VIRUS DIARY: Romance conquers ocean, outbreak and red tape
SAO PAULO (AP) — The certificate arrived on the floor of an otherwise empty elevator. My 1-year-old stumbled to the doorway of our Sao Paulo apartment and watched as I picked up the document. She was the sole witness to the end of a bizarre Brazilian bureaucratic procedure.
Her mother and I were husband and wife. Sort of.
“The following account was related to me,” began the certificate signed by a notary public who hours earlier appeared at my door sporting a camouflage mask. Luisa and I “coexist in a status that configures a stable union since Jun. 2 of 2018.”
A few months before that, I’d met Luisa at a friend’s house in Madrid. It was my last night in town and it pained me to leave her, but we kept up an exchange of flirtatious messages. When I flew back across the Atlantic to cover the World Cup, Luisa met me — on June 2, technically our first date. She, too, was covering the tournament.
We started to fall for one another. We rode in sleeper cars between Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Saransk. Then things got complicated.
Luisa, alone in her Madrid apartment, read her pregnancy test results and texted a picture to me, alone in Sao Paulo. That was the first of several sleepless nights and long phone conversations.
She didn’t want to give up freelancing for a Brazilian TV station. I didn’t want to quit my job. She didn’t want to ditch Spain. I didn’t want to disconnect from home. We were apprehensive. We were in love.
We decided I’d work in Spain until she gave birth and later we’d return to Brazil, where our families could help.
Luisa and I were still finding each other’s foibles when we moved into our Sao Paulo apartment last September with 5-month-old Carolina. Luisa struggled most with the transition, because her workday was still tuned to Madrid time — a night shift from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. We shared the same bed at different times of day. She was only halfway here.
Her contract’s end in mid-May provided some relief: No longer would she leave home and risk COVID-19 infection. But we were also in the epicenter of Latin America’s hardest-hit country, and she was losing her health care.
It was time to get hitched.
We wanted a marriage with loved ones present, but ceremonies were prohibited in Sao Paulo to avoid spreading the virus. A friend told me about notaries public who, for $200, would come to your home, collect your signatures and sort out the bureaucracy for a union. Marriage could wait until after the pandemic, Luisa and I reasoned, when we could do it properly.
We scheduled the visit as soon as possible: three weeks later. Turns out such house calls are in high demand during this pandemic. Ample time in quarantine allowed our imaginations to wander. What if Luisa were infected and needed treatment in the overwhelmed public hospitals on the city’s outskirts? I wrote about Brazilians struggling to find treatment and willed myself to avoid thinking Luisa might soon be among them.
Having an infant helped prevent us from dwelling on such concerns or, for that matter, sleeping. When the notary arrived May 28, he caught us completely off guard … and wearing yoga pants. Carolina watched cartoons as we signed the paperwork. The stamped document arrived later that day.
Government recognition of our union grants Luisa certain rights, including access to my healthcare, but our status remains “single” — and will until we sign our marriage contract.
After crisscrossing an ocean to sync up, we’re still not fully together. We’re just one step closer. So, we’re keeping the champagne bottles corked until this pandemic passes and we can celebrate with our future wedding guests.
Save the date. Whenever that is.