When I read this story Finlandia Vodka came to mind. In a rocks glass, two fingers worth, mixed with soda and cranberry juice. Then, ice. Three to four cubes. It’s a complete drink to accompany Shawna Enns’ tale of love found and lost in the brisk environs of Finland. Please enjoy today’s story from Summer Chick Tales.
It was 2005 and I was absolutely thrilled with myself, because I had put a dream in motion. I had successfully arrived, completely solo, in Turku, Finland to begin a four month university exchange. Now, this location in itself is not terribly exotic, and the weather was generally far from paradise, but this was my first time overseas and just as I had hoped, it proved to be an experience of a lifetime.
During the first week of school all of the International Business students were put into teams to do a city-wide scavenger hunt, which essentially turned into one huge pub crawl. I spotted him right away, a rather cocky, but quite hilarious, Dutch student with spiky hair, obnoxious yellow high tops, and a shit-eating grin. His name was Erik.
As it turned out, our apartments weren’t too far from each other and we were the only students within our group of friends that decided to bike to school instead of getting bus passes. We would bump into each other on the bike path and soon enough, he started waiting for me each morning to head to school together.
As October approached, I found myself thinking of home and the big juicy turkey that my friends and family would be sharing together for the Thanksgiving holiday. I realized that of course, Europeans do not have this holiday so I decided that with the help of my friends, I would host a real Canadian Thanksgiving. It was a challenge to track down some of the ingredients, but it was hilarious watching my French friends make piles of mashed potatoes in a dorm-sized kitchen and to see their perplexed faces at the grocery store as I tried to find an appropriate substitute for canned pumpkin.
The night went off famously, though I did have to call my dad at 4 a.m. Regina time to figure out how long the turkey should be cooked. We shared great food, we each expressed something we were thankful for, and we drank copious amounts of wine and Finnish vodka. Throughout the night, it seemed that Erik and I had our eye on one another, each trying to be inconspicuous, but always meeting each other’s glances at the exact same time. As the evening progressed, the remaining guests thought I should teach them how to line dance because in their minds, this is what Canadians do. Erik got right in there and started dancing away beside me. At that point, we could no longer ignore our connection.
So the semester continued with Finnish hockey games together, trips to Sweden and essentially co-habitating in my little university apartment. I had come across the new James Blunt CD while on a weekend trip to Russia, so we’d play it over and over on my player as we talked and laughed late into the cold Finnish nights.
But, as I’m sure many can attest to, love stories on the road often turn to tragedy as quickly as they turn to bliss. The end of the semester was in the middle of December and Erik had invited me to join him on the drive home to The Netherlands so that he could show me where he was from before I flew home. Right from the get-go, there was something very bittersweet about this invitation. I was thrilled about going to the Netherlands and the chance to see Sweden, Denmark and Germany along the way, but I knew a goodbye was looming.
As I tried to pack up my life in Finland before our road trip, all kinds of hilarious mistakes were made, most likely because my mind was overcome with the idea of leaving my fellow exchange students and this crazy life we had created for ourselves over the last four months. I did my last load of laundry and accidentally threw my sweater in there with my apartment key still in it. The laundry was done automatically by loading the machine with credits from your cell phone (remember, this is Finland, land of Nokia) and so the door refused to open before the cycle was done. I sat there in the apartment laundromat for a good hour contemplating whether I could relocate my life to the Netherlands so that I would never have to leave Erik.
Our trip to The Netherlands was great fun. We toured Anne Frank’s former home, drank Grolsch and partied at a jazz bar that famous artists like Chet Baker have performed at. But, as it always does when you’re traveling, time ran out too soon. On the morning of my flight home we took a train to the airport in Amsterdam. Once we got my highly oversized bags onto the train, I could no longer keep face. A tear streamed down my cheek, then his, one, then another, and then sobs as we sat across from one another, our hands locked together, oblivious of all the onlookers surrounding us on this crowded train. It seems the emotions were contagious. Though I don’t know what she said, a younger women standing nearby with her significant other, motioned towards me and tears welled up in her eyes. I guess heartbreak crosses the boundaries of every culture and language.
We arrived at the airport and my bags were indeed, way too heavy. I begrudgingly started getting rid of things and rearranging between my bags and my carry-on, still crying all the while, and begging them to let me get on with this. Finally, the airport employee took pity on my poor, pathetic soul and accepted my bags. The only thing left to do was pass through security and inevitably, part ways with Erik. I’m still perplexed at how my legs actually moved me through those doors, because at the time, if my heart had anything at all to do with it, I would never have left his side. Somehow, I let go of his hand, took one last long look, and said goodbye.
Author Bio: Life has a funny little way of working out exactly as it should. Three years later, Shawna Enns met her husband when she accepted a position at a radio station in Regina after returning from an internship in Africa. Skott lived in Australia for a couple of years, which sparked their immediate connection to travel. They got married to the beat of West African drums and never let go of their love for traveling. On June 18, 2011, they are embarking on a one-year trip around the world. Follow along at the Get Up and Globe blog, or find them on Twitter.
Summer Chick Tales was conceived from my love of the season and my obsession with slurpees. I always have one every summer. I also love women writers. Lots. If you want to submit a story or be in charge of the mojito station, see the editorial schedule. Come on, join the XX chromosome party.
Photo: LaPrima Donna