Saudade

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It always surprises me how normal my conversations are during drives to the airport. How we can sing along to the radio, talk about salad dressing, debate whether or not we have time to get coffee. How we can be so normal together when we have absolutely no idea when we’ll see each other again.

I want there to be a word for the moments of silence in conversation during airport drives or extended goodbyes. When you’re going away and you’re in the last moments with someone and everything still feels the same but you know you’re about to start missing them. A word for the anticipation of missing. A word for wanting the drive to the airport to never end at the airport.

Last week at the markets I came across a new word in a jewelry stall. A lady there makes beautiful charms with scrabble pieces and typewriter keys. One said: Saudade. It is a Portuguese or Galician word that has no direct translation in English. Wikipedia suggests: It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound  melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return. Saudade was once described as “the love that remains” after someone is gone. 

I often think of the line in a sad essay by Emily Rapp. She wrote: Will I miss the missing when it stops, if it does? Someone asked me if I missed home yet, I said I’m always home. I need to go back and buy that charm before I leave again.

It never gets easier, I told her. Walk really fast in the other direction. Don’t look back. This is key. Don’t cry until you get through security, until you’re boarding, until you’re in your seat, until they turn off the seatbelt sign. Don’t read the letter until you’re close to landing, it’ll be easier to leave the pieces of it in your water cup and hand it to the attendant as she passes with the trash. I remember flying as a kid, thinking about being closer to heaven. Back when I thought heaven was a place to go, something outside the tiny window, somewhere I wasn’t.

Someone asked me how I do it. Waitress really hard, I said. And always have enough money on your credit card for a one-way ticket to anywhere in the world. It isn’t smart or practical advice. I’ve never once made a rational decision. I’m not saying do any of it. I’m just saying what’s worked for me. Or hasn’t. Depending on how you look at it. The stall had another scrabble charm that I liked. It was a picture of a cartoon water glass and a line of water around the middle. It said technically the glass is always full, had lines pointing to both the air and the water.

Yesterday I drove for the first time in some years on the highway I used to drive every day, the one that goes from the city to the beach and maybe to the end of the world. For a while it felt like I’d never been anywhere else. And then that song came on the radio. There should be a word for the moment when a song comes on unexpectedly and takes you somewhere else. A song that is equal parts comforting and heartbreaking. I’d also like a word for the moment of indecision, when you don’t know whether to shut it off or sing along.