It had been over 2 years since I’d seen Dante. The more time that passed, the more I questioned its reality. It was difficult to tell whether my excitement from birthday texts, holiday wishes, and occasional voice messages to check-in faded with time. That first Christmas I scripted a minute -long voice message in Spanish about how my grandparents’ house smelled like fish and “Que rico!” at the photos of his set table and first course. Neither of us were very good about talking consistently. The pandemic elongated the duration I could not travel.
Finally, in January 2022 I booked a flight to Chile. I felt like I was fulfilling the prophecy of the woman at the last party who whispered “…or you must come back.” I made big, open plans to travel more of the country than last time. My first stop was living and working in Viña Del Mar for 2 weeks. Dante excitedly made plans for us, and I intentionally did not pack expectations.
An unexpected quarantine restriction on arrival also allowed me to see Santiago again, only its energy was brighter. The graffiti stained walls were tattoos from its past, and just like me, Santiago carried it forth into a fresh start.
Dante texted me the day before we were set to meet and told me what had been rolling around in my head for weeks, how he couldn’t believe it’s been 2 years, that we would finally see each other again. Major vital organs felt like they swapped places, stomach in throat, brain in hand, heart in skull.
I emerged from my ride to our meeting point and immediately spotted him as he began moving towards me between vendors and other bus station travelers. A long, firm hug was like fitting a missing piece. He kissed the top of my head and rolled a cigarette simultaneously arranging a ride for us to the apartment. The balcony overlooked the city and ocean. He unloaded 6 bottles of wine to chill and showered while I breathed in the view and shook my disbelief.
Dante opened a pinot noir from his winery and rolled a spliff. Once relaxed, he admitted he was unsure he’d even recognize me but did immediately when I arrived at the station. He said no time has passed. And it was true! We talked completely effortlessly mostly in English but with an occasional incorporation of Spanish. The biggest life update I told him about was my experience in the Amazon taking ayahuasca, and he listened intently asking questions with emotion and curiosity.
Out on the patio, suddenly with anxiety he noticed and pointed to a small scab or freckle on his tricep for me to examine for potential skin cancer. I felt like a version of myself sat across from me waiting for my own assurance.
We reserved a table for 9pm and decided to have pre-beers. At the cervecsaria he updated me about everything at the winery, the gossip, the changes, the growth. Each detail dusted off memories. Dante with a heavy heart decided to move on from the winery where I met him to this new place for continued evolution.
I sat in a puddle of presence while he spoke more about his future. I chewed his prospects and ideas like the locos, or thick mollusks native to the coast of Chile that he was thrilled to order for us. I wondered how we looked to other restaurant guests, how enamored I listened. The white wine that tasted like green apples pulled my thinking mind into the experience. Suddenly I thought not enough of my future had been discussed. I blurted “I’m writing a book!” out of context, and it was indeed received that way. After initial confusion from both of us, he shrugged it off with casualness and asked questions. I kicked myself with embarrassment because a book was not at that point in my near future and it was ridiculous to mention it. My future was this gaping hole, and I constantly improvised what was going to fill it.
Morning exploded with magic. We sat on the beach and went for lunch at an older couple’s house who were friends of Dante from the winery where we met. I was pleased to understand most of the Spanish and even contribute, increasing of course over the 9 hours we spent there. Our host, who decided with Dante to call me “piola” or “low profile,” asked me why I chose that specific winery years ago and why I decided to make it my one and only stop. I spoke about chance, then added to try clarifying that it was a bit random. Dante cut in to adamantly call it chance. The host seemed to understand and said, “destiny.”
The second night with him was a surprise to me because I told my work-stay I’d only be gone one overnight. I swear his “guess you’re not working tonight” was a transparent apology and an indication this was part of his plan all along. Despite the long night and bottomless food, wine, piscolas, and grappa served, back at the apartment we listened to Italian music and spontaneously ordered a pizza. I wondered if after the first day together the surreal feelings and novelty would fade. It didn’t, but became better. Being together became realistic.
In the morning we parted ways, and it’s a see you soon. We were blissfully incorrect.
My journey continued down the sliver-shaped country to Patagonia as Dante’s work schedule completely filled in anticipation of the South American wine industry’s busiest time of year. Although my experiences with Dante have been absolutely transformative and a beautiful, deep connection, we are two individuals living very different, very passionate lives. What will be, will be.