It was and still is the most dreadful part of traveling home from Hungary. Leaving the land I had grown to love was bad enough. Leaving the woman who would soon become my wife was even worse. Waking up at 4:20 a.m. after a restless night of little to no sleep was not how I envisioned my departure. I had no choice in the matter. Living in the heartland of America meant I would forever be a prisoner to airport transfers and connecting flights. This also meant my last day in Budapest would hardly be one at all. It started the evening before with an imminent sense of dread arising from the realization that it would be almost impossible to get a full night of sleep.
My biological clock had adjusted to the previous two weeks. Thus, I knew sleep was not likely to come until ten or eleven o’clock that evening. I would be going on just a few hours of rest before I had to wake up, throw on some clothes and travel to the airport. That was the best I could hope for. I ended up sleeping restlessly for short intervals until I finally fell into a deeper sleep around two a.m. I awoke in a state of extreme grogginess a couple of hours later. Several cups of cold coffee did very little to arouse me, other than provide a temporary shot of caffeine. I was irritable and shaky. This was not how I wanted to spend the last couple of hours with the woman I loved. We would not see each other for three more months. Rather than tender words and sentimental emotions all I could think of was the fact that I would be awake for the next twenty-four hours or more.
Dearly Departed – Passing Over The Past
There was a sense of unreality in taking a taxi to the airport in the small hours of the morning. Walking out of a crumbling apartment building in Kispest at 4:40 a.m. to find a taxi waiting with the engine running never feels normal. The driver said little more than Jo reggelt! (Good morning) which was a good thing because even if I could have spoken Hungarian, my brain was hardly functioning at this early hour. This was not so much a sad, as it was a strange way to end two magnificent weeks in Hungary. I wanted to stay longer, possibly forever, but that was impossible at this point in my life. Why is it that those things that seem just out of reach tantalize us the most? Perhaps it is because they are attainable. Instead, I would suffer in silence the curse of wanting ever more.
The taxi rumbled down pot holed side streets until it turned onto Ulloi ut. One of the major arteries into and out of the eastern half of Budapest. Ulloi is the longest avenue in the city, getting its name from the suburb of Ullo. The i on the end of the street’s name denoting that the road runs to and from that town. The avenue also has negative connotations for those Hungarians who remember the communist era. Back then, it was named Voros Hadsereg utca or Street of the Red Army. Soviet tanks rolled down the avenue in November 1956 when they arrived in mass to crush the hopes and dreams stirred by the Hungarian Revolution. The avenue was renamed after the Iron Curtain collapsed, but the name Ullo is just as fitting for that dark era. It means anvil.
Taking Flight – Terminal Associations
The outskirts of Budapest a couple of hours before dawn could be almost anywhere in America. The neon store signs for Aldi, Tesco, Lidl and DK are the only illuminations. It feels almost like home, albeit five thousand miles away. This deserted world would not awaken to well after the sun rose. By that time, I would be gone. It almost felt like it already. After a few more minutes the lights of Ferihegy Airport suddenly appeared. A headache inducing sight that burned my sleep deprived eyes. Cloaked in a fierce fluorescence, there was at least one world already awake. My heart dropped as we pulled up to the terminal. Where I had found my love just two weeks earlier, I was now going to lose it. A visceral feeling of hopelessness swept over me. What an irony, to find and leave love at the same place in so short a time. A life changing romance compressed between the past and present in an airport terminal. My associations with this terminal were manic, swinging wildly between optimism and depression.
As we exited the taxi, I suddenly felt it necessary to over tip the driver. This was done in the hopes of being granted good luck upon future returns. My thoughts turned quickly from romance and superstition to lining up for check-in. The check-in was not yet open for the day, but a line had already formed. There were young adults who looked like they had not slept all night, Asians who I silently felt sorry for because they likely had a longer trip ahead of them than I did, stiffly stylish looking European businessmen and American pensioners who had traveled along the Danube on Viking Cruise ships. I found the latter most annoying. They reminded me just how spoiled and self-centered Americans can be. My irritation was much worse because they reminded me of something in myself.
A Momentary Lapse Of Romance – Don’t Say Goodbye
I felt ridiculous for having been so stressed the night before over the possibility of missing my flight. This was a flight I dreaded having to take. My emotions were just as shaky as my nervous system. Saying goodbye was not going to be easy. After check-in we delayed my departure by having coffee just before I entered security. You know you are tired when a cup of extremely strong coffee makes you less, rather than more alert. The conversation was tepid, nothing need be said. One day, I reminded myself, this would all be over. She would be at my side through arrivals and departures, that day seemed far off, but its possibility pained me even more. Why could I not have that now? Love is a lot like travel, incredible experiences interrupted by long waits in some strange netherworld, whether it be in life or the Budapest Airport. Just like in love where you learn to live with someone’s faults, in travel you learn to live with delays and departures. Then the moment when there is nothing left to wait for suddenly arrives. The goodbye to a person and place that I dearly loved was suddenly reduced to watery eyes, long embraces and sad smiles. This was the end of one journey and the start of another.