For each person I’ve dated–whether it was 1 date or 100 dates–there came a time where one of us made the decision not to continue.
I’ve always been nostalgic to a fault. There are still so many joyful moments I spent with these people that I find myself looking back on. I try to remember the moment as it was, but it’s hard.
Can you look back on a time with someone and enjoy it without thinking of its end? Can you think back on one moment you shared together without thinking of the poison, jealousy, or resentment that would spread later?
I’ve been trying.
It’s easy to define any relationship–big or small–by how it ends. But there’s still so much value in remembering how it began.
“Do you want some music?” After handing me a helmet for the motorcycle, you pass me an earphone. “Maybe we can both listen.”
You come to pick me up again at the base of Vidigal in Rio de Janeiro. Even on a quiet day, Vidigal thrums with activity, but during rush hour it is chaotic. Mototaxi drivers rev their engines and shout for customers as people pass by: “Mototaxi! Mototaxi!” Children play in the court at its base, funk music blares out of a stereo, and a white van pulls up with the money collector yelling, “Rocinha, Rocinha!” Buses come to a stop with a hiss of air as they release their passengers, commuters tired from a long day of work, who begin the slow climb up the hill to their homes.
I can’t kiss you with your helmet on, so I hug you from behind as I hop on the bike. I can tell you just showered–you smell clean, like shampoo and detergent and a hint of cologne. I press my nose between your shoulder blades and breathe you in. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too.” You pass me the phone. “You can choose the song.”
I put in the earphone and squeeze my helmet on top. I hit play and wrap my arms around you.
It’s a song that begins slowly, with an orchestra. In one ear, I hear the roar of the city, and in the other, I hear violins. We begin making our descent along Avenida Niemeyer. On our left, the orange lights of Vidigal disappear and we pass the jutting rock face of the Dois Irmãos mountains, still covered in parts by lush rainforest. To our right, the cliffs drop into the sea and the black ocean waves rise and roll and strengthen and crash against the rocks with thundering force. We pass the snack bar with the best view of the cliffs, and with a slow curve the beach comes into view.
The song begins to build. In front of us is a long stretch of sand–Leblon and Ipanema beach–illuminated by bright white and orange lights. From here, I can make out the famous black and white patterns on the sidewalk and the towering lifeguard posts. I try to remember the numbers in this new language: posto doze, posto onze, which I can never articulate like it sounds in my head.
In the beginning, you would help me learn new words and would gently correct all my mispronunciations. Now it’s just easier to stick to English; when you speak to your friends, it’s a whole other world that I can’t understand. So much of you remained unknowable.
You only teach me to be fluent in a dazzling range of filthy commands, which would later shock a Portuguese-American who only spoke the language among his grandparents.
But that’s later, and for now we’re sitting at the traffic light. You place your hand on my knee. I lean into you.
I cannot tell you how I feel in this moment.
I brace myself before the light changes, and we accelerate. For a moment I see where you’re looking, and I know you’re thinking of all the ways we can dart in and out of cars. We go faster, faster, and the wind starts to whip tears from my eyes and I turn my head to look at the ocean, which is inky black and unforgiving and passes in a blur of lights.
I sense rather than know when we cross from Leblon into Ipanema and the crowds on the sidewalks thicken. I can hear the faint sound of drums and a peal of laughter across the night. Can someone laugh in an American accent? Carnaval has come and gone, but there are still some lingering backpackers passing through before their return home.
The song must have changed at this point, but in my memory, the same one plays. Right as we’re about to approach Arpoador, the rocks where everyone claps for the sunset, we turn inland and cross into Copacabana. Our destination is on Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, an inland street that’s loud and dirty and busy, but you take us down Avenida Atlântica so we can drive along Copacabana beach.
I wonder now if you did that for me. Or did you still want to see the beauty of a city you had grown up in?
The beach is brightly lit with white lights that arc across a semicircle, ending at the Leme fort. Cheers ring out from a volleyball game, mixing with the ever present beeping of horns and whirring of motorcycle engines, which I hardly hear at home. You slow down; there’s more of us now, everyone looking for an opening to weave in and out of the yellow taxis.
Street performers are walking down the sidewalk playing Mas Que Nada, and someone rises from her chair to dance.
I’m already imagining myself looking back on this.
The song continues to play as we drive across Copacabana into Leme. I don’t remember where we’re going or when we arrive. I remember stepping off the motorcycle and feeling uncertain on steady ground. I take off my helmet, dizzy, and look at you with a wide grin.
The music stops.