There is an old Yiddish expression “Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” or man plans, and god laughs.
It is one of my all-time favorite adages not only because it is so liquid that it can fit any situation but because it is true. We can and do plan our lives in the flawed thinking that our plans will be carried out in the way in which we have envisioned it. Nothing happens in life the way we envision. Which may be why God keeps around. He finds our efforts amusing.
Thinking about it, Murphy, the one with the famous law, must have been Jewish or at least spoke Yiddish. “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong” is remarkably similar to Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht.” As it is corollary “Murphy was an optimist.” But we keep on trying. We may be God’s favorite comedy special although it is hard to tell because we do not know the programming on other spiritual planes, universes, etc.
Back in February, I was hit in the head with this clown size powderpuff of an idea square in the face. When Elaine, had left NJ in late February she had vowed to return by my birthday in mid-March. However, a few weeks before my birthday she tearfully explained that she could not make it back. Some of her business and professional interests had not been settled in a timely fashion. She asked instead that I come to Rio and if I did, she would whisk me away to Costa Verde for a weekend of sun and cachaca. So, I went to Rio.
The Costa Verde and Paraty were every bit as lovely as Elaine had said. The scenery along the coast was magnificent. Paraty was rustic and beautiful. The cachaca cold and the food “gustoso.” We had a magnificent time. It was only on the day after my birthday that we began to hear rumblings of the deepening of the Covid 19 crisis. It had been bad. I had been nervous to travel to the point I brought my own travel sized Lysol with me, but it was while we were traveling the WHO declared the pandemic. Our first indication of how serious the Pandemic was being taken in Brazil was on the rest stops on the drive home. Most of the bathrooms had run out of soap. It was also at one of the rests stops that my phone pinged with a message from American Airlines letting me know that my flight home on March 21 had been cancelled.
American Airlines could not have been more polite when I called to inquire about an alternative flight home. They immediately booked me on a flight that would leave on the 27th. 5 days later they cancelled that flight too. They also did not know when they were going to resume service as the Pandemic had begun to shut down many aspects of our normal day to day life. The earliest they could book me back to the US was May 4th. I could have found another way-out Brazil at that time. Other airlines were operating but I chose to stay because at the scariest most fearful time in our lives I did not want to be separated from my wife and she was unwilling to leave Rio. I booked the flight on American for early May.
After hair raising, wash producing, disinfecting provoking trip to a SuperMacado to lay in supplies Elaine and I quickly settled into a daily routine. Elaine would work her social groups in the morning, and I would go to the office to write. This was a blessing for me. I have harbored a secret desire to write for a living for long time. Sadly, the need to make money and employment made this difficult. It is not that I did not write but it was hard to do every day. Clear from the responsibilities of a job, as I had been furloughed, and nothing but free time on my hand I wrote. And I loved it…well most of it…. I hate proof reading. Domestically, it was wonderful. My wife and I, in addition to loving each other, like each other. She is courteous enough to laugh at my jokes, even when she has heard them before. I learned how to make coffee the way she liked.
Our neighborhood is a gated community. The streets empty with beautiful vistas and lovely flora and the occasional cute fauna. It made walking for exercise a joy without the stress of running into too many people. I found a trainer who would, for a relatively small amount of money, give me virtual training sessions.
We found a way to have groceries delivered to our home and the occasional meal brought in from a restaurant.
This is not to say that I did not have things pulling me at back at the states. There was Rosie the wonder dog. She was not supposed to stay at “The Farm” for an indefinite period of time. It was expensive. It also produces some expectations for her that I could not keep up with. Unlimited access to open fields and other dogs to play with whenever she felt like romping. Those things could be dealt with, but I missed her as well. She is, on most days my constant companion, and I missed her.
Also, shortly before my trip to Brazil I had an annual check-up. I was in good shape, but the EKG revealed that two of my “waves” were inverted. This was not new news. I had the same result before, and it had been checked out benignly. However, out of an abundance of caution, whatever that means, my physician advised I see a cardiologist. I had made an appointment, but it had to be postponed due to my situation and the Pandemic. But it made me nervous and like a mild acid it wore at me.
Life was good. We had a plan and we were working it. And, it was only for six weeks so I could postpone the worries I had for that long.
Then American Airlines cancelled my flight for May 4.
The pandemic was out of control in both the United States and Brazil. Both Trump and Bolsonaro are terrible leaders. In addition to lacking basic human decency where life is value more than business they lack leadership skills that help a population endure the unendurable. They promoted false cures and scoffed at basic safety measures. The result was the countries were shutting down and the airlines were following their lead. Brazil now only 9 flights a week to the United States and none of them were from Rio. Traveling to the United States meant going through San Paulo or Campinas, both of which were virus hot spots. I could choose to make the trek to these cities and expose myself to more of the virus or I could choose to wait until Rio reopened to US travel.
Elaine and I talked. Whatever decision that was made I wanted Elaine to come with me. We both find comfort and solace at this time of great discomfort and fear with each other. Being a part would make a difficult world seem far harsher. Elaine was adamant. As much as she loved our home in the US as much as she wanted to be with me, she did not want to expose herself unnecessarily to the virus. What happens when an immovable object (Elaine) meets an irresistible object (me…maybe?) You compromise. We agreed it was important for me to see the Dr. To get home for the dog and to take care of all the other things that had laid fallow for months. That I would leave on the earliest plane possible from Rio, June 4, and she would follow in early July. I purchased her ticket for her and changed my reservation.
Several weeks later I was on the American Airline site. The events of the past few months had taught me that vigilance of the site was the only way I would know if my flight was cancelled. I was not surprised by very saddened to learn it had been cancelled. A call to AA revealed that they did not expect to resume service from Rio until July at the very earliest. That I could wait or book a flight out of Sao Paulo
I booked a flight out of Sao Paulo. Three months away from home was enough. I needed to get home. I need to tend my medical needs. I needed to see my dogs. I needed my niece and nephew, my family. But I did not want to fly to Sao Paulo. In addition to not trusting Brazilian safety factors, the flights from Rio to Sao Paulo are usually densely packed with no requirements for masking and it would require hours more in unsafe airports. Elaine and I decided to call the cab driver, Marcus, who normally takes me to the airport and offer him the opportunity to take me to Rio. We hoped as a previously existing medical condition had kept him off the road that a fare to Sao Paulo would be appealing to him. It was. He would drive me for 2100 reals or just under $400. That is twice as expensive as airfare but worth it to me. A deal was struck.
In the weeks leading up to my scheduled departure date I started to hear words of concern from friends and acquaintances alike. “How are things going in Brazil. The news says its terrible down there.” Or “What is going on down there? Brazils has been in the news a lot lately.” Even “Are you okay? I worry about you in Brazil.” It should be noted I knew things were shit in Brazil. While I only looked at the news in passing every day as I found too much news made me way too worried my wife consumed the news like a fat man at a buffet. Daily I would hear reports of the breakdown of the Brazilian government, the internecine fighting between state and federal government over action and responsibility, President Bolsonaro’s poor imitation of Donald Trump but mostly of the daily increase in the death toll. The graphs and the news were definitely the wrong way and I was growing increasingly concerned.
When I heard rumors a few weeks before my intended departure that President Trump was considering a travel ban from Brazil claxons began sounding loudly for me. Will Robinson was not in danger but perhaps I was.
On May 24, the hammer dropped. Trump announce a travel ban from Brazil to the United States. While I was not affected as a US citizen nor Elaine as my spouse, I knew that this would further decrease flights between the country from 9 to even less. I knew that American Airlines was likely not to add the flight from Sao Paulo as they could support the route with diminished demand. My fears were correct. A call to American Airlines confirmed that while the flight was still scheduled it was likely to be cancelled.
After further consultation with Elaine, a log of angst, and a few tears we made the decision to seek an alternative to my American Airline flight. It was further reluctantly agreed that we need to “go while they are going was good” as any delay could produce more humor from God. United Airlines had a flight that left Sao Paulo on the 28th and connecting through Houston put me back in Chatham on the afternoon of the 29th. Even though the price for a First-Class ticket was high I decided that safety was paramount. That the further separation of Business class would provide better margins of safety and as a consequence, worth the investment.
My last few days in Rio passed far too quickly. Despite my wife’s reservation on July 7 to come to the United States, and the fact for seven years we have been living a bi-continental lifestyle, with separations that were far longer than the one we were about to experience, we both realized that her trip was only a placeholder. Should the Pandemic take a more aggressive course in Brazil, due to virulence and government misconduct, all plans would-be put-on hold until the disease ebbed. If, Rio’s airport remains closed to international flights our plans would be put off indefinitely. In other words, for the first time in our marriage and courtship our next meeting was not planned. We literally did not know when, after the next, few days, we would ever see each other again. This fact weighed heavily on us and both of us, independently, and sometimes together, would break down in tears in the uncertainty and the subsequent fear of not being in control of our destiny.
When these breakdowns would happen Elaine would seek to reassure me telling me that she knew why I had to go. I would almost believe her but guilt from leaving would keep me from being totally confident in that declaration. I would tell her that if she could not come to me, I would come back to her by her birthday. She would always reply “No my darling, you must stay safe.”
To which I would reply “I will return to you by then, I promise.” This is I said with total confidence and belief despite the fact that I knew that I no control over of my destiny in this regard. I was at the mercy of two governments whose handling of the pandemic had been incompetent at best, the virility of Covid 19, and the mercies of airlines whose schedules had yet to be set in concrete. We both knew we were launching ourselves into the unknown and the uncertainty and fear made us cling together and the days flew as if on methamphetamines.
All too quickly it was our last night together. As we spooned in bed that night, I imagined that I felt like soldiers on the eve of battle. Not only what would the next day bring and would I have the courage to persevere through the myriad of difficulties that lay on the road to home, but also on the health consequences of my decision. I was relatively safe at our home in Itanhanga although illness lay around every corner and was going to get far worse before it got better. Would traveling home make me sick? Would I catch the disease? If I did how sick would I get? Would I be a mild case or a severe case? How would feel being sick and alone? Who would comfort me? If I stayed in Rio what would happened to me if I got sick as I speak little Portuguese and the hospitals are filled to capacity? Was I leaving for the right reasons….to find work, to take care of my health issues, to take care of my dog, try to resume a normal life or was I coward running from battle and deserting my wife in the process? What kind of man leaves his wife? But didn’t you offer her the opportunity to travel with you? Didn’t you buy her a ticket to come with you? Isn’t the choice to stay hers? Should not you have yelled, screamed stamped your feet, and done anything else you could have to persuade her even though your relationship had always been based on dialogue not diatribe.?
Needless to say, despite the comforting arms of my wife, I slept little that night.
(Part 2: May 31)