Never Say Forever
There is always another door, and greener grass, and a different path
“Is Portugal your forever home?” someone asked recently.
The question gave me pause. Shocked me, almost. And I realized that it’s been quite awhile since I thought in terms of “forever.”
I was raised to believe in forever. The concept was clear in all the Sunday preachers’ sermons about the everlasting flames of damnation. In the promise of eternal life. In the making of unbreakable vows. In the expected lifespan of a soul.
When I married Marido at the ripe old age of 27, I knew those “I dos” were meant to last ‘til death. When I moved to San Francisco, I told everyone it was forever. “I’m going to be buried in this city,” I swore.
I meant it all but the older I grow, the less forever makes sense.
After we had been married a decade or more, Marido and I came to the mutual realization that we didn’t believe in soulmates—at least not the “there is one perfect person for you in all the world and if you’re lucky enough to find them, you’ll live happily ever after” variety.
First of all, we agreed, there is no perfect person. That’s a ridiculous, Disneyfied notion of how love works.
Second, there could be many persons with whom you’d make sense, with whom you could be happy. Safe. Loved. It’s all down to timing and choice. And chance.
Had we met each other at some other juncture in our lives, we might have shrugged on by without a second glance. Had we missed that connection altogether, perhaps we’d each have met someone else and chosen to build a life with that person instead. Only it wouldn’t have been “instead” because we wouldn’t have known there was a different, alternate version of reality that had failed to transpire.
It’s a multiverse way of looking at the world as a place in which each choice sparks a different storyline. I find it comforting to imagine multiple LaDonnas living out other versions of my life somewhere, versions in which I never left the church, never ventured out of my small town, never went to university or moved to California or married Marido or made Filha or started over across the Atlantic. Versions in which I never wrote a word. And versions in which I wrote more, moved more, married other partners, made other babies. Endless. The possibilities are endless.
In this version of the story, though, I believed in forever for quite a long time.
Back in San Francisco in the depths of 2020, I realized that my faith in forever was crumbling. Fog City was my home but even more, it was my Place. The only place I had ever felt I belonged.
But the city had changed. Or maybe it was me who had changed.
The things I wanted and the tradeoffs I was willing to make for those things evolved in the two decades since I entered the city newly-wed and shiny-eyed with an ever-searching heart.
Back then, I accepted the grind as an evil necessary to finance a life in this beautiful City of Misfits and Weirdos. Back then, I believed that if I worked hard enough and long enough, I’d get paid in dreams. I’d become a famous author—or famous enough that I could pay the bills with words I wrote for my own pleasure, not with words I wrote for others. Back then, I had only been married for a minute and Filha was nowhere near the horizon. Priorities were different. It was the year 2000, though, so everything was different.
Fast forward 20 years and the world we thought we knew fell down around our ears while we huddled in our houses googling contagion statistics. In the back of our 46th Avenue garage, in a dim corner that I grudgingly claimed as my office, I held up everything I loved to the light to see what still shone for me. To see what still mattered.
The collection I kept surprised me with its smallness.
In the end, it’s always the most essential things that make the cut. For me, the essentials were people. And words. Not my career, not my fat tech paycheck, not the orange house in the Outer Avenues that we fought so hard to land. And not the city I had loved for so long, the city that made me believe it loved me back.
I thought San Francisco was forever. But forever had an expiration date.
When the time came, I left and I didn’t look back.
Now here we are on the other side of the world. We’ve found ourselves a home, built ourselves a life.
We’re here now, and that’s good enough. It doesn’t need to be forever.
Recently we traveled up north: Porto, Aveiro, places we had neglected to visit because we’ve been too busy setting down roots. I confess I was a little hesitant to head north, a little scared.
I was afraid of how much I might like it.
Since we moved to Portugal during pandemic lockdowns, we didn’t do what many more recent immigrants do: We didn’t scout around for the best spot. We had never set foot in the country, actually, before we arrived with our visas and plans.
But we knew there would always be a prettier lady, as I wrote in a post marking six months of European living:
“Instead of spending the summer trekking all over Portugal, we stayed in Setúbal, buying furniture and exploring grocery stores and searching for the best mint ice cream cone in town. We landed, and immediately began feathering our nest.
It wasn’t exactly how the plan was supposed to go, we agreed, but not a one of us felt bad about it… I’m sure there are other cities out there, other towns, that have more delightful baixa districts or more charming waterfronts.
…But all things considered, this lady right here is pretty enough. We’re content; we don’t need to spend the rest of our days questing for perfection.”
Setúbal and Palmela fit us just fine. We’re happy here. But there’s always greener grass somewhere, and it’s human nature to be constantly questing.
So I was worried about how I’d react to Porto. What if it felt like kismet? What if I were totally bamboozled? What would that mean? I’m not a nomad, I’m a nester. I don’t want to pull up stakes again so soon.
And here’s the thing: I was right to be afraid. Porto charmed my pants off. I loved it with a capital L. L-O-V-E-D it. The city hits all the right notes for me, far more than Lisbon does. Not that I don’t like Lisbon. It’s lovely. It’s just—Porto vibrates on a different frequency, one much closer to my own.
I don’t mind a rainy day, either. Or rainy week/month/season.
But it’s ok. We’re not leaving Palmela for Porto.
Maybe, someday, another door will open. Something greener will beckon. A new path will diverge.
Until that day, we have a (most excellent) life to live where we are right now. Our eyes are not fixed on the horizon, searching, searching. We’re focused on the path and the place right in front of us. We are exactly where we need to be, doing exactly what we need to be doing.
But I will not make the mistake I’ve made before and try to close my fist to contain this place, this moment. I will hold it loosely and gladly, and treasure the joy of now.
Forever is just a figment.
Blink, and it’s gone.
Bonus photos (and video!) from points north…
(Best to click on through to view these on a browser instead of email b/c some servers will trim this section for length/file size.)
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