Paco glanced back at me through the rear view mirror. He wanted to make sure I was okay. That I was comfortable. As comfortable as I could be at 11 pm that night as we drove from the airport to downtown Toronto twinkling in the distance.
“Is everything okay ma’am?” he asked. “Yes, thank you,” I responded, but I wasn’t sure he heard from that distance. Honestly, I’d rather have sat in the passenger seat next to him than what felt like 10 feet away hugged by soft dark leather in the back of his luxury sedan which had been sent.
“Where are you from?” he asked. I told him. That same story that starts with Nigeria, transitions through the US, and settles in Sweden. Yes, I am Nigerian but I’ve also invested my teenage and young adult years in the US too so I consider myself Nigerian-American.
I guessed where he was from before he told me himself. Originally from Mexico. He’d been here for at least 15, maybe 20 years. And he loved his new country Canada. He’d traveled around it quite a bit.
“My cousin is moving to Vancouver and I’m looking forward to visiting him out there too,” he said as he looked through the left side mirror before carefully switching lanes.
“That area is known for skiing as well,” he tried to sell me on skiing.
“I’ve tried it only once,” I said. “And it reminded me why I’m African. I didn’t like it and it felt quite unnatural for me to be skiing down the side of a mountain for fun.”
He laughed loudly.
“You know, I’ve also been skiing but I didn’t like it either. My friends warned me to take some pain relief medicine before I went. I didn’t. The next day, I was so sore I couldn’t move. I’m Mexican. Just give me a soccer ball and I’m happy,” he shared.
I laughed loudly.
“So I take it you love to travel and try new things?” I asked.
“Oh, I love to travel,” he beamed. “I traveled a lot before I was married and now that I’m married with children, I still get to travel. I just got back from Peru. Alone.”
“Yes, just give me a backpack and I’m off. I love being spontaneous. I explored Lake Titicaca. I went to Machu Picchu. I couldn’t hike there because the trail was closed so I took the train but it was amazing,” he continued.
“That’s wonderful,” I said. “So how often do you get to travel every year by yourself?”
“Well, my wife and I started our own little thing…at each one’s birthday, you get to go off somewhere on your own and do what you love. So instead of celebrating her birthday with her, she can go off with girlfriends and do whatever she wants. For my birthday, I get to travel solo and explore and enjoy the things I want to,” he continued.
Downtown Toronto was getting closer. I wanted to push it back a few more miles.
“So for me, it was Peru this year. Next year, maybe a safari in Africa.”
“I love this,” I said. “Because it lets you be who you were before you got married. And it’s so easy to lose one’s self once marriage and kids come.”
“Exactly! And doing it around our birthdays gives us the time to reflect alone on just how far we’ve come individually without losing the core of who we are,” Paco said. “I’ll always be a traveler and my wife knows and understands this.”
I’d always known just how important this space to be you within marriages was and I’m extremely grateful for a spouse who understands and supports me.
But I loved hearing this from Paco himself. Especially doing this during birthdays. Giving each other that space to celebrate personally and reflect on each passing year. Yes, they had kids but they made it work in a way that made their relationship stronger and more fulfilling.
I didn’t need to tell Paco that I’d also been to Peru or that I’d been fortunate to hike four days along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
It didn’t matter.