"Mama," I spoke before I had fully made up my mind to ask the question that had been lurking in the depths of my thoughts since I had returned home for the summer.
"Wasn't it hard? Leaving your home to move here, just so you could be with Papa?"
Mama was silent for a moment. "It was hard, harder than I ever imagined it would be," she said finally.
"Now that you know how hard it was..." I but my lip and looked down. "If you had the chance, would you do it all over again?"
Her eyes softened as she looked at me and smiled. "Yes, of course. If I had a second chance, I would do it all again." She leant forward and gathered me into a tight hug. I closed my eyes and hugged her back fiercely. There was something about a mother's hug that made everything seem better all at once.
"But that's so unfair," I mumbled into her shoulder. "You had to leave your home – your family, your friends. You sacrificed so much for Papa... What did he ever do for you?"
She laughed, pulling away so she could look me in the face. "Oh, your Papa would be so sad to hear that you see him as a villain." She said this with a chuckle, and I knew Papa would probably be hearing about this tonight. Any relationship advisor who liked to talk about how married couples needed to be a team had probably never met my parents. They told each other everything, so much so that I felt excluded sometimes. But that didn't mean they didn't have their problems, I knew. Aksel hadn't needed to tell me how difficult cross-cultural relationships were. I knew better than anyone else just how hard they were.
Her little moment of self-amusement over, Mama placed her hands on my shoulders. She grew serious as she spoke again. "Listen, sweetheart, I wasn't the only one who had to make sacrifices. It wouldn't have worked if the sacrifice had only come from one side. In a relationship, you both have to make compromises." She glanced away from me now, her eyes misty with memories. "My family disapproved of us. My parents, especially, gave your Papa such a hard time... But he fought for me. He proved himself to them. It took many years, but he did it."
This was news to me. "Grandma and Grandpa didn't like Papa?" I couldn't quite keep the shock out of my voice. "But whenever they come to visit, they treat him like their own son."
Mama smiled wryly. "It wasn't that way at first. Your grandparents are pretty open-minded people, but some stereotypes die hard."
I subsided, thinking about that. "I never knew."
"Transnational relationships are not easy," Mama had a faraway look in her eyes.
"But it was worth it?"
"Oh, sweetheart." Mama reached forward and enveloped me in a hug. "Of course it was worth it."
"I don't know how you did it, Mama," I mumbled, closing my eyes and wilting into her understanding embrace. "Leaving your home... Everything you knew..." I sniffled a little to clear my nose, which had suddenly clogged up. "My life is here," I whispered. "I have friends… family… Everything is here."
"Everything but this boy you love," my Mama said knowingly, looking at the tears that had started streaking down my face.
"How can you fall in love with someone in just half a year?" I asked sulkily.
"That's a question only you can answer," Mama said.
"I don't know," I wrapped my arms around myself. How did I feel about Aksel? He drove me crazy. He had been so rude and standoffish when we'd first met, I'd thought he hated me. But then I remembered the way he'd taken care of me when I'd gotten in over my head in that drinking competition, even though we had just met that very night; not to mention that time when he'd pulled me back from the oncoming traffic and positioned himself on the outside of the pavement like a shield. I remembered the first time we'd touched – the way his skin against mine had sent a tingle up my spine and shocked me into being more alive than I had ever felt. The first time we'd kissed – that explosive kiss that had been quietly building up since that very first day. The way he had looked into my eyes before we'd slept together for the first time and murmured, "I don't do this with just anyone."
And I remembered how we had slowly become friends, how he had held my hand, guided me up the volcano, and then pushed me to climb the peak when I would've given up. I remembered the nights when we would lie in bed together, talking about our dreams and hopes, about our lives back home. About who we really were, and not just what stereotypes about race and culture told us what to be.
But most of all, I remembered the sharp, paralysing pain lodged between my ribs when I'd had to turn my back and walk away from him for the last time.
Mama handed me a tissue silently. I took it automatically, only then realising that I was sobbing so hard I couldn't breathe.
"Shit," I muttered, blowing my nose loudly, "I'm in love with him."
Mama smiled softly. "If you weren't in love with him, you wouldn't be thinking about all this."
Typical Mama. She had known all along, but had made me figure it out for myself.
"Why are you so encouraging?" I groused. "I would have thought you'd tell me to forget about him, that a fling is just a fling."
"Love is love, sweetling," Mama said gently. "You should know I'm the last person who would tell you not to follow your heart where it takes you."
"Even if I end up moving to Finland somewhere down the road?"
"Of course I don't want you to move so far away," Mama said, pursing up her lips, a habit that often manifested itself in me as well. "And I'm not telling you to jump into things too quickly. But if this boy makes you happy..."
And he did. Just thinking about him about broke my heart, but I also found myself smiling.
"But... Long-distance relationships..." I looked down at my hands. "And even before that – transnational relationships? Everything about this will be so difficult."
"All relationships require effort," Mama said. "But you're right, transnational relationships require more work than usual. Especially when it's a long-distance as well. Whether the effort is worth it – is something you have to decide for yourself."
I was silent for a while. My heart was slowly falling back into place, after being dislodged for so many weeks. Would Aksel be worth all the heartbreak, tears, frustration, and longing that often came with a long-distance relationship? If, one day, I had to leave all that I knew to move to a foreign land to be with him – feel like even more of an outsider in a country I had no ties with – could I do it?
I already knew the answer, didn't I?
"But I don't want to live in Finland," I lamented. "They barely ever get any sun there. I like the sun." I giggled through my tears as a memory hit me, "Did you know up in the north of Finland, the sun doesn't rise above the horizon for, like, two months? That's just crazy."
"Is that where he lives?" Mama was looking at me closely as she asked this question.
"No," I said, remembering what he had said to that Belgian girl, Marie, so long ago. "He's never been there. He goes to uni in Oulu – that's near the middle of the country, I think. But he's planning to go to Helsinki after graduation. He studies Accounting, you know. He wants to work in investment banking there. I wonder what types of job openings there are for Chemistry degree holders in Helsinki…" I trailed off when I saw that Mama was smiling at me softly. "What?" I asked, a little defensively.
"I think you already know what you want to do," my mother said.