Heartbreak in times of quarantine

I’m sorry, my dear readers. I had taken a 3 month break from writing. I just couldn’t find the words to describe what has happened in the last 2 months. See… my world literally collapsed. Everything I knew about my life 2 months ago is gone. Pretty much every aspect of my life has changed and it has taken me a long time to catch my breath.

Last time you knew I’m still stuck in Saudi. I ended my contract of employment in February and was due to fly home with Moshen, our Saudi rescue pup, in early April. And then Covid-19 came along and like many of you it ruined all the future plans I had. Suddenly the world was a very uncertain place and, looking back, I really didn’t handle the uncertainty very well. This isn’t exactly a story of Covid, but I’m just painting the background of the story. At the time I was content to hang out in Saudi Arabia until my Lufthansa flight was rescheduled because I didn’t want to risk exposure from travel and because I was safe with my husband and pup.

So pretty much every few weeks as the weeks went by my new scheduled flight got canceled. There were some embassy repatriation flights, but you couldn’t fly animals on them, so I decided to just sit still. So April dragged into May. The days were long. I was super unproductive and very anxious. We mostly had a curfew and our movement was restricted to the area we lived in – so my only real trips were to the grocery store. Luckily we lived on a large western compound so we could go for a walk. There was a time when we were on 24/7 lockdown and still couldn’t leave the premises. Anyway, without going into details, my guy and I broke up. Or more specifically, he broke up with me. I didn’t see it coming.

I was devastated. I booked the next repatriation flight arranged by the American Embassy via Washington DC, which was about a week and a half later. Although the Canadian Embassy had some occasional flight options, they required multiple flight connections for me to get home, so I decided not to take them. I spent that week and a half struggling to understand what was happening while still sharing an apartment with him. It was agony. Sometimes it felt like I couldn’t breathe. I cried the whole time the way it felt. Since it was a repatriation flight, taking Moshen with you was no longer an option. I had always thought I would return to Saudi Arabia, a country that has really become a part of me, but that dream of coming back always involved visiting my boyfriend. Without that connection, it felt like I was losing all future plans to return. It was just layers and layers of loss and sorrow.

How I made it to the airport on the morning of my flight I will never know. Those of you who have said goodbye to loved ones without knowing if you will ever see them again can understand. If you’ve never had to do this, consider yourself lucky. We had to have a special permit from the embassy for him to drive me as we were under a 24 hour curfew at the time and without it he could have been fined at one of the checkpoints. We were both emotional. I will never forget that goodbye or the last kiss I gave Moshen. Even weeks later I can’t type this without evoking all these fresh emotions.

I flew direct from Riyadh to Dulles airport. Oddly there was no Covid screening on arrival which was odd. I stayed at a nearby hotel and then flew to Seattle the next morning to stay the night at my best friend’s house, who then drove me to the Canadian border. I am so infinitely grateful that I was allowed to see her. With the Canada-US border closed, it will likely be sometime in 2021 before I see them again. From here I went into quarantine in an Airbnb apartment that I had booked. In Canada you can’t quarantine anyone over the age of 65 so staying with my parents wasn’t an option and I really didn’t want to risk embarrassing them if I picked it up on one of my flights.

So breakups are never fun, but going through a breakup and then being forced to sit alone with your thoughts for 2 weeks is no joke. There is no “Let me get my headphones and go for a walk” or meet up with my friends to drink as much wine as it takes to forget all this. Luckily my quarantine had wine, which was probably the only thing that got me through. I told my friends that if I survived heartbreak quarantine I would leave it a bloody warrior. Well I survived but I think the warrior part is going to take a little longer. I’m slowly starting to feel more and more myself.

So there I was. Wading through all these dark feelings of loss and sadness over the life I thought I would lead with someone I still love dearly. I’m learning to let it go I’m trying to fill this huge hole with other things. You see, not only did I lose my partner, he was my best friend. My person. That was honestly the hardest part. And of course I miss Moshen so much too, but I know he’s being taken care of.

In addition, there is the adaptation of returning home after living abroad. My expat colleagues know all too well how difficult it is to readjust to old lives. Reintegration into family roles and restoration of friendships. I think the reason a lot of us become serial expats is that we’ll never be able to fully blend back into our home countries. We get used to the ridiculous daily things that happen outside of our native countries and learn to thrive in those conditions. If you’ve lived in Saudi Arabia for years, I can assure you that normal life in Canada feels pretty boring in comparison. There are no odd broken Arabic/English conversations with the taxi driver or the check-out person at the grocery store. Everything you are looking for is sure to be in stock. Gone are the days when you had to find the brand of peanut butter you love and had to buy 6 packs because you know you won’t find them again for at least the next 6 months. No older clothed women try to stroke my hair in aisle 4. Nobody tries to stare at me to marry them. It’s all very ordinary.

But I have to remember that before the breakup I had plans to return to Canada. Although I really enjoyed living and traveling in Saudi Arabia, I didn’t want to work as a nurse there anymore. I didn’t want to work where I worked anymore. So, even though I didn’t go under the circumstances I planned, I still planned to go. I just thought our relationship would last the distance. And I have to keep reminding myself that the heart heals. I am so thankful for this love that I got to share. It only took me 39 years to meet someone who made my heart expand beyond what I ever thought possible. This will happen again.

So I’m in the process of changing. I just bought a new car and am starting a new job next month, in a new place, with new memories. I hope this post isn’t too much, it took me a long time to get to the point of sharing. I believe that healing comes from vulnerability. It’s also just going to take time – it’s been a relationship of almost 2 years and it’s not something one person can move on from overnight. In the words of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”

Also, I am calling out the copyright for the title of this post in case I wish to use it when writing my memoir. Which, given my lack of discipline, will likely never happen. There’s more to come. Hopefully sooner than another 3 months.