Friday, 23 September 2011
"I need to go to the US again".
My husband says this quietly, as he knows the reaction he will get. It used to be melodramatic - I'd mope and I'd wail that he'd forsaken me, and he'd fix me with a look and say,
"I don't like it either. Do you want me to quit my job? I'd do it tomorrow if you asked me."
And I'd sulk and say, no, I like having a house and money to go on holidays and all that kind of stuff.
These days, I stick out my bottom lip a little and I say, "When?".
And then we get out our Blackberries and we look at our work calendars and we try to be practical, to co-ordinate when would be best for him to be away, but inside I feel empty and sad, although I know it has to be done.
The night before he goes away, I pass him a plug adaptor to put in his suitcase and I say to him,
"I once read that Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney only spent one week apart during their whole life together".
And he looks at me and he says,
"Yeah, but who'd want to be Paul McCartney?" and there's a glint in his eye, and I can't tell if he's just amused or if that might actually be a tear (but then I'm not sure I've ever seen my husband cry, and I think this is a very good thing).
He's not the only one packing though - I made a promise to my folks that whenever he had to go away, I would come stay with them, do the dutiful Burmese daughter thing. Stupidly, I didn't realise how often this would happen.
His flight's not till the afternoon, so bed-dishevelled, he waits at the door to wave me off to work. I kiss him goodbye, and he apologises for his morning breath and I say, "Don't be silly", and that small vicious part of me I try to subdue escapes and engulfs me in panic that this is the last kiss we'll have. I go out the front gate and I turn and look, and he's still standing there, waving.
At work, I pretend it's a normal day, that we'll meet at Charing Cross tonight and get the slow, crappy train home together. But this is exposed for the lie that it is when he rings me from the departure lounge to say he's about to board. He reminds me to water the plants, and he asks me what I want back from the US.
I say, "Surprise me", and he says he loves me, and I say it back and then he's gone.
At the end of the day, I get the slow, crappy train home alone to pick up my suitcase. My dad turns up to fit the timers for the lamps, upstairs and downstairs, to make it look like people are in. I feel like I should help, but I've reverted to stroppy teenage-hood, and I watch him programme the settings to 'random' and I wonder if it actually fools anyone.
At midnight my husband is still up in the air, and I'm ensconced in my old bed. It feels very small and awkward, even though I'm no taller than the last time I was a regular occupant, but that might be because I'm trying to construct a spousal substitute in the form of a wall of pillows.
I'm wearing the shirt that he wore last night, and I fiddle with its grey collar as the clock on the wall ticks maddeningly. Eventually I get up and I take it off its hook, remove the batteries and then I sit on the bed, feeling lost where I used to belong.
In the morning, I switch on my phone and there's a text to say he's arrived and he'll Skype me tonight. So I exist through the day, till at 7pm a little Googletalk bubble pops up on my laptop and it says he's on-line.
I type, "Honey, are you there?" and the legend "X is typing" appears at the top.
"In a conference call, I'll ring you at 11", and I curse the time difference between us.
So I have a snack, and I fire up Twitter and I talk to my friends, virtual and otherwise, about trivia in an attempt to distract myself. It gets to 11 and I'm still tapping away, and it's not till five past that I notice a Skype call coming in.
"Hello darling, did you have your Twit-face on?" says a wryly handsome but pixellated face on my screen.
I blush and shut down all the stupid little programs I have running, and for the next half an hour we're together again.
He's in an open plan office - I can see his colleagues bumbling around him - and he tells me, "MiMi go chit deh," which means he loves me in Burmese (pretty much the first phrase I ever taught him).
I tell him, half-kidding, that every day he's away is agony; in fact I have a new theory:
"I think it takes an equivalent day off my life, you know - a bit like the torture machine in the Princess Bride;
You go away, what, six weeks a year? Over the past decade, you've managed to shave more than a year off my lifetime".
He laughs ruefully, and he scratches his chin, and he says, "Please don't say things like that", because he knows that I kind of mean it.
I live through another day, and in the evening, I go back to our house to pick up the post and tend to the plants like I promised. He's left instructions as to how each one should be watered in his own mildly OCD way - this is the first year we've decided to grow anything edible and he's very proud of our crop so far, so I feel like I ought to pay close attention.
As I amble about the house and around our garden with the plastic watering-can, I realise that it's beginning to bore me and taking a lot of time.
I pinch off a dead leaf, and marvel at how much he must care to do this, and I think to myself that without him, everything would just wither away.