By Any Other Name

I was frustrated with our lack of a label but content with our relationship. I was more than content. I had the trademark arrogance of the happily coupled.

Loving life is easy when you are abroad, where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more a master of yourself than at home.

Hannah Arendt

The Work Bestie had been with me my first night in a new place since before he and I were a thing. He’d helped me move into my first place of my own after I left my ex-husband. That first night the Work Bestie stayed the night in my son’s room (while I slept in my own room). When the landlord sold that house, and I had to move, my first night in the new place the Work Bestie slept in my new living room (while I slept in my own room). And again, after we were already a thing, when I moved to northern California for school, he drove us up and stayed that first night, though that time he stayed in my room with me. At this point, I can’t imagine calling a place home before he stays the night there with me. 

Our relationship started in the normal way, for me anyway. Through no effort of our own, we ended up spending time together. As a result, we found ourselves getting to know and growing fond of each other. We were flirty. We were friendly. We were friends. We were “friends who flirt.” Life happened. We grew closer. We grew apart. At some point, we were both single. We grew closer again. He was calling me more often. I really liked those calls. I kept urging him to visit me. He kept visiting. And seemingly inevitably, we ended up fooling around.

Fooling around with a friend is nice; you know and trust them. It’s also awful, in that there’s something to lose and no graceful exit if it ends badly. Neither one of us wanted to make it public or official. Not in the first couple of months. I didn’t want our mutual colleagues and friends to know about it if we fooled around for a minute and then one or both of us wanted to return to just friends. I wanted to be able to pretend it had never happened if he wasn’t going to be a significant other of some significance. Nobody wants to add embarrassment to pain. We discreetly transitioned from “friends who flirt” to “friends who fool around.”

Eventually, I let myself exhale a bit. It wasn’t an incident, it was a relationship. I mean, maybe not a permanent relationship, but it doesn’t have to be forever to be for real. I reluctantly accepted that I wasn’t saving myself any pain or embarrassment by the technicality of not sleeping with him. About six months into fooling around and about six years into knowing each other, I decided I was finally ready to go all the way. Whatever this was between us, it wasn’t going away soon.

He had been my rock for so long. He had been my one-man moving crew months after my legal separation when I moved from my friend’s house to a place of my own in 2016. He had been my most steadfast emotional support during my dad’s declining health, hospitalizations, and eventual death in 2017. That’s when we started fooling around, in 2017, a few months after I lost my dad. I mark my anniversary with the Work Bestie as that first time we fooled around in November 2017. I just didn’t figure out that we were a thing until May of 2018. 

Like most relationships, we’ve had our ups and downs. There were times when he was so distant I would’ve dumped him if I could have gotten a hold of him. He wasn’t easy to be in a relationship with, but he has a way of making it up to you just before you give up on him entirely. In all fairness, I’m not a cakewalk myself. I was so skittish about getting trapped in anything but also deeply afraid of being abandoned. Still, through so much, somehow we endured. 

By the time I was packing for Portugal, I was frustrated with our lack of a label but content with our relationship. I was more than content. I had the trademark arrogance of the happily coupled. I felt a little sad for all of my single friends. I wished they could know the joy of being booed up. I felt a little sad for most of my not-single friends, too, knowing in my heart of hearts that their boo couldn’t hold a candle to my bae. 

Shortly before Portugal, I tried to put a label on it. When normal people want to talk about their significant other, they can say, “Oh, my partner introduced me to such and such….” I, on the other hand, could say, “Oh, yeah, I know about that because my best friend/colleague, who I’ve been in a monogamous unofficial relationship with for the last few years, told me about that.” It was a mouthful, to say the least. I’d tried calling him my Cootie Buttbrain, “Yeah, my Cootie Buttbrain was totally into that for a while.” That seemed to invite more questions than it answered. If only there were a word for a person you’re not engaged or married to but are in a serious, long-term, monogamous relationship with. Oh, wait.

I don’t know why I was so nervous; more than four years into a relationship and nearly a decade into our friendship, I just wanted to call him my boyfriend. I’d had my own reservations about the relationship and then about the dignity, or lack thereof, of a woman of my age talking about someone as her “boyfriend” when it sounds like such a young person’s relationship status. But as mentioned above, the alternatives were much more awkward. 

During his visit right before my trip, I tried to bring up the idea of putting a label on it. It was so silly at this point that we hadn’t. But I was nervous and awkward, and I was making it weird. So I sort of threw it out there saying that we should put a label on it, but when he seemed confused, I backpedaled like nobody’s business. Nothing to see here, folks. I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to like her unless he doesn’t feel like liking her because that’s totally fine too, she doesn’t even really like being liked anyway, and it would probably be best if we just never mention this again. Something like that anyway. 

So we didn’t officially put a label on it, but that didn’t change what we were. I mean, there were still some logistical concerns between us and Forever. That didn’t change that I was in love with my best friend. We had been some kind of romantic, sexual, monogamous thing for four and a half years. He was the person who already knew all the backstories so I could dive straight into the today-story when I had one to tell. He was the person who could talk me off of any ledge. He was who I leaned on. He was my person.

I’d totally fumbled talking to him about it but, while I was in Portugal, thousands of miles away, talking to people he would never meet, I starting calling him my boyfriend. And you know what? The world didn’t end. Nobody gave me any side eye or asked if I wasn’t too old to have a “boyfriend.” I loved how that one word seemed to cover everything that the average person wanted to know about us. Maybe we would be together forever. Maybe we wouldn’t. But finally calling him my boyfriend felt really right, even if I hadn’t managed to tell him about it yet. 

But if the world was ending
you’d come over, right?
You’d come over and you’d stay the night
Would you love me for the hell of it?
All our fears would be irrelevant
If the world was ending
you’d come over, right?
The sky’d be falling while I hold you tight
No, there wouldn’t be a reason why
we would even have to say goodbye

JP Saxe and Julia Michaels
JP Saxe – If the World Was Ending (Official Video) ft. Julia Michaels

Jet Lagged in Lisbon

Jet lag being what it is, I settled into my room only to realize I wasn’t sure if I was sleepy or not. I was tired, no doubt, but that’s not the same as sleepy.

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it. For this reason your customary thoughts, all except the rarest of your friends, even most of your luggage – everything, in fact, which belongs to your everyday life, is merely a hindrance. The tourist travels in his own atmosphere like a snail in his shell and stands, as it were, on his own perambulating doorstep to look at the continents of the world. But if you discard all this, and sally forth with a leisurely and blank mind, there is no knowing what may not happen to you.

Freya Stark
Baghdad Sketches

I love being in airports. I find the big/international airports have more in common with each other than they do with the cities they are in. Every terminal seems to have roughly the same mix of souvenir shops, travel-needs stores, eateries, and places to get caffeinated and/or drunk. There is an attempt to seem luxurious and comfy while still employing a certain amount of hostile architecture. And if you get a moment to pause you’ll find some sort of art installment that very few people have time to stop and appreciate. It can be scaled up or scaled down, but there’s something universal about the basic recipe. 

I don’t think I’m in love with these aviation-themed shopping malls as much as I am with the tapestry of all the people coming through. I love people-watching. I love playing Sherlock, picking up on little clues like mismatched socks or casual dress in expensive brands to try to guess a character’s back story. Where are they from? Where are they going? Why? Airports bring together people from incredibly varied backgrounds who would never end up in the same room under any other circumstances. This is what I love most about airports. Well, that and the fact that if I’m in one, then I am certainly on an adventure. 

I picked the flight I did because it had a great price. Like so great a part of me was wondering what they weren’t telling me. The long layover in London was bonus. Arriving in Lisbon after 11pm was not. Also, it was the wrong day. I wanted to arrive in Lisbon on June 1st. This flight got me in on May 30th. 

I am a planner. I delight in researching things to death, especially unlikely adventures. One of my favorite websites is Sleeping in Airports I rarely need to sleep in airports, but I always factor it into my planning. In the end I decided to book a room at the Holiday Inn Express Lisbon Airport. The price difference between my ticket and every other fare I’d seen was enough to cover a room, and it would give me even more time to explore Portugal.

As I tried to plan this trip, most of the information available to me was from a pre-Covid world. Still, I managed to get accurate information about most of the things that mattered. My hotel no longer offered an airport shuttle (which was part of what I chose it for) but it was still really close to the airport and easy to get to/from, which was the point. I had booked it through British Airways and their info was not up to date, but I found out in time to research ride share apps in Portugal.

Where I felt the most misled had nothing to do with the profound impact of a global pandemic. It was the dress code. Over and over again, I’d read that Europeans do not wear ripped jeans, graphic tees, or athleisure wear. Fun fact, I wear a lot of ripped jeans, graphic tees, and leggings (which count as athleisure wear). I even wear a lot of ripped leggings. 

Trying to fit in (as much as a forty-eight-year-old, purple-haired, American undergraduate student in Portugal might), I chose to pack a totally different school wardrobe than how I normally dress. Eventually, I’ll figure out that it generally goes better for me when I’m not indulging in the foolishness of fitting in for its own sake. It’s good to have something I could wear to high mass and something I could wear to a swanky party (preferably that could be dressed down to work for a dancing all-night party, too). Most of the time, though, it’s best to be able to dress how I dress most of the time. 

The other helpful hint from my extensive Googling that didn’t work as planned was buying a sim card at Lisbon airport. The Vodaphone kiosk was there, as promised, but it wasn’t open at the odd hour I arrived. Fortunately, I was able to use Uber on the free airport wifi. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out where they would be most likely to pick me up, and when the Uber driver called to try to figure out where I was, the language barrier was insurmountable. With a little help from a bilingual fellow traveler, I was able to communicate with my second attempt at an Uber. 

It turns out that Uber drivers are only allowed a limited number of passes through the taxi line, so those who work the area regularly go to a loading/unloading lot right across from the taxi pickup or along the sidewalk before they have to get into the taxi queue. This is my recollection of an under slept conversation with someone whose English was slightly better than my scant Portuguese and, as such, may be riddled with factual inaccuracies. Either way, I eventually connected with an Uber driver and made it to my hotel. 

The guy at the front desk was exceptionally chipper for nearly one in the morning and, fortunately, quite fluent in English. Throughout my trip, I was shocked at how many Portuguese people spoke English. Well, I was much less shocked after learning Portuguese history. Anyone under thirty or working in front-end customer service will likely speak enough English to carry the conversation unless they drive an Uber after midnight anyway. 

Jet lag being what it is, I settled into my room only to realize I wasn’t sure if I was sleepy or not. I was tired, no doubt, but that’s not the same as sleepy. I changed into my pajamas and turned on the television, wondering if there was any chance I could catch something interesting in Portuguese but with English subtitles. I mean, I didn’t expect to, but I could hope. Watching 3% (a Brazilian dystopian future series) on Netflix was one of my favorite ways to “study Portuguese” before the trip. Maybe I’d find something great with the relevant version of Portuguese while in Lisbon. 

I ended up on a show that I believe was in German, with Portuguese subtitles. It looked sort of like the American show Survivor but with less drama and no clothes. Everyone was naked for no apparent reason while doing seemingly mundane tasks. I tilted my head like a dog trying to figure out a gramophone. This was the moment of discordant WTF confusion when I decided I had officially arrived in Europe. 

I slept for a couple of hours, until the free breakfast buffet opened up, and then I got up and dressed for breakfast on Lisbon time. I had made plans to go to the aquarium after breakfast, and be back in time to greet my roomie, but when I gave serious consideration to needing to be there when my roomie to arrived, not having a Portuguese sim card nor knowledge of the local geography or language and that I was jet lagged as could be, I decided to stay in. I spent the bulk of the day catnapping, journaling, reading the textbook, and hydrating aggressively. 

That last bit led to experimenting with the bidet. It’s a weird system, waddling from one porcelain throne to the next with my chonies around my ankles. I appreciate a good cleaning of the undercarriage and all, but it’s an awkward transition between the two, and I still feel like I need a good tutorial on the finer points of this activity. I also periodically went downstairs to the lobby vending machines, using the stairs for exercise. 

My roomie arrived later in the afternoon. Her cab had been easier to find but harder to direct and at least three times more expensive than my Uber. We were both feeling more discombobulated than adventurous, and we settled on Uber Eats rather than going out on the town for dinner that night. Even as we settled into what would become a perfectly ordinary routine of my making us bedtime tea, it was also completely surreal.

That was my first time on the European continent, this vast land mass that has left its fingerprints all over global history. How was I, the girl who is perpetually broke and/or in crisis, traveling in Europe? Well, I mean, through school; we all know that. But also, I’m still confused that I got into my first choice university, and then they let me into this study abroad program and gave me all these scholarships. That night I went to bed overflowing with gratitude for a life that felt like all of my dreams were coming true at once. In the morning, we Ubered back to the airport and caught our flight to Ponta Delgada. 

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, “Well… how did I get here?”

Talking Heads
Once in a Lifetime
Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime (Official Video)


We interrupt the regularly scheduled program to bring you this important message: My son has released an album this week.

If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

Kurt Vonnegut

I’m pretty sure my kids know that I would never complain about them being gay, or going into the arts. As a matter of fact, I love getting to brag on them being exactly the wonderful, loving, and creative people that they are. And on account of at least one of them being a very private person, I seldom get the go ahead to do so. But every once in a while…

We interrupt the regularly scheduled program to bring you this important message: My son has released an album this week.

Having kids in music lessons is always noisy. When they were little we had a piano and I personally replaced the bushings on 81 of those 88 keys. My daughter took guitar lessons, and my son took drums. He had an honest to goodness drum kit. Do you have any idea how loud an eight-year-old with a drum kit is?

I think it was totally worth it though. My son’s music has always had some cool percussion choices. This album also has some really striking piano and bass. He composes it all himself, and puts it together digitally (we have downstairs, and upstairs, neighbors in this apartment, no real drums allowed). The instrumental track The Sound The World Makes When It Ends is one of my favorites, especially with how well it transitions into The Sun Has Gone Away (That’s How I Like It).

You may be catching a theme here. The album as a whole sort of takes place over the span of an apocalypse, but in a subtle way. It’s the world ending with a collection of catchy tunes. There are lyrics online. Self Made Cyborgs and Rock Bottom have explicit lyrics. He’s tried to label them as such, but there was a glitch, and his most explicit song to date is lacking that label right now. He tried. He doesn’t curse in front of his mother, but his lyrics have no rules.

You should totally listen to this album. His first album, Triumph of the Brand, is also pretty awesome. Like even if I hadn’t had the pleasure of raising this kid, I’d dig his music. I love having talented kids. This is the only one who has given me permission to put him on blast this week, though. Also, I’ve just added Virginia Grohl’s book about raising rockstars to my summer reading list, just in case.

If you can’t sing smoothly
Hire a vocalist
They can harmonize in perfect pitch
If you still feel like the singing’s just not there
You can fix it up with some premium software
Sounding good is easy when you’re rich

Self Made Cyborgs
Self Made Cyborgs · Mojavehippie (EXPLICIT)

P.S. It’s really hard to pull an appropriate lyric to brag about my kid the musician from an album with an apocalyptic theme.

Over My Head

I didn’t believe him. I feel like he would say something like that just to be nice. He’s so intelligent, yet so often, the guy who doesn’t get it. I was saying we have a problem, and he responded like it was a casual compliment with the equivalent of back atcha.

As much as I cared about him, I wasn’t a slave to fate. I could choose to ignore my feelings, strong as they were. It would be painful, but no more so than letting myself pine for my friend.

J.M. Richards
Tall, Dark Streak of Lightning

The Work Bestie and I became friends the night I got really drunk on hot buttered rum, and he kept all of my secrets. He became my best friend the semester we spent four days a week, often twelve or more hours a day together. Every time I turned around, it seemed like he was there.

The work required some of that, but we also enjoyed each other’s company. He was there all the time. Not just on campus but coming into the office, finding me wherever I was, summoning me to wherever he was. He’d call me out from the office to the build for what seemed like no real reason, and I’d stick around anyway. I liked being part of the group. He’d take me with him on errands that he said I was necessary for, but then I really wasn’t. 

This was compounded by the fact that his pulling me out of my work, for things he didn’t really need, made it take longer to get my actual work done, so I ended up spending longer days at work than I used to. I work on deadlines, not a time clock, so no one at my work minded my extra hours. I didn’t mind either. My work was a place I often hid from my home life. Separate from the Work Bestie, I counted on that campus for sanctuary. It’s just that this is when I started staying in my safe place after hours, more often than not.

Even after I was done working for the day, I would stay. We’d all (students, Work Bestie, and I) usually have dinner together, and then I’d work on my physiology homework. That class was brutal, and I could never get much schoolwork done at home. It was late for loitering at Starbucks by the time I was done at work, so I was handling my schoolwork in the living room of the student housing most nights. Honestly, I think I would have dropped out that semester if it weren’t for the Work Bestie and our Pirate Friend (she used to live on Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior, she didn’t loot gold doubloons or anything, but  I like to call her a pirate) giving me so much encouragement.

Sometimes when you spend too much time with someone, you start to get sick of each other.  Sometimes the more time you spend with a person, the more time you want to spend with them. It got to where it felt like something was missing when he wasn’t there. Good things or bad things, if I had a thing that I wanted to tell someone, the Work Bestie was the first person I wanted to tell. We exchanged eye contact like  passing notes in class, like “you see it too, right?” Making friends as an adult is often challenging, but this was effortless. We just fit.

After that semester’s graduation, the whole group of us, students, instructors, and admin staff, went out for a celebratory dinner. After dinner, most of the grownups went home, but the Work Bestie, one other instructor, and I joined the students for a quiet after-party. One by one, everyone else excused themselves for the night until only the Work Bestie and I remained. We sat on the couch in the living room of student housing and talked and talked and talked. We talked about our loved ones, the projects and workshops of the past, and about things we wanted to do in the future. We talked until I fell asleep.

I vaguely remember resting my eyes just a moment with my head against his shoulder, just until they were less dry. I unexpectedly woke up (unexpectedly in that I don’t remember falling asleep and in that I don’t know how we ended up like that) with my head against the Work Bestie’s chest and his arm around me. And for a moment, I felt so completely at home that I never wanted to be anywhere else again. And then the panic hit me. He was not my home. He was someone else’s boyfriend.

That night we’d become friends, I’d talked him back into his relationship. I’m a romantic at heart and hate to see years of building something lost for no good reason. Having been friends since then, I was always supportive of his relationship, as friends should be. I mean, nothing had happened, really. I’d fallen asleep, fully clothed, sitting side by side on a small couch on a cold night. It just wasn’t an appropriate way to feel. I had already arranged to stay the night in a room in the student housing and it was definitely time to say goodnight.

The Work Bestie walked me to my room, which seemed an odd gesture even at the time. It was one thing when he walked me to the building I was staying in, protecting me from coyotes, el cucuy, and whatever else goes bump in the night. It even made some sense to tuck me in when I was very drunk, but I wasn’t this night. We’d had some red wine, when The Italian was still awake and pouring, but that had been hours earlier. It made for an awkward situation, saying goodnight in the living room and then a few feet away in the hallway. I was a little flustered even just going in for the goodnight hug.

The Work Bestie gives great hugs. This was different, though. This was the moment lightning struck. Not that I could do anything about it. He was in a relationship. I said goodnight and entered the bedroom alone. I hoped that a goodnight hug was all he wanted. I hoped that he didn’t feel what I felt, that he didn’t know what I’d felt. I hoped that it would all evaporate in the light of day. 

The next morning was fine. That hug had just been a glitch in an otherwise comfortable friendship. We got through the day’s work and went out as a group in the evening. I wasn’t planning to stay the night at work again. Still, once again, he and I stayed up late into the night talking about all the things, only we were on a couch on the other side of campus because apparently our late-night talking and laughing had made it hard for others to sleep when we were in student housing. December in the high desert is very cold at night, and once again, we cuddled up on the couch just to keep from shivering.

I began to feel that uncomfortable pull again. When our conversation finally ended, I confessed that I was attracted to him. He said he was attracted to me too. I didn’t believe him. I feel like he would say something like that just to be nice. He’s so intelligent, yet so often, the guy who doesn’t get it. I was saying we have a problem, and he responded like it was a casual compliment with the equivalent of back atcha. 

I’d stayed too late to drive home and too late to go into student housing. Our Pirate Friend had already left the campus, and her room was separate from the regular student housing and seemed the easiest to set up for the night. The Work Bestie hooked me up with a space heater, but it kept tripping the circuit breaker. He’d tuck me in and leave, and then I’d call him on his phone a minute later, saying it’d gone out. He’d change the configuration again. Eventually he worked it out so it finally stuck. He called me from bed, his voice sleepy and deep, to ensure it was still working. The way he said my name when he said goodnight killed me. Besties are not supposed to sound that sexy.

I knew then that I wasn’t going to go back to the way it was before the lightning strike. I wanted so badly to leave my makeshift lodging and find him in his bed that night. I lay awake pondering how things might have gone differently if I’d known that drunken night that I would end up wanting him. What if I hadn’t lamented the loss of a long relationship in such a way that he chose to make things work after all? We’ll never know how that semester could have ended differently if he was single because he wasn’t single. 

I needed to keep a respectful distance after that. I believe that people can be friends with people of a gender they are attracted to. Otherwise, bisexuals would be the loneliest people on the planet. I don’t believe you can be friends with people when one or both of you want to be something more. Not even if you don’t want to want more. I didn’t want to want more, but all of a sudden I wanted him in ways that weren’t appropriate. Thus began the year we weren’t friends. 

You’re important to me
(You’re important to me)
Night and day and day and night
If I can, I will make things right
I… I wanna be your friend again
I’m sorry (sorry)
For the things I wish I hadn’t said
I’m sorry (sorry)
For the things I wish I hadn’t done
I’m sorry (sorry)
For the way I wish I hadn’t been
I’m sorry

Concrete Blonde
I Wanna Be Your Friend Again
Concrete Blonde – I Wanna be Your Friend Again

Afternoon Tea

I believed it wasn’t about the destination but the journey. Now I believe that it’s neither of those things. It’s about the connections you make and grow along the way. 

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.

Henry James
The Portrait of a Lady

Before I was married, a friend and I attempted a road trip from L.A. County to New York City (and back). She and I had met in seventh-grade homeroom, a class we shared because our last names started with the letter T. Who knew that alphabetical order could be the basis for a lifelong friendship? Our road trip plan involved mapping out couches we could sleep on along the way. We also brought enough bedding to sleep in her Jeep on the nights we didn’t make it to a free couch. It was one of those nights with the back seat almost flat, and she and I and her very leggy dog nested together that I thought we were all about to die. 

We’d pulled into a parking lot for the night, and it seemed a safe enough place to sleep until the dog started growling in the middle of the night. We woke up to see the Jeep flooded with a bright light getting brighter and closer and then the unmistakable sound of a train horn. I swear I did not remember any train tracks in the parking lot earlier, but there was a train headed straight for us. Frantically, we tried to make the driver’s seat accessible so she could get us out of harm’s way, and then the train turned. I knew I would have remembered if we’d parked on the train tracks. Well, we were definitely wide awake after that. 

Sometimes, things don’t work out as planned. We made it as far as the Grand Canyon before heading to Seattle for a family matter on her end. Almost nothing went according to plan, but we had an adventure and made memorable stories, and really wasn’t that the point?

I’ve spent most of my life wanting to wander footloose and fancy-free, but at the end of the day, I love to have someone going through it all with me. Misadventures are so much better with someone to turn to and be all OMG, that just happened! Someday, when her kids are older, I hope that she and I can be travel buddies again.

That said, there is something very satisfying about invading England alone. I’m the Irish-American/Chicana middle-aged mom version of James Bond that absolutely nobody ever asked for. I like to think it would make my ancestors proud, aside from the part where I had just given a lot of money to British Airways and was really only on a quest for even more tea. I have been influenced by my grandmother, who was influenced by her grandmother, who was the daughter of Irish famine immigrants. I have strong feelings about the history between England and Ireland. When we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, it is political. Our continued existence is our protest.

All the same, my mother loves classic British literature and contemporary British TV, and we both love a good cup of tea. In my defense, I was introduced to good tea by the owner of an Irish imports store on Laurel Canyon. One afternoon a red-haired friend and I slipped in out of the rain, a couple of soaking wet, freckle-faced junior high girls. My love of tea only deepened under the influence of my mother-in-law, who was born and raised in County Roscommon, Ireland. I take it with milk, no sugar, feel free to bring me a cup any time.

With a six-hour layover in Heathrow, which didn’t seem like quite enough time to really see the sights but was too much time to loiter about the terminal satisfactorily, and it being two in the afternoon, I was determined to have afternoon tea at the Sofitel.

  • Pics of the menu, tea and sugar
  • Images of tea sandwiches, scones and other sweet treats

Getting out of the airport was unnervingly easy with an American passport. Getting out of the Victorville Walmart may be more difficult. Honestly, I sought security when I realized I was already landside just to ensure I hadn’t skipped a step. They looked at me like I was crazy. I was trying to leave the airport. I had successfully left the airport without hassle. They failed to see why I thought this might be a problem. I don’t think I’ll be taking any job opportunities from James Bond based on my polite uncertainty at this point.

There was a part of me that felt like I should make a run for it. I was set loose in a foreign country. I could do anything! Well, aside from gaining legal employment, which would be necessary to fund any prolonged doing of things. So I stuck with my original plan of afternoon tea. Despite hours of careful planning, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to find my way there. The Sofitel is an easy walk from the international terminal. The international terminal is an overwhelming spectacle worthy of it’s own zip code, but walking from the exit to The Sofitel was easy-peasy.

I was nervous about the whole interaction with humans, part of going out for tea, but that’s normal for me. People who make their livings in hospitality are generally very nice, even to socially awkward, underslept Americans who feel like they just invaded the country. It was a little more awkward realizing that I was the only person having tea alone. There was definitely too much snacky stuff for one person (at least for one person, who had been incredibly sedentary for the last twelve or so hours on an airline that kept the food and beverages flowing). I ended up with even more food stashed in my purse. The tea (and the accompanying food) was really good, though.

In my youth, I used to have romantic imaginings of traveling alone. For whatever reason, these mostly involved me dressing like a girl reporter from the 1940s with a pencil behind my ear and a pocket-sized notebook at the ready. It never occurred to me that I would be a divorced forty-eight-year-old undergraduate or that, under those circumstances, I would deeply wish my mother and daughter were there with me. Afternoon tea at the Sofitel seems like a really perfect way for three generations of women to have a grand time together. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to take them there with me anytime soon. 

When I finally set out on my solo world-traveling adventure, It turned out that I wanted someone there with me. I wanted someone to have a taste of the yummiest things and agree with me that it was amazing. I wanted someone to make eye contact with and wordlessly communicate volumes with. I wanted someone to make up unlikely stories about strangers in the airport with. I believed it wasn’t about the destination but the journey. Now I believe that it’s neither of those things. It’s about the connections you make and grow along the way. 

Loving you the way I do
I know we’re gonna make it through
And I will go
To the ends of the earth
’cause darling,
to me that’s what you’re worth

Carole King
Where You Lead (Gilmore Girls Theme Song)
Where You Lead (full theme song from “Gilmore Girls”) lyrics

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

No sooner had I dived into the text than the whole cabin went dark for bedtime. I felt like a parakeet with a blanket thrown over my cage. Suddenly the generosity with the booze made a lot more sense. The crew was sedating us.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step

Lao Tzu

I have the soul of a poet, but I was raised around a bunch of STEM types. So it is that I yearn for romance and adventure, but also approach it very practically with lots of contingency plans. Here is some of my practical planning and what worked and what didn’t.

Air Portugal has a size limit on its overhead baggage that is one inch smaller than most of the other airlines. Ryanair had the smallest of any airlines I looked at, which is to say, too small. I did the research to find a good rolling suitcase that fit within that eight-inch limit, and an uncle was kind enough to give it to me as a birthday present. Taking BART to SFO, I was pretty sure that I had overpacked. It wasn’t bad taking it downstairs to my Lyft, but then I had to take it all down the stairs at the BART station. I invested in an Osprey backpack nearly a decade ago when I traveled to Illinois for work-related training. I love this backpack but it was stuffed to its gills and teetered awkwardly on top of the smaller rolling case while my overfilled purse dug its strap deep into my shoulder. This was too much.

I got to the airport where I proved that I had a valid passport and my Covid-19 vaccinations. Then I checked the backpack and got through security, and moved my toiletries and electronics from my purse to the rolling case, and everything was just right again. Settled into my temporary home in Ponta Delgada, I began feeling under-packed as my roommates always had cuter outfits and more of them. This feeling quickly dissipated when I had to carry all my belongings up four flights of stairs to my new room in Lisbon.

Ultimately, I think I had packed just enough. I seemed to have more clothing than most of the men and less clothing than most of the women, in my cohort. I had to do laundry every week, but I could carry all my stuff reasonably well. This goes down as a win in my book.

Aside from carefully planning my luggage, I had also considered seating for the transatlantic flight. I deliberately picked a bad seat, the last row on the plane, right next to the galley. Though always on the north side of the plane to avoid aggressive sunlight through the window. I always prefer the window seat. My logic was that in a terrible seat, it was less likely that anyone would select the seat next to me. Also, the back row only has two seats, so if someone did sit next to me and I needed to get out, there would only be one person to squeeze past. Ideally, no one would sit next to me, and I could make myself a cozy little nest across both seats.

It worked in that no one sat next to me, but it failed because I couldn’t move the armrest between the seats, and the flight attendants were using the empty seat to store extra pillows and whatnot. Which is fair, since I did not pay for that seat. Also, even though British Airways has a larger measurement for luggage allowed in the overhead bins, the outside rows on the second floor of a double-decker plane have very small overhead bins, which is kinda compensated for by a neat little storage nook between the window seat and the window, but not really since my luggage was a solid and not a liquid, so there wasn’t anyway to divide it between two locations.

Fortunately, a nice gentleman who was far more comfortable rearranging everything than I was, saw me struggling and moved my bag to a center bin and someone else’s bag to an outside bin. Everything was secured tidily, and no one seemed to have any complaints.

As soon as everyone was settled in, they began distributing drinks. I picked a complimentary bottle of red wine because I could, and the flight attendant gave me two. Then there was another bottle of wine with dinner, which was more food than I was inclined to eat all at once, so I stashed the reasonably stashable parts in my purse for later. After dinner, they offered tea (and coffee and probably other stuff, but I picked British Airways largely because I like their tea).

I was positively stuffed by the time they were done giving us food and drinks and ready to settle in with my textbook. No sooner had I dived into the text than the whole cabin went dark for bedtime. I felt like a parakeet with a blanket thrown over my cage. Suddenly the generosity with the booze made a lot more sense. The crew was sedating us.

It was too dark to read a print book, and I was too excited to sleep, but the wifi cost extra, so I watched movies. Plural. I nodded off a bit here and there, but not a lot until they began to serve us breakfast, and again I added food and drinks to my purse and delighted in a nice cup of tea after my meal. A cup of hot tea with milk strikes me as the perfect way to start an adventure.

Fly the great big sky
See the great big sea
Kick through continents
Busting boundaries
Take it hip to hip, rocket through the wilderness
Around the world the trip begins with a kiss

The B-52s
The B-52’s – Roam (Official Music Video)

The Night We Became Friends

Yeah, we’re coworkers, but most importantly, he is the person I tell everything to, especially the things I don’t want to tell anyone.

One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood. 

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

I recommend against sleeping with your best friend. I’d had a friend a long time ago who seemed like the only one who could understand certain things about me. We were briefly a couple, but we were better at being friends. He’s not the sort to be single much, and I really needed to be single while I sorted my head out after my marriage ended. Thus our romantic relationship ended up being a relatively brief part of a long friendship.

I was supposed to be his best man if he ever remarried, and I was nearly as excited as he was when he got engaged. I didn’t know the bride well, but we ran in the same social circles, and she’s amazing. I was low-key excited about having the opportunity to become her friend through their marriage. The admiration is not mutual. I was not the best man. I was not even invited to the wedding, on account of the whole having been in a romantic relationship with the groom thing. It’s more normal to be like her than to be like me. I respect that.

As the best man, it would have been my job to stand up for this couple. I don’t know why I always picture swords, but I totally picture swords when I think of being the best man as a solemn oath to defend the marriage and its participants. Maybe this is why no one ever lets me be their best man; I can’t tell a wedding party from the three musketeers. I still think I would totally rock a tux. Even though I didn’t officially get the job, I still think it’s my responsibility as his friend to do what’s best for his marriage. Friends should support each other’s relationships and, in this case, the best way to do that was to minimize my place in the groom’s life. 

The day of their wedding was incredibly lonely for me. The people I would generally lean on during a bad day were either getting married or invited to the wedding. I arranged to stay at work for the weekend, so I wouldn’t wallow. My work has student/instructor housing that was available at the time. Also, the Work Bestie had just been kicked out by his girlfriend in a fairly dramatic breakup and was staying at work that weekend, too. I made hot buttered rum that night, and we hung out while I got very, very, very drunk. 

He wasn’t really the Work Bestie yet. I mean, he was entirely himself, but we weren’t particularly close. I hardly knew him. We met on my second day there. He was breathtakingly beautiful, but that’s not what I’m into. I don’t have any use for a pretty picture to hang on my wall. Give me a mind that makes me want to wrap my legs around it. That’ll be my downfall every time. 

I respected him as a colleague and was definitely learning a lot from him, but we were coworkers, not friends. Well, then the rum happened. I could not shut up. I told him everything. My deepest darkest secrets came running from my mouth like puppies eager to jump into his lap. He greeted them with warmth and kindness. Eventually, I managed to sedate myself into something close to silence. He made sure I got tucked in safely and then excused himself politely.

I was mortified; my every shameful confession given to some guy I hardly knew was bad enough, but to tell that stuff to a coworker? Ugh. It had been a nice job while it lasted, I guess. I waited for him to be weird to me. I waited for him to tell my secrets to our other coworkers. It didn’t happen. He knew me, and he didn’t run away or betray me or anything, and it just so happened that a bestie position was being vacated in my life right then. So that is how he became my Work Bestie. 

Months, maybe years later, I realized that it’s not so much that he is nonjudgmental as it is that he has no short-term memory. I can tell him anything I want to today because he’ll forget it by tomorrow. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, and since, eventually, things transfer over to his perfectly functional long-term memory, I still depend on his discretion. More than that, I depend on his friendship. Yeah, we’re coworkers, but most importantly, he is the person I tell everything to, especially the things I don’t want to tell anyone. I set out to be best friends forever. 

And I don’t want the world to see me
‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand
When everything’s made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am

Goo Goo Dolls
Goo Goo Dolls – Iris (Official Music Video)


I’m a fighter, a problem solver, and stubborn, I mean persistent, persistent AF. None of that was helping me here. My willingness to do anything was useless when there was nothing to do. 

Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country. 

Anais Nin

I have the attention span of an underslept goldfish and the ambition of, well, I don’t know what animal has the most FOMO, but I want to do ALL the things. I am an overthinker, an over-planner. I make lists of all the lists I need to make. I plan contingencies for my contingency plans. I like to be over-prepared for when things inevitably go sideways. 

My favorite SME (pronounced Smee, like the pirate) taught me about SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) because she knows about stuff like that. I think everybody I know is a SME; it just depends on the Subject Matter. My SME for all things travel is a former travel agent with a great sense of adventure. He gave me a ranking of preferred airlines and airports. I couldn’t afford the top of the list, but British Airways was ranked fairly high, and I remembered that they made a very nice cup of tea on my honeymoon flight. I also narrowed my airports down to Heathrow and Madrid. He had other recommendations on his list, but I was keen on changing planes where I was functional in the native language.

I was feeling very good at the adulting, jumping through the hoops the school had given me: flights booked, travel insurance confirmed, orientation module complete, vaccine and medical requirements cleared, textbooks and funding secured, passport renewal… well begun. I was handling all of that and working and prepping for finals. Total boss mode. And the universe laughed.

Let’s go back to that passport thing. My previous passport expired in August 2020. August 2020 wasn’t a good time for handling non-essential government business in person, and I couldn’t do a straightforward renewal because I had my married name on my previous passport. Legally changing my name back to Torres has been a major pain in the neck. Doing it on my passport was no exception. 

As soon as in-person appointments were available at the campus passport office, I made an appointment for early April. Then I discovered that I could handle it faster by mail. I canceled my appointment, and on March 25, I paid for Express Shipping for my passport renewal application and what I thought were all the necessary supporting documents (including payment for expedited processing). It wasn’t received until April 1st.

On Saturday, they contacted me, saying that the court order restoring my maiden name was inadequate for the name change. On Monday, I spoke to someone at the National Passport Center and confirmed that they needed all nine pages of the court order granting my divorce, not just the page relevant to the name change. That same day I mailed the original nine-page document (because I didn’t have time to go to FedEx and pay for copies and still make it to class, and I didn’t want to delay it to the next day, having already waited all weekend for things to be open) to the address given, One-Day Express, again. 

The tracking number said the label had been created, but the package did not show up in the system. Persistence is my superpower. I mean, some people call me stubborn, but whatevs. I just know that I can move mountains when I need to. I couldn’t figure out how to move this one, though. The Study Abroad website said that I had to report to Ponta Delgada in Portugal on June 1, 2022, or I could lose my spot in the program. I could not stubborn my way onto an international flight without a valid passport. I didn’t even have my expired passport anymore because it was one of the many documents I’d sent in with my renewal application. I’m a fighter, a problem solver, and stubborn, I mean persistent, persistent AF. None of that was helping me here. My willingness to do anything was useless when there was nothing to do. 

Getting a new copy of my official court order required going to the court that had issued it in person. On April 23, I reached out to my divorce lawyer. I had moved roughly four hundred miles away from that court and was preparing for finals and a summer abroad, and trying to get to the court in Barstow on a weekday myself seemed like a nightmare. My lawyer, on the other hand, frequents the place. Unfortunately, he was out of the country then, so that wouldn’t be a quick solution, and I was running out of time. My advisor from Berkeley Study Abroad was sympathetic, but of course, he had no sway with the Passport Center or USPS.

This was my last summer as an undergraduate. Studying abroad was a now-or-never proposition, and I had worked so hard to get so close, and it was slipping away, and there was nothing I could do about it. On May 13, my lawyer was finally back in his office, but the day before (just two weeks before I had to be in Portugal), the National Passport Center had confirmed that they had all the necessary documentation. The post office never did figure out what had happened to my envelope, but despite it all, I got my passport in time. I was going to Portugal!

Opportunity knocks once let’s reach out and grab it (yeah!)
Together we’ll nab it
We’ll hitchhike, bus or yellow cab it!
(Cab it?)
Movin’ right along

The Muppets
Movin’ Right Along

Drought, Deluge, and Desire

There are different levels of separation. Sometimes it feels like only miles between us, but by the end of his busy summers, it feels like we’re standing on different planets. I begin to wonder if I’d made him up entirely.

The most confused you will ever get is when you try to convince your heart and spirit of something your mind knows is a lie.

Shannon L. Alder

The rain comes to the Mojave Desert all at once. It lands on earth so dry that it has forgotten how to drink. The entire desert is like a dried-out sponge, so thirsty that water beads and rolls off of it instead of soaking in. The soil can only drink in water if it’s already damp. I think my heart is a desert. It is so desperate for love that it has forgotten how to let any in. He appears the same way the sky breaks open in monsoon rain, and then, just as suddenly, he is gone. 

The Work Bestie and I have worked together for many years now. He lives far from our work, about a hundred miles. I lived close, about four hundred feet. So he would frequently travel to where I was. Which is to say, commute. Then I moved far from our work, about four hundred miles in the opposite direction. So he seemed relatively close to work, at only one hundred miles. So I would travel to where he was, which is to say, commute. Instead of seeing each other every month, we only saw each other a couple of times a year because most of my job became remote when I moved away for school. 

When I first moved to the Mojave Desert, you could still see the milky way most nights, and the monsoons came every summer. Neither of those things is true now. The nonprofit where the Work Bestie and I work together is still small and underfunded, though. We all have side hustles. To be honest, we all have main hustles except for the executive director. The Work Bestie has an important STEM job doing his part to save the planet. Smart boys are sexy. It also makes him disappear at the beginning of every summer, almost exactly when my school slows down enough that I’m more available to him.

The summer before my summer abroad, I was really frustrated by his inaccessibility. There are different levels of separation. Sometimes it feels like only miles between us, but by the end of his busy summers, it feels like we’re standing on different planets. I begin to wonder if I’d made him up entirely. I don’t know that there is anyone else I would wait for so long or so often, but he has a way of making things up to me. So I was really looking forward to working together in September. I needed our weekend together that September. 

I had bought my round-trip plane tickets to where he lives, one hundred miles further than our shared work. He was going to pick me up at the airport, and we would have the long commute together to talk while keeping our hands mostly to ourselves. I need that after the cold disconnect of our summers. We would have the long drive, both ways, and two nights, for him to remind me that he’s real, that I didn’t just imagine him.

He flaked on me. He canceled at the last minute, screwing me over personally and professionally. He had a family obligation in another state. It was right for him to be there instead of with me, but that doesn’t make it suck any less on my end. I had to change my flights, pay for a shuttle and spend the weekend sleeping alone, in the friggin’ Mojave Desert, not to mention moving the whole workshop schedule around so that we had qualified instructors for all the modules. I’m not convinced that even the Work Bestie was worth all this. 

I was lowkey done, but how do you break up with a ghost? A ghost who I wasn’t even officially a thing with. Whatevs. Besides, he was supposed to be my plus-one for my cousin’s wedding in October. I don’t like going to weddings alone since my own marriage failed. It’s one of the rare occasions on which being single depresses me. Besides, he’s a good dancer, and I wanted someone to dance with. So I wasn’t going to make waves until after he stood me up for that too. To my surprise, he did not.

Don't go. I'll eat you up. I love you so. (Where the Wild Things Are)
I’ll eat you up I love you so

This is the problem with the Work Bestie. When he shows up, he is perfect. It’s impossible to stay angry with him. We had the long BART ride from SFO to the East Bay to reconnect. He wasn’t imaginary. He was very real. He’s my favorite. Favorite what? I don’t know, but he’s my favorite. That weekend was the first time I ever believed he might love me. I mean, we were friends for years before we ever fooled around; of course, we love each other as friends. 

There was a moment when we were alone in my room, and he bit my arm. We weren’t fooling around right then. It wasn’t a sex thing. It was more like when a toddler’s emotions are so much bigger than their vocabulary, and they don’t know how to express themselves other than to bite someone. It was like when my kids were little; I’d look at them and feel like I could just eat them up because I loved them so much.

That was the first time I felt he could love me beyond friendship. I have trouble trusting what people say. Words are slippery. This was something that made sense to me. Days later, I was still rubbing the bruise (I bruise ridiculously easily) and smiling, thinking, “he likes me; he really likes me.” I had proof that he was real, and maybe he even loved me.

He never told me he loved me
He never told me he cared for me
He never told me he didn’t
So I believed

Sofia Talvik
Beautiful Naked

An Adventure

One foot in front of the other has gotten me through assorted crises and chaos. It got me the world’s slowest associate’s degree and into a fancy university with many study-abroad opportunities. I set my sights on a five-week program in Mexico City.

The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.

Oprah Winfrey

I was into tarot cards in junior high. My card was The Fool. This card can be first or last, the alpha and the omega, like an ace. The Fool’s superpower, not that tarot cards actually have superpowers, is just to put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes circumstances are favorable; sometimes, everything’s a mess. Either way, just keep going. 

One foot in front of the other has gotten me through assorted crises and chaos. It got me the world’s slowest associate’s degree and into a fancy university with many study-abroad opportunities. I set my sights on a five-week program in Mexico City. 

I feel like I’ve spent my whole life almost learning Spanish. I understand a lot, but there are usually words that I don’t get, and sometimes they aren’t the words that matter, but sometimes they are. It seems that five weeks of studying the Spanish language and Mexican culture while submersed in both ought to push me over the edge into fluency.

I have a cousin in Mexico who I miss dearly and I’m sure I could include a visit with him and his wife while I’m there. I also have a tía in central California who intends to speak to me in English, but whenever she gets excited, she starts speaking to me in rapid-fire fluent Spanish. She’s older, and if I interrupt her to ask her to switch back to English, she loses her train of thought. She is my only hope for learning the stories of that side of my family, and I don’t want my language shortcomings to be the barrier that prevents that. 

Also, the Work Bestie teaches in Spanish sometimes, in Spain, in Mexico, and soon in California. My favorite teaching experience was something I didn’t even want to do. I was just administrative support for that workshop. I had not psyched myself up to public speaking at all. He’d taught me how to teach that module years before, but I don’t think I’d ever taught it in front of him before, let alone with him. Honestly, I was kinda sick of teaching that module, but his voice was going out on him.

I brought all the goofy dad jokes to the lesson plan. I love that I can make him laugh with the cheesiest nonsense. He’s so much better at the whiteboard than I am. But I brought in handouts to make up for that. He also has field experience that I don’t, though. The point is, I think that we teach really well together. We are alike enough to set a shared goal, and our differences are complementary.

If I can get myself fluent in Spanish and competent in the rest of what we teach, I can coteach with him more, here and abroad. So, I was fully committed to pursuing this five-week study abroad opportunity in Mexico City. I didn’t know how I’d fund it, but I can work miracles when there’s a fire under me. 

And then there was Portugal. Portugal had a later deadline to apply and also a $5000 scholarship. It was a two-month program instead of five weeks. It was in a very different time zone. It wasn’t going to help me speak Spanish, not even a little bit, but it was funded. Funded makes a huge difference. 

He denies it, but I tried to talk the Work Bestie into joining the Peace Corps after I graduate. He said he was tired of going to foreign countries just to work his butt off. He would rather go with free time and comfy accommodations. I reckoned if I spent two months on a different continent, in a country where I did not know the language, studying my butt off, it would probably scratch the same itch I’ve had for the Peace Corps for all these years. Yeah, going to Portugal felt like a good step toward becoming the best version of myself. 

And do you feel scared? I do
But I won’t stop and falter
And if we threw it all away
Things can only get better

Howard Jones
Things Can Only Get Better
Howard Jones – Things Can Only Get Better