Friday, 23 September 2011

Absence

The Princess Bride

"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.

29 comments:

  1. Oh MiMi, that's beautiful. It's also pretty much how I feel - I'm sitting here with tears rolling down my face because my one has only just come back from the US and I felt the way you do for the whole two weeks. [hugs you]

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  2. Yep.

    I left my first proper job because the once a month or so trips away from home which were usually just a night or two turned into 3 or 4 a month with more 3 or 4 nighters. Only in the UK, but still away which meant apart.

    It was early enough in my career that it was not too hard to find another job which reduced the travelling again, and gave me another grand of pay a year, which back then, so soon after graduating, seemed unlimited richness.

    Since then, we know how hard we find it to travel for work without each other, or to be apart for more than a couple of nights and we've accepted/ rejected jobs and contracts on that basis.

    That's not always been the financially best thing to do but I guess it's knowing what we are able and not able to tolerate.

    I know the separations are SO hard for you so hope they will reduce in frequency very soon.

    In the meantime, the offer on the phone the other night stands.

    x

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  3. This is beautifully done. I think we all know that weird feeling of regression spending time with our parents while our partner is away. And the ending was just perfect - understated and lovely. A very cleverly structured piece.

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  4. MiMi this is such a beautiful piece. When I saw your mail the other day saying your hubby was away I wanted to ask how you are doing. I stopped myself as I wasn't sure if it is just me who feels so empty when my other half is away.

    Last year, it was me who disappeared away with work. I always missed Lee but when he worked away earlier this year I suddenly got how it is to be the person left at home. I really don't like it.

    I found home so obscenely quiet without him, I’d put off going to bed until I was literally ready to drop as I hated lying there by myself and a pile of pillows where he should be.

    How long until he’s home?

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  5. @Lisa - Thank you Lisa - I'm glad your loved one has returned [hugs back]

    @Kavey - Yeah, it's tricky. Because I do want the nice house etc. Selfish git that I am.

    @Mr London Street - Thank you (and for the advice) :)

    @Sarah Belizaire-Butler - Aww, thanks Sarah! Yeah, I realised my email to you was a bit terse - sorry! He's back tomorrow! He's back tomorrow! *sets off fireworks*

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  6. Mine's away now too.
    I miss him, of course, and I have a bit of a weird 'suspended animation' feeling, like I'm doing everything in a vacuum and it doesn't really 'count'.
    I do try to make the most of the fact that it means I can do all sorts of things that wouldn't normally work, though. Like going to bed at a reasonable time and eating scrambled eggs and things ;-)

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  7. Fairly pleased that I have a side of me that likes being a bit of a loner, given I'm in a long distance relationship. I'm also made me really grateful for skype.

    Just think - A WHOLE BED TO YOURSELF!

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  8. Feeling terribly guilty that I rather like my pair going away... but then they don't do it very often.

    Absorbing!

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  9. @Miss Whiplash - "a weird 'suspended animation' feeling, like I'm doing everything in a vacuum and it doesn't really 'count'" - so wonderfully apt!

    @Lizzie - I can't think of anything worse than a whole bed to myself :(

    @Sarah, Maison Cupcake - Ha, don't feel guilty. I'm just soppy.

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  10. That was just so beautiful and sad .. and full of love x beautiful !

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  11. I *do* quite like the Big Bed :-)

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  12. Really like the new writing explorations you're doing Mimi. They make my very uncomfortable but I think in the way they should do.

    I always act tough when Babs is imminently going away, telling myself I can have quality time with the girls, have some me time. But the nights are always longer than all my plans, and I find invariably find myself shuffling about in jammies watching bad TV and eating crappy snacks and moping.

    Next weekend is going to be one of those weekends. Bleah.

    Wen

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  13. Such a beautiful piece. I realised when I went back to Sydney for 10 days it was the longest Andy and I had been apart in six years. After five days I felt like I had a phantom limb- something was just... missing. The strangest thing was that it took us a good day to fit back into how we are with each other. Away, we're both...different. Luckily I like the version of me around him the best.

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  14. @Sarah Belizaire-Butler - Big yay!

    @JuJu - Thank you! x

    @Miss Whiplash - Ha ;P

    @Going With My Gut - Yeah! Making people cry and feel uncomfortable! Awesome :) Seriously though, I hope the weekend isn't too bleah x

    @tori - I know what you mean - when I first see my husband after we've been apart, I feel a bit awkward - but only for a split second :)

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  15. My boyfriend goes away with work a fair bit too. This is sad, but true, and beautifully written. <3

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  16. Awww, beautifully written. I like bf person being around. But also like it when he is off somewhere so I can spend time on the interwebs and watch crap telly for a bit.

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  17. @Misswhiplash "a weird 'suspended animation' feeling, like I'm doing everything in a vacuum and it doesn't really 'count'."

    I hear you. I do all sorts of things I wouldn't usually do but it's just...waiting, whilst not actually realising that that is what you were doing until the second they come back and then it's all better.

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  18. It's a strange world where we're supposed to be happy when our other half or significant other being away is supposed to be something to enjoy. I love my personal space and those empty hours where he's off doing his thing and I am doing mine but nights alone are just wrong. Being in love like this means that the space is a vacuum, not a vacancy.

    I love the phrase "feeling lost where I used to belong". So evocative. When I have returned to my childhood home to stay with my mum everything is so changed as to be a different place. I think this makes it easier.

    I hope your bed is warm soon.

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  19. When my husband used to go away on little trips, I used to enjoy the time and space to selfishly indulge myself, although I did of course miss him terribly. Last year he went away for three weeks, calling every day and telling me he'd never leave me for that long again. Sadly, things went wrong, and we have now been separated for a year. Your piece has had me in bits, I'd give anything to have him just be away for a few weeks, knowing he'd be back soon. Imagine how you feel now, but magnified knowing it's permanent. A beautifully written piece - cherish the thought he'll be back soon.

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  20. Oh dear, this takes me back to when we were in the US and Dave would go to Asia for 2-3 wks at a time every other month, with shorter US trips in between. It was awful and I know just how you feel. The best part of him freelancing is that we're rarely separated, and never for that long.

    That last sentence is a killer, in a good way. So raw. Well and truthfully written.

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  21. Great read-_look forward to reading many more. Xxxx

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  22. @Charlene - Thank you <3

    @TheFastestIndian - Mine is happy for me to do that when I'm around :)

    @Lisa - Exactly.

    @Baglady - "Being in love like this means that the space is a vacuum, not a vacancy" - perfectly expressed! And thank you for the lovely wish.

    @Gina - Oh Gina, I'm so sorry. I hope things get better for you soon x

    @Robyn - Thank you for the lovely compliment x

    @LELUU - Thank you Leluu xxx

    @May - Aww :)

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  23. I love it....love your writing style....and so heart-moving. The saying absence makes the heart grow fonder comes to mind.

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  24. I'm a pretty independent soul and when Mrs GW is away for the odd night or weekend I kind of enjoy (in a guilty way) having a bit of space in the evenings to watch those films she doesn't enjoy, play on the computer - all that anti-social stuff. For a day or two.

    But I also find myself eating odd things at odd times, staying up into the early hours despite being tired. My routines dissolve and I'm a bit all over the place. Like a teenager when the parents are away.

    After a day or two, everything settles down - the solitary routine is established. And that's when I really start to miss her. I discover I don't really like the solitary routine. And after 13 years, I just don't sleep as well on my own. I'm always so happy when she's back.

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  25. @Kay @ Chopstix2Steaknives - I did have that saying in mind when I named this piece, but you know what - I'd rather just have him by my side :)

    @The Grubworm - Awww, nice to see another man comment and admit how much he cares x

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  26. Thanks for writing this MiMi. Working in the career I do, I have always been the one who is away from home, usually once per month, though it's settled down over the past year. People always used to go on about how glamorous and ace it must be to travel with work, but really, it isn't. I spent most of the time wanting to be home and then guilty about how ungrateful that must sound. When I stopped having to travel so much it was a blessed relief.

    It's really illuminating to have the context from the other side.

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