Since arriving in Germany, life has been a blur of green. Long days are spent at work with very little time for leisure. Indeed life on a military installation can be a bit overwhelming for those not accustomed to it.

Waking every morning before dawn and not returning home many nights until well after dusk is a typical story in the US Army. The profession demands nothing but the best from us and we make every effort to deliver. While satisfying to know that you are contributing to something much bigger than your own personal interests, it is also exhausting at times. This is where work and play must eventually balance out. My balance came after my unit went on a particularly intense training session. We had returned and now the window had opened for us to take a little R&R and I could think of no better place to escape to than Lisbon, Portugal.

Photo by Katya Shkiper on Unsplash

The sudden jolt of the cabin as the plane touched down on the airstrip of Aeroporto Humberto Delgado roused me from my nap. I looked around from my aisle seat to see that both passengers beside me were still both fast asleep. It had been a short 3 hour flight from Munich to Lisbon, but I generally try to sleep on flights as much as I can as I don’t fancy the in-flight meals and having to listen to the infant in the aisle across from me screaming. I scrambled around for my phone and checked the battery life, it was on about 10%. I sighed. Even when I try to keep a charge on my phone it always seems to drain. Gotta love Apple.

I switched back on from airplane mode and as soon as it connected with a cell tower, I got an unknown call from a Parisian number. It was my friend Brian Dresden. We had met about a decade ago when he was visiting family in Columbus, Georgia where I was visiting my family. Although we initially started the friendship with blurred lines and heavy flirting, we eventually came to terms that it would be better for our friendship if we remained friends. He was living in D.C. now and had agreed to meet me in Lisbon for my birthday trip as his was only a few days before mine. He had called to inform me that he had already made it to the hotel and to hurry as he was eager to start seeing the city. I hung up and disembarked as the feeling was definitely mutual.

“Brian!” I exclaimed throwing my arms around my friend as he opened the door to the fourth floor flat that was to be ours for the next 8 days.

“Javari! It’s good to see you!” he said giving me a peck on each cheek.

“Come on, I’ll get your bag, you go get showered so we can go see the sights!” he demanded shooing me to the restroom at the other end of the flat. I laughed and complied.

The first half of our trip we spent exploring all that Lisbon had to offer. We strolled down the age worn streets of Bairro Alto and Chiado, we visited the esoteric halls of Jeronimo over in Belem, we sailed across the Rio Tejo and ate music under the spell of the traditional Fado music over in Almada, bathed in the warm sun at the beaches down in Costa da Caparica and even went to see Christ. Everything from the food to the weather was perfect. It was never too hot, always a breeze off the ocean and the emotion of the city was infectious. Even (most) of the guys were different on Grindr than back in Germany. More were open to dates or meeting for drinks that didn’t have expectations.

Lovely streets of Lisbon

Photo by Anup Kumar on Unsplash

Walking around in Lisbon

Photo by Diego García on Unsplash

Caldas da Rainha, Leiria

Photo by Catarina Carvalho on Unsplash

Lisbon winding streets

empty alley Photo by Andreas M on Unsplash

A view over Lisbon to the ocean

Photo by Louis Droege on Unsplash

Take Lucas Poseis for instance, although we did not meet on an app, he was a great example of this. We met in a manner I thought long extinct in the gay dating community; in person. Brian and I were wandering up and down Rua da Atalaia, the ‘gay street’ in bairro alto on our first night in town. The streets were lined with people, so many people that the cars had trouble driving down them due to the crowds. We were passing a club boasting some of the loudest music on our block called Copacabana. Standing outside I caught the eye of a guy. He smiled and I returned it nervously before looking away. When we had passed the bar I looked back to see he was still staring and when our eyes met again he smiled again. I gave a small nod and turned and kept walking.

“What are you doing?” Brian said, hotly stopping me.

“What do you mean?” I frowned.

“Don’t play coy. That guy was checking you out!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah and...? It was just a look,” I said taking a sip of my caipirinha.

“Maybe he wanted more than just a word,” Brian growled. I stared at him knowing the he had a tendency to get violent when drunk.

“Alright. I’ll talk to him as long as this is your last drink. You can’t keep up with me when we drink cocktails. We’ve established your strength is beer,” I said sternly. He agreed and led me back to Copacabana.

“Oi, e ai? (Hey, what’s up?)” I asked the guy who had eyed me as I approached.

“I’m Lucas. I was wondering when you would come over,” he said reaching out to shake my hand. I raised my brows at his forwardness.

“Javari,” I reciprocated and there on the cobblestone streets of Lisbon, two Brazilians met in Copacabana for what would be a night to remember. We talked and drank and danced all through the night. I found out that he was originally from Brazil and was living here in Lisbon now. He had been here for two years and was working for Airbnb as a translator and customer service representative. The next morning we walked into a café for coffee and continued the night. It was a perfect date ending with him walking me back to the flat. He did not ask to come up which I thought was great. We kissed good night and though we both knew that it was fling that would end upon my flight back to Germany, it was still one of the best nights of my time in Europe.

Sefi Mitzger for instance. When we messaged on Grindr it was a simple “I see you’re on vacation, let’s meet for drinks” exchange. When I mentioned this to Brian in the hopes that he would be happy to allow me to go alone, he asked, “Ok great! When are we going to meet him?” I resisted the urge to roll my eyes with great difficulty. This would be the second guy that he wanted to cling to my coattails to meet. The first, Lucas Posies he ended up running off. Lucas was an actual guy I was interested in attempting to pass time with in Lisbon with dates and such. Unbeknownst to me, Brian also felt the same way apparently and went everywhere that I did with Lucas. I understand well that he didn’t speak the language as I did and so going anywhere alone would be a challenge but I was still starting to want a little bit more me time.

“Uh…well we are going to the little bar next door. Burlesque or Pride or whatever other synonym for gay they used for the name,” I said laughing.

“Ooooh yeah! That place had awesome music and the owner totally had the hots for you when we went the first time,” he smirked. This wiped the smile off my face quickly. The owner was an older Lisbon native in his 60 who was absolutely married and whose husband was busy trying to flirt with Brian the first night we were there in a collaborative attempt to lure us into some sordid scandal. Thankfully one of us had our wits that night.

“Ugh. Don’t remind me. Besides I think Sefi is interesting enough to drone out that old man. I mean I’ll flirt a little…the more flirting I did last time, the better music he played,” I chimed as we arrived to the bar which was (really) right next door to our building.

It was small and dimly lit as customary for bars. When you first walk in to your left you have a small lounge area and the bar. If you continued to walk in you would pass the wall on your right and see additional seating and just after that was a cozy little dance floor. After about an hour of breaking the ice and getting to know Sefi a bit, we decided to all go dance. It was an amazing time, made better in no small part to the alcohol that I had been consuming. Eventually Sefi, who was living in Lisbon, had to leave for work in the morning. We agreed to meet his boyfriend with him when he flew in from Tel Aviv on Saturday. We danced and sang and drank some more until eventually we danced our way to closing time. We stumbled back next door and collapsed in our beds.

The next day I woke to an empty apartment. Brian had gone out for breakfast while I slept off my post party hangover. I got up to shower and do a little morning manscaping in case I decided to go anywhere today. I had every intention of staying indoors and doing absolutely nothing at all. After I had finished in the bathroom I went back to lay down in bed and snatched up my phone off the bedside table. I plopped down and logged into the Tinder. I felt like it was a personal challenge to reach the end of the available men list. Partially because living in a much smaller city I was used to being able to swipe on all the guys in the area and run out of options. Having no options is sometimes much less stressful than having too many. I had swiped left on about a bakers dozen people before the profile appeared.

His name was Joao Silva. His beauty immediately caught my attention. Now I’m used to seeing overtly sexual images or profiles that make it no secret what they are there for. He, however, had a simple face picture than showed off his sun kissed tan skin, swept onyx locks, and flaming amber eyes. Going through the pictures he had up made my breath catch in my chest. Suddenly I had gone from boredom to interest. I sat up and contemplated my options. Swipe right and risk disappointment, or swipe left and beat him to the punch. Men this beautiful aren’t interested in anything less than perfection anyway.

I procrastinated by going over his profile one more time and reading what I had already read at least twice. The negatives were that he was 20 years old, usually too young by my standards and outside of my usual dating age group of plus or minus 5 years. On the other hand that seemed to be the only negative thing. He was in the Portuguese Air Force and had obtained a degree as well. After about 25 minutes, two glasses of wine, and a loss of 50% of my battery life later I decided. Holding my breath I gently placed my finger on his face and watched as his profile vanished of the right side of my screen.

Usually the pause between knowing if you have a mutual right swipe moment isn’t long. A second or two maybe. That day it felt like a century. Time slowed, I heard the construction workers down below discussing in loud voices how they would complete their work by deadline. I heard the birds chirping just outside on my balcony. I felt the soothing emollient that was the wind against my sweaty skin. My phone screen darkened and the match screen showed.

“Yes!” I shouted jumping off the bed. In a rush I came back to myself. I exhaled the air I had been holding for what felt like a lifetime. Excitement flooded through me. I felt like a teenage schoolgirl who had been waiting on a boy to write her back from the note she had passed earlier in their second period. I was struck with the thought that I didn’t know how to begin the conversation and prepared myself to have another half hour debate within myself as to what to do. Fortunately I was spared this as only a few minutes after we matched I received "Oi Javari. Eu acho que vc ta muito lindo" (Hello Javari, I think that you are very handsome)

We moved from Tinder to the less rigid WhatsApp where we could talk via the phone. From there we chatted more about each others likes and dislikes, hobbies, skills, families, and jobs. Our banter was effortless. I was secretly nervous as hell which must’ve shown on my face as much as his did his. Eventually Brian came home and greeted me, but when he saw my face he too recognized it and left the room rather quickly to allow Joao and I to talk. About 4 hours of conversation later I was in an Uber heading to Sintra to meet Joao.

To be continued...

Andrew Van Dorsselaer


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