Open & Honest – Part VIII
I keep telling myself it’ll only be five days. Five days of fun with friends, of visiting with family, of bachelor party and Boston.
Despite all the wonderful people and times, every spare moment is spent thinking of her.
I send a postcard, carefully picking out a vintage print. I plot surprises for my return, think about things we could do together, events to which she’d like to go. I work on being even more the person she makes me want to be.
On the day of my return, she offers to pick me up from the airport. It’s unexpected. The distance between her and the airport isn’t small. This isn’t a favor I’d ask of a friend. I could bus it and then get a ride. That would be reasonable, but all the way is outside the bounds of good taste. Yet here she is offering. And I don’t want to say no.
My flights are delayed. Over and over, the timing gets worse. I’m racked with guilt, as the airline fails to tell me the changes until the last moment, and I can only hope to relay them.
She’s tired and sore when she picks me up. We cancel the concert we were going to catch in Denver on the way back. We crawl into bed, sleeping immediately. There’s no making up for lost time. There will be time enough for that later.
The next day, her world crumbles.
Plans she was making seem untenable after she finds out her debts are greater than she wanted. She closes herself. She cries. I try to cheer her up.
It’s an odd sensation, realizing that when I’m with her none of our combined problems seem insurmountable. I know I can’t solve her problems. I know her and I know she’s capable. I can make it more bearable, more pleasant; I can be supportive and make things easier if only she’ll let me. My problems I can handle. They don’t even worry me when she’s at my side. Hers worry me more than I want to show, if only for their effect on her.
“I want you to be happy. I like when you’re happy,” I want to tell her. “What can I do to make you happy?” I want to ask.
But I don’t.
I reach out gently, probing, hoping I can breach the sudden wall. She schedules herself hellishly for a week. She makes good money. I watch as she disconnects from the world. All that exists is work, commute, sleep, eat.
My life is no simpler. I’m starting a new job. I’m moving, without a car. I’m in my own little hell, ripped from the peaceful fun of post-ski season haze. I take loads via bus. It’s painful and difficult. I tap friends to help in little ways or bigger ways. Several come through. I make a concerted effort not to ask her for help, not to heap my problems on her own.
I don’t worry about it. I don’t stress it. I’m too busy to bother. I’m too worried about her to worry about myself.
My sublet offers me the opportunity to spend a few nights down the mountain before actually moving in. I start plotting a way to get her to stay, to cut her commute, if only temporarily.
She plans to work three doubles in a row over the weekend, right in the midst of a seven-day stretch of non-stop work. Her Monday will be a day shift, a single shift. I start thinking about how I can pamper her. I’ll collect her from work. I’ll surprise her by taking her to my new place in Boulder, the one into which I’m not yet officially moved. I’ll cook her dinner. I’ll draw her a bath. I’ll provide her every opportunity to relax for the first time in a while.
It would be amazing.
But as I watch her, as the weekend rolls, her deadened features and cold demeanor tell me she needs something sooner.
First chance I get, I offer her a bed in Boulder. “Please,” I say, “stay down here. Cut the commute. Let yourself get some rest.”
She agrees. And suddenly, I’m starting to feel relieved.
I smell of chlorine. I’ve been working, training, moving, writing non-stop for over a week. While she works her doubles, I’m spending 10 hours a day getting lifeguard trained. I’m wiped.
I lie in bed, wondering how the chlorine clings to me even after my shower, waiting for her call. At ten thirty, I send her a text.
“Let me know when you’re off,” I tell her. “I’ve got a cozy bed waiting for you down here.”
“I forgot about that,” she replies. “I didn’t pack any of my stuff.”
“Will you be staying then?” I ask. I can hardly keep my eyes open while I wait for her reply.
“I’ll be there soon,” she says.
Monday marks my first day off in ages. I let her sleep as long as I can, making her coffee and breakfast. I see her off to work, reminding her that I’d like to cook her dinner that night. She still looks tired as she kisses me goodbye and slides out the door.
I spend the day on a bike ride with a friend. I get bubble bath and ingredients for dinner.
I hop the bus up to meet her as her shift ends.
“I just got off work,” she texts me. “Where do you want to meet?”
“I’m wandering your way,” I tell her.
We stroll through the sunny afternoon, bumping into friends and acquaintances. I feel waylaid, like the conversations are dragging on her. She stops to look at clothes as the rain begins.
“I still don’t have any of my stuff,” she tells me.
“I’d still like to cook you dinner,” I tell her. “Here’s what I’d like to recommend. Come home with me. I’ll make sure any clothes you have get washed.”
“Fine,” she says. She seems aloof, as if I’ve cajoled her into it.
“Three things are going to happen when we go inside,” I tell her.
“First, you’re going to join me in the kitchen and help me make up drinks.”
“Then, I’m going to draw you a bath.”
“And while you’re in the bath, I will cook us dinner.”
“Oh my.” It’s the first sign of humanity I’ve seen from her in a while. It’s still distant, still tired, but it’s there.
She makes cosmopolitans. We drink them from giant wine glasses.
“Is that bubble bath?” she asks, eyes wide as I bring her in to the tub.
“You’re the best.”
“Relax,” I tell her as I slip out and leave her to it.
She wears a pair of my shorts and a t-shirt as the laundry runs. We eat.
“Did you make brownies?” she asks incredulously as I check the oven.
“Of course. What else would we have for dessert?”
I serve them with whipped cream and a strawberry garnish.
Her eyes are softer now. Her shoulder relaxed. Her breathing steady.
“Let’s watch a movie,” she says.
We pull up The Wolf of Wall Street on my laptop. It’s vulgar and misogynistic in ways that bug me. I want to turn it off. I’m fading, tired from the bike ride, tired from the effort of catering to her.
“Are we really going to finish this?”
“I’d like to,” she says. “How long is left? Holy shit! 2 more hours?”
By the time the movie is over, I’m toast. Neither of us liked it. I’m disappointed the night capped with that. I fall asleep staring at her shoulders.
The following morning, I slip off to work, leaving her in bed, with a quick kiss.
On Wednesday, she has her first day off in a week. She hangs her hammock. She sends me a picture. “I need thicker paracord,” she tells me.
“Too bad I can’t enjoy it with you,” I say.
“It’s a one-person hammock. :(” she replies.
“I know,” I say, remembering the conversation when she told me about buying it. “I’ll just have to be happy dreaming of a two-person hammock.”
I crash a friend’s couch that night to make it easier to get to training the next day. I watch him play Skyrim and chat strategy til too late at night. I fall asleep thinking of her.
On Thursday, I’m out the door a the ass-crack of dawn. I bike 8 miles to training. I bike 8 miles back. I meet up with my staff and bike around our new site, trying to plan for camp. I buy pizza and have a dinner meeting with my staff and the old camp director, the man who hired me. He’s the only reason I stayed with the Y a second year. He’s the only reason I found myself back for a fourth summer this year.
We bolt from dinner to more training, and after I hunker down at the Y to work some more.
As I finish up my paperwork, I receive a text from her. “What are you up to?” she asks.
Forty-five minutes later, she’s at my door. She holds her overnight bag in one hand and a 6-pack in the other. “For the new place,” she says with a smile.
“I thought I just wanted to sleep,” she tells me. “But then I felt like being a real person. Yesterday was really good for me.”
“I’m glad,” I tell her.
For the first time in over a week, she’s responsive as we kiss. For the first time in over a week, I feel like we’re both there at the same time.
She’s working doubles that weekend too.
“You can stay here,” I remind her. “I don’t care if you’re just crashing here.”
On Saturday, we spend what’s left of the night together when she gets in. Her stuff is still there, strewn about my floor when I return Sunday afternoon. On Sunday night, she arrives after midnight. I’m already curled up half asleep when she lets herself in. I rise just long enough to kiss her as she slides into bed next to me. The next morning, I’m out the door before she’s awake. I leave her a note, some breakfast and coffee. When I get home her things are gone.
“So I made an impulse decision to go to a music festival this weekend.” she texts. “When do you get back from Cali?”
“Awesome! What festival? I fly back Monday night super late.”
“It’s called Wakarusa and it’s in the Ozarks in Arkansas. Cool I should be back Monday evening as well.”
“Will I get a chance to see you before we head for disparate locales?” I ask.
“I’m leaving tomorrow morning and closing tonight so probably not :(“
“:( That’s too bad,” I text back.
All I can think is that the last time I saw her she was asleep and I had to leave. Only three weeks before, I was stunned by the revelation that we hadn’t been apart more than 48 hours for nearly 3 months. Suddenly, it felt like we’d only been together 3 or 4 times since. And now, with me headed West and her headed East, it would be another week before I could see her again.
Six days, I tell myself as I put my phone away. It’ll only be six days.
San Francisco goes by in a whirlwind. I feel like I spend more of my time talking about relationships and her and the madness of it all than anything. I watch my phone hawkishly, knowing she’s busy at her own event, hoping for texts. They come minimally and sporadically. I send her another postcard, picked up in Chinatown. I count the days and then the hours before I can see her again.
On Monday, I shoot her a line from the airport as I wait to embark.
“How goes the journey home?” I ask.
It’s not til I get off the plane that I receive her response.
“Good, we’re over half way. Hopefully we only have another five hours.”
I do the math. She’ll be arriving the same time as I will in the Boulder area. I want to see her so badly. I text her that we’ll be getting in around the same time and she should let me know. When I walk in my door, I text her again that I just got home.
I’m up until three in the morning unpacking and cleaning, trying to finish up some of the move and make my bed sleepable. I’m off to work early the following day.
It’s midway through the morning, and I shoot her a text saying I hope she made it home and to let me know her schedule.
Two days later, I’ve still heard nothing. My stomach is in knots. I’m lost. I have no clue what’s going on. I’m bouncing between anger and fear, loneliness and sadness, and yet there’s any number of explanations.
I send her my third text in the three days since I landed.
“Good morning! Would you possibly be free to grab a drink or do something tonight?”
It’s early afternoon when I finally receive a response. “Unfortunately, I’m working tonight and I won’t be off until late. 🙁 I’ll be working Friday night too, then heading out of town Saturday and work Sunday night as well.”
I’m flooded with relief. Relief and disappointment.
“:( I miss seeing you. I’m willing to do late if need be. Hopefully you have a good time this weekend. If you have a chance Sunday or next week let me know.”
“Ok well I’ll keep you posted. Fortune may smile upon me.”
The next day, she calls me. I’m just finishing up camp for the day, but I haven’t spoken to her in a week, so I step outside and answer anyway.
“So I received a lovely postcard in the mail today.”
“Oh yeah? Where from?” I ask.
I’m elated that we’re talking, but there’s something odd. “So at least one of them arrived.” The pauses, the way in which she waits after each statement, as if there are things that need to be said.
“I’m just finishing up camp for the day. What are you up to?”
“I’m about to run off to work.”
“I figured as much, given the timing. I take it you’re going to Beanstalk this weekend?”
“Yeah, that’s what’s taking me out-of-town.”
“Awesome. Have fun. How was Wakarusa?”
“It was one of the best things I’ve done for myself in a while.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“I don’t know my schedule for next week yet, but I know I’m going to be working a lot.”
“That’s ok. I’d love to see you. I know we have somewhat opposite schedules, what with you working evenings and weekends and me working weekdays, but if we need to make time, I can find a way to make it work.”
“Ok. I’ll let you know.”
“Have fun and take care,” I say.
I feel so formal and stilted. My eyes are still trained on the kids, watching. It’s been 12 days since I last saw her.
I close my phone and slide it away, wondering when I’ll get to see her again, if at all.
Open and Honest – Part IX