I Already Added Milk
In between sadness, joy shines through the little things.
Written by Zoë Parker
Being in a long-distance relationship is hard, but being in a trans-Atlantic long-distance relationship during a world-stopping pandemic is even harder.
Like thousands of other couples, in late June I was ecstatic to hear the news that I could travel to the EU. After a month of waiting for my boyfriend’s exams to be completed and his time-off request from work to be approved, I booked my tickets to his home in Austria and counted down the days to being reunited.
The 18 months we were forced to spend apart inched along, but the two weeks we spent together rapidly disintegrated into our final moments together.
Pitch blackness greets my eyes as alarms blare and the dread of leaving sets in. I roll over to see Niki already thumbing through the early morning news, probably for the last 10 minutes in between snoozing the several alarms I need to fully come to terms with getting out of bed.
He sees I’m awake and sets his phone down to greet me, and I lay my head on his chest. Sleepily, he welcomes me like every other foggy summer morning, a sense of normalcy and delight that I relished in every sunrise for the past two weeks.
After a few minutes of morning hugs, he nudges me to get going. I know I need to get ready, and I convince myself I will, but I cannot seem to leave his childhood bed.
My thoughts of leaving start to cloud my head as I listen to his rhythmic heartbeat, as I try to push back against the sadness creeping in by counting the rests in between beats, only to find myself drifting back to sleep.
Niki flicks the switch on his bedside table lamp, illuminating the room and making it impossible to stay there forever no matter how much I would like to try.
Half-asleep, I throw myself to the end of the bed and stumble over the luggage we secured together the night before, complete with an old Nike T-shirt soaked in his Calvin Klein cologne and tightly wrapped in a bag to ensure freshness for my trip overseas and the next couple of months in the moments I find myself missing him.
My feet familiarize themselves with the cold, wood floors as I make my way to the bathroom to take a shower. In the dim light, I study the family portraits that decorate his dad’s office outside of the shower room, with each smiling face of the past I cling to their details as a means to remember them and their placement when I’m gone.
Once finished with my shower, I hurry back to Niki to avoid any of our final moments. To my surprise, I come back to a teeth-brushed and socks-on boy, ready to accompany me down the three flights of stairs to the kitchen.
We both grab our bags; he carries his military-issued backpack with a velcro name patch prominently displaying the last name “RENNER,” as well as my ridiculously packed-full-of-candy-and-souvenirs suitcase, leaving me left to carry only my purse and backpack.
I dry my hair, ready to whip up a cup of Nescafé instant coffee — a delicacy I only came to love after his mom and aunt lovingly made it for me a few too many times.
I take a few steps toward the kitchen, and the aroma of freshly-mixed coffee hits me. Niki stands tall over the wide-brimmed cup and excitedly motions towards me to sip my coffee. I start to twist the cap of the cartoned milk off, and Niki stops me.
“I already added milk!”
I look into the steaming cup and see the milky caramel-colored coffee I religiously consume. He had already added milk.
Butterflies mix in my stomach with the milky coffee, and I’m amazed at how right my coffee tasted; and all I focus on is the feeling of being taken care of and loved.
We stand in the dark kitchen, silently enjoying each other in our last few moments together.
4:15 a.m. approaches as I chug down the last few sips of coffee, avoiding the idea of walking out the front door and down the driveway for the last time in who knows how long.
Like clockwork, through the front windows we see headlights pierce through the darkness of the morning, the taxi driver tightening his parallel park in front of the house, waiting for us to go.
In the car, we glance at each other as if to acknowledge our imminent separation, avoiding actually spoken goodbyes. The street lights flicker over our intertwined hands as the taxi zooms through intersection after intersection, hitting each green light as if we were meant to say goodbye as soon as possible.
We arrive at my bus and the driver scans my ticket. I wait until every other passenger checks in and gets on the bus to say my final goodbye.
“Come back soon?” Niki says.
The bus pulls away as Niki stands on the corner aimlessly waving to the bus through its tinted windows. He doesn’t know where I am, but he wants to say his final goodbye. Without a pause he waves until the bus is down the street, leaving him in the darkness.
I am sad but I cannot help but think about my coffee. He already added milk.