I am holding the iPad at an angle so it is the boys’ faces reflected in the screen not my own. Steve’s face looms over me at this angle. He is fumbling for his ear buds so we see first his nose, then the lapel of his linen suit, then the ceiling of the covered Tokyo walkway. While he apologizes I watch the square in the corner where his sons’ faces are angled towards him. Their brows are smooth, Oliver’s hair, wet from the shower, flops over one side of his face. We are getting it cut in two days and I will miss this mop.
Finally Steve is ready.
“Can you hear me?” He asks. Because of course he did.
We can, and we could before, it was he who needed the earplugs. Oliver asks. “Can you hear US?”
The boys ask him questions. “How was your flight?” “What was your day like today?” I remind them that it is morning in Japan. Leo laughs. “I can never get used to that.” Steve tells us he is taking a bullet train today and the boys like the sound of that. Oliver tells Steve that both boys have done well on math tests today. I speak for the first time, a faceless voice off the screen, adding that they hadn’t actually gotten the test results back…just that they both FELT good about the test. “That’s a good first step.” Oliver tells me. “Yes” Steve agrees. “It’s a good first step.”
Silence. It is hard to keep a conversation going over Facetime even if everyone wants to.
So we cut to the round of “I miss yous. I love yous.” Then the part I hate. The hanging up. Its not that the Facetime call brought him into our life or us into his in any meaningful way. Its choosing to disconnect that I find hard. It was the same problem that found me asleep next to my phone at 1am on school nights in highschool. It is hard to hang up. I have my finger a quarter inch from the screen. Leo is still saying “I love you” I know that this can go on for a while. Saying it many times seems important to him. Oliver is more efficient, he feels there is the same meaning in one expression of love as in many. He is waiting patiently for his brother to finish his ritual. I try to catch Leo’s eye to get a signal that we are ready to end the call and he gives me a short nod. I add in one last “miss you” and tap the screen right as Leo is saying “I love…” Steve is frozen in front of us, somehow looking at the camera instead of to the side where his own image would have been. I feel terrible to have cut Leo off but he has moved on. He is “driving” the remote and he has started up the Flash. Facetime has ended and the boys have dropped right back into our lives. I, however, am waiting for a bullet train in Japan.
It has been a year since Steve’s job increased his travel dramatically. At the beginning I was scared.
I was worried about the stuff of life. The dinner and the lawn mowing. But Whole Foods and Leo have stepped in. I imagined myself bumping the giant toter trash cans down uneven driveways and spilling compost all over my feet. It has not happened. Oliver takes out the trash, and even though he has two left feet he has managed to keep both of them clean over dozens of Friday pick up days. I was worried about who would wipe Oliver’s butt when he broke both of his wrists and in that case it WAS me that had to do it but it wasn’t that bad. Being a parent gets you used to lots of shit.
I was worried that I would miss him. And I did. And I do. But I CAN go to Whole Foods alone on Mondays. I can have lunch with a friend instead of with Steve. I can have sex by myself. It is less fun but also requires less clean up. These things that seem impossible without him are not. They are possible, they are just less good.
I know couples where one of them travels for work and the other was home with the kids. For years I heard their stories and thought I could never do that. I could never deal with 8 feverish limbs and snow days trapped inside. I couldn’t handle math panic attacks and emergency room visits alone. As it turns out I am not alone. My boys are old enough to help AND to keep me company. We plan our meals and our evenings. Clam chowder and lettuce (I’d call it salad but that would require it to have more than one ingredient) on Monday with UNFILTERED water. The orange indicator light on the fridge has left Leo stressed. Outdoor poker on Tuesday with chicken sandwiches, fruit and carrots. The carrots might have been dumped unceremoniously on the table in their bag but they tasted the same. Just ask Apollo. The dance performance at school on Wednesday will go well with our regular pizza game night. Oliver objected- dance performances are NOT the same as games, but this one is a who-dunnit mystery (yeah, I don’t understand either) so we will be there. Thursday is haircut day. I tried to talk Oliver out of it, pointing at his head and saying it looked hip. Oliver said he didn’t care what his hair looked like so I could cancel if I wanted. Leo told me that the word hip was, well, not hip. Friday Steve gets home.
Like I said, it is fine.
Why then did I berate Steve in the shower Sunday morning before he left? He stood there, tears hidden by the streaming water but shown by his red eyes. “This was not what I chose.” I hissed at him. “I told you this isn’t working. I told you I wouldn’t keep going this way. What have you done to change things?” He looked back at me. “Have you looked for another job? Have you tried to negotiate the travel?” He lowered his red eyes. The fact that it was mother’s day gave my anger that little extra fuel that I needed to have it come out as mean rather than constructive. The last time we had talked about his travel it had been a talk. I might have cried a little bit but I hadn’t lashed out at him. I felt bad but not badly. This time I knew he was heading away from home hurt. I wanted to take it back. Sort of.
As I open my eyes this morning at 6:02 my first thought is the luxury of the dog being (almost) far enough away from me that I can’t feel him. My second thought is “how many more days?” I am pretty sure it is Wednesday so it is two or three more days depending on how you count. For the record Steve always counts as if it is the least possible time, me as the most. So early on Wednesday morning with a Friday late night return would be three days to me and two to Steve. I have finally agreed to count nights as our benchmark so I guess it is two. Two more days. Or at least two more nights.
For the first time in a year I realize what my problem with Steve’s traveling is. It is not missing big family brunches (I kid you not as I am typing this Oliver enters the room and asks if I want him to make me peanut butter toast and bring it up to me in bed (So I am typing in bed. So what?)) It is not missing an alternate chauffeur to the haircuts (OK it kinda is, they go to a hipster place with no parking way way out of my bubble) It is not even missing Steve himself (at least most of the time.)
It is that my life has turned into counting and waiting.
Wednesday isn’t just today when I will meet my cousin at Steep and work on my Design Learning project. I might get work done, I might enjoy a lunch or a walk with a friend. Perhaps I will even figure out Who dunnit at the dance performance (still, no idea). Through all of this I will be waiting. A piece of me will be missing, keeping me from being a full participant in my own life. That piece will be both dreading and hoping for Facetime, it will be calculating how many hours ahead Tokyo is, it will be standing beside Steve as he waits for his train.
I will be broken into two parts, the one living, and the one counting the hours.
3 thoughts on “What happens when a piece of your family is gone?”
I hate it with a passion when my husband has to travel for work – I can cope but I miss him terribly. I do enjoy the times I can do things without being moaned at – but then it starts to get tedious. Facetime calls help but sometimes makes missing them even worse. I also start to track his aeroplane on flight tracker ….
I don;t just track flights…I also track his iPhone. It is so far away!
Beautiful. I’m someone who travels without my husband fairly often, for both work and pleasure. We find that the time away refreshes our marriage. Then again, we don’t have kids. This is such a good essay, thanks for sharing your genuine self. Your real feelings. Appreciate you.