had contracted the virus and, due to the strong symptoms she had been experiencing, she had to be taken urgently to the capital of Entre Rios. Thankfully, she had been getting well as days went by, and after a week or so she had been released from ICU and had been allowed to go back to La Paz and rest at home for a few more days until she was fully recovered.
Part of me felt happy that Estefania was okay and could return home safe and sound, but I was also worried that Val could get exposed to the virus and therefore get sent to Parana as well. However, she would reassure me that she was taking care of herself at all times and that she was alright.
As I expected since I learned about my in-law health situation, Val stayed with her parents for Christmas -and somehow I had the feeling that she would spend New Year’s Eve with them too. In spite of the distance though, we managed to spend Christmas Eve “together” as we kept connected to a video-call through the whole night. It didn’t feel the same not having Val by my side for the holiday, but I felt less alone that night, and it was a whole new experience.
Once it was already Christmas day, and her family went to bed earlier, we stayed up through the night talking on the phone. Needless to say it felt really natural and effortless.
“Do you know when you’re coming back, Val?” I asked her, not really expecting her to say what I wanted her to say.
“I don’t know, Agus” she answered, confirming my thoughts. “Maybe I’ll stay here for New Year, maybe I’ll go back home, or maybe… maybe I won’t get to celebrate the end of this crappy year and the beginning of a hopefully better 2021 at all.”
She seemed off, her voice quite broken over the phone.
“Are you okay, baby? What’s going on?”
A deep breath in on both sides of the line… and a deep breath out…
“I miss you, and it’s getting harder and harder for me to be here when you’re not, and I’m scared that it might happen again.”
Sobs, the kind that only would come with an enormous amount of pain, the lingering fear of history repeating itself all over again. I knew what she was talking about, because I was feeling that knot in the stomach as well. The thought of losing each other, even more in those times of certain uncertainty, would get us nowhere, but how to block that thought? How could someone not feel affected by it when a similar event had happened before?
But those were ghosts from the past, and they ought to be kept there, in the past, where they belonged.
“Val, I miss you too, and I get your feeling. But I promise you, it won’t happen again because I trust you more than anyone else, and I know why you’re there. I wish I could be there, but I will stick to the choice I made and will wait for you here.”
“You really mean that?” she asked after a short silence.
“I’m positive, dolcezza” I answered. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
We kept talking a little longer, until we said our goodbyes and I love you’s before going to bed. I didn’t care that it was already 5 am and that the sun was slowly rising behind the horizon. Keeping in touch with my girl, in the same room or hundreds of kilometres away, was worth any sleepless night after spending quality time with her in any way possible.
However, I couldn’t help but think… Is she coming home for New Year’s Eve? Or will she stay in Entre Rios? Whatever she chose to do, though, I would understand and respect.
The day had finally come. When that rollercoaster of a year would come to an end, in the hopes of better 365 days yet to come. Not knowing what to expect for the night, because I couldn’t reach Val the whole day up until the early evening, when I came to the choice of giving up any chance of contacting her and trying to spend the night as best as possible without going crazy.
Problem was, I was already going crazy because she wasn’t picking up the phone. How could I not? What could be possibly going on? Where was she? What was she doing? I tried reaching for her for almost one hour nonstop, but no one answered from the other side of the line.
Giving up, my sh*t. I’m calling everyone I know in La Paz.
So, I started taking calls back and forth, sending texts from left to right, to all the people that Val and I knew back in our hometown. From family to friends to even teachers, nobody escaped from my questions about Val’s whereabouts.
But none of them seemed interested to answer to my questions.
And with the clock ticking without mercy, and the year coming to its end minute by minute, I had lost the count of times I was about to break down but kept my sh*t together. Hoping for a miracle to take place. Wishing she was here with me already. Thinking to myself this should be just a cruel joke, or life just hates me.
And that was what the last night of the year went by. Just me trying to cook something decent just for me and Lara, our adopted fluffy four-paw daughter, while listening to my favourite Taylor Swift songs on the TV.
But thinking of Valentina all the damn time.
I set the table on the balcony. The night was peaceful and somehow amicable. The soft breeze brushing the green leaves softly filled my lungs with hopes of a very good start of the next 365 days. I finally took my plate of spaghetti alla bolognese and my glass of gin tonic with lemon and orange slices in it to the calmness of Mendoza’s night.
But then, I noticed a car stopping at the front door of the building.
Not another wishful thinking. Not gonna believe anything before seeing it with my own eyes.
The driver’s door slowly opened. A brown-haired middle-aged man came out of the car and walked towards the trunk. He picked two big travelling bags and placed them in front of the main entrance.
Don’t tell me who’s in the car…
After a few seconds, a light brown-haired woman stepped out of the car and, on her way to the door, she locked her eyes into mine effortlessly.
NO F*CKING WAY IT’S HER!!!
I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Her bright green eyes, her sincere smile behind the face mask she was wearing, the glowing aura she was giving away… She was back home, and the new year miracle I was hoping for actually happened. After hours of successless attempts on the phone and further frustration, my body felt less heavy, and my heart much warmer.
Without waiting any second, I ran to the door of our apartment and rushed to the elevator. Maybe she was already waiting inside the building. Down to the third floor… second floor…
Could this move down a little faster???
Until the doors opened at the lower plant, and my feet won a life for themselves, taking me into the arms of the woman before me. My woman. I didn’t care about the endless weeks I had to spend on my own while she was away because of family matters. I didn’t care about my former fears. Wrapped in the safest arms, everything else didn’t matter. Not even the tears I didn’t realise I had been holding back for a long, long time.
“How can you be so cruel and make me scream, cry and throw up?” I said to her.
“Where’s the fun if I told you I was coming back right away?” she counter-asked. Touché.
“Well played, Suarez. Really well played.”
With tears still running down my cheeks, I took my time to study Val’s face. The way her eyes almost closed when she smiled behind the mask. I took it away so that I could see her smile more closely and feel the heat radiating from her cheeks, palpably as wet as mine. She was feeling the same emotions as me, I could tell. Words weren’t really necessary for us when it came to feelings. Just one glance, and we felt at home. Just one smile, and we felt warmer inside. Just one kiss, and the fire within us was fuelled with the love we carried in our hearts. The kind of love we learn to give to ourselves. The one we help grow with every single gesture. The one we give to that special person and never expect to get back, because that person gives us the same amount of love, even more.
“I’m glad you’re home for New Year, Val.”
Another kiss she stole from me.
“I wouldn’t ever think of not being here on days like this with you.”
Happy New Year, and may your best wishes come true.
Merci pour la lecture!
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