columns, experiences
Comments 5

Now departing: without me.

I’ve avoided doing this for so long and for good reason.

But here I am, saying goodbye at an airport, breaking my cardinal rule because I can’t help but use up every second I’ve got with her. We get off the bus and walk hand-in-hand into the terminal, luggage in tow. She checks in, her eyes starting to water. I can feel mine moisten, but I get it together as the ticket agent looks taken aback.

I take a few breaths, trying my best to be steady even though the realization of what this moment means starts settling in, the anxiousness gathering momentum.

Airports have never been complicated for me. I’ve always been indifferent about them; the only things worth getting emotional about were flight delays and exceptional (or terrible) food at the gate. I’ve rarely been upset at airports, even when leaving a country that had been home for the past couple of years. If I’d felt anything at all, it was intrigue and excitement over what awaited on the other side — but even that spike of emotion was rare; most trips I simply went through the motions, working down a checklist of things to do before boarding some plane to wherever. I’m used to airports. I’m used to leaving.

I’m just not used to being left.

We chat as we hug outside the security checkpoint and we linger in this cocoon, saying all the things you say to somebody you care about, things you feel the urge to regurgitate and reiterate over and over, things you wish the other to simply know about you and know to be true.

Soon, too soon, it’s time for her to go and go she does. I watch her walk away and feel a sudden panic wash over me. This is it — it’s the last I’d see of her for some unknown duration.


Illustration for Denizen by David Habben

On the bus ride home from the airport we talk on the phone and fire off texts back and forth, up until take-off. In the silence that follows I look out the window at the sprawling expanse of Shanghai and realize there is still much to experience here — it would just be lonelier.

Going into things, we knew that we wouldn’t have a long time together. When we met, she had four months left in Shanghai, and I had at least two years. During our first date, we agreed that long distance relationships were too hard and that it wasn’t necessarily the right time of our lives for one.

But as one date turned into many, that conversation faded from our thoughts and we were caught up having fun without constantly minding the calendar, simply enjoying each other’s company.

It just so happened that what was there between us turned out to be a lot. Despite ourselves, we fell for each other, hard.


That day at the airport has long since passed. It’s sunken in now, being without her. I find myself in the unfamiliar position of getting to see my surroundings, once ours, evolve without her. I spend my days frequenting our old haunts, eating food we used to love eating together, hanging out with friends of hers whom I now call my own. I tend to her stuff, whether it be her bike or the many varied tchotchkes now cluttering my room that she couldn’t take with her. I should get rid of some of it but it’s easier said than done.

Things have changed and we’ve adjusted. We may not technically be in a relationship but we’re still connected, still want to be part of each other’s lives. We don’t Skype video chat much and it’s helpful that we don’t — when we do, it makes me miss her more because we’re thisclose but not quite there. It’s too much of an in-your-face reminder of what could be, what would be, but just can’t.

Instead we instant message, we call each other, but mostly we email; I can admittedly be a horrible emailer, yet strangely it’s never been easier to write her. Somehow I feel closer to her just recapping my day, no matter how mundane, and when reading her emails I find that I still get to feel all the things I feared were taken away when she boarded that plane.

I take it a day at a time, trying not to ruminate too much on the enormity of the situation, the fact that I don’t know when I get to see her again. That’s the toughest part – not having a reunion to countdown to. As time goes by I know it’ll only get harder to stay in touch. Eventually, I realize, she’ll probably end up with another man, one who cares for her as I do but is able to be there for her when I can’t. I know I have to be prepared to cope with that reality.

But still, despite it all, part of me won’t quit; part of me refuses to accept that that semester we spent together may be all that I get with her and so I scan travel websites, checking how much I have to scrape up to muster a visit over, all the while hoping that when I finally have the means to get to her she’ll still want me.

In a lifetime of moving around, a lifetime of adapting to changes as they came, I’ve found that I want something — want someone — to be constant. Life moves on but perhaps in some cases, perhaps in this one, love doesn’t have to.

We’ll see what happens.


  1. Wow. Loved this. I did long distance for 3 years… and it sucked but now that we’re finally in the same place, it was worth it. If anything, long distance makes you really think about whether is worth waiting for.


  2. This was a great post. I think your story touches a special place in the heart of anyone who has ever been in a long distance relationship.


  3. Ambrose says

    Living in the moment brother. That’s what we do. Lot of things get left behind while we scramble across the world in our own adventure. I know the feeling. Like you said, we’ll see. Nice story.


  4. Amanda says

    Your post has really touched me. Thank you

    I am in a very similar situation with someone I also met in Suzhou-Shanghai…I guess for me, I tend to have faith in “whatever will be will be.”

    Best of Luck


  5. Georgina says

    Having a countdown is only so comforting. I feel like accepting that long distance relationships are hard, comes with accepting that as TCKs, they are a sad reality. However, when they work, and when you find someone that TCK or not, gets you, then even thousands of miles, countless money on Skype and a soaring carbon footprint from flying all over are worth it. My husband is not a TCK, we spend the better part of our relationship apart, but today it all seems very long ago, and I look forward to starting my own TCK nomadic family some day.


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