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May 05, 2001: Taking flight

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The alarm rings and I roll over. It's time to get up but I do not want to and neither does he. "We could just not go," he suggests, but I know that if we don't get up and go to meet these friends, that we will linger too long and not get the rest of the errands done.

We meet friends for brunch. My friends, really - someone I knew from years ago, and coworkers of D (whom I'd only met once before). We eat waffles slathered in syrup and toasted pecans and sip coffee, and talk with enthusiastic voices and laughter. We sit once the food is done, he and I, hand in hand as we talk with the others, wanting this time to linger because when it ends this means more of the day is over and the time we are simultaneously waiting for and dreading is closer. We hug our hellos and goodbyes.

I tell him I need time to myself to do something, so while he busies himself on the computer I drag out paper and crayons and pens and write notes. When my sisters and I were little girls and daddy would fly away on one of his many trips we would make notes for his suitcase - awkward handwriting on construction paper; sometimes glued cutouts, and sometimes just simple scraps of lined notebook paper. I continue the tradition, and then tiptoe into the bedroom to tuck them into his backpack.

I am avoiding crying. I will not cry. I will be calm and happy for him. I will not cry. Not yet. If I tell myself this enough times it will be true.

There is a list of things to buy. Film and batteries for the camera. How many rolls should he bring? Are these the right size? Are you bringing a jacket? Did you pack all your medicine? I stop myself - he is not a child going to camp and I am not his mother. I'm only his fiance - worried and clinging and wanting his reassurance that he has everything and so therefore everything will be fine. It is not that he is going away - he's done that before. It's that this time it's so much further, and I have no way to connect with him. He goes to another continent, halfway around the world, and for the next month I must rely on sporatic email and even less frequent phone calls to know that he is all right.

We drive to the airport, consulting maps to make sure we're taking the right freeways. I note the traffic in the opposite direction and joke that he'd better appreciate that what I'm willing to go through for him. We flash little smiles at each other and he asks me how I'm doing. Okay, I answer. Just okay. Don't make me cry when I'm driving. Please don't make me cry.

I fuss over his tickets after he checks in and bite my tongue to keep from asking a million and one questions. We sit at the gate, his arm around me, and wait for them to announce boarding.

I stand with him in line, but when we are close, I have to leave. I cannot watch him walk through the gate, away from me. I climb the stairs, gulping in great breaths, blinking rapidly. I will not cry. I mustn't cry.

Above, I rush to the railing, looking over, feeling foolish for how I left, but he is gone. I catch sight of myself in the windows as I hurry down the terminal back toward my car. My eyes are red-rimmed, my face pale.

The traffic we saw on the way to the airport has not cleared, and my car crawls along the highway for nearly an hour before I break free. I turn the radio up loud and drive home. I do not want to go home without him there. I am not ready for that.

I call my parents. Please meet me for dinner. They come, understanding my reluctance to be alone. We talk about trivial things. They make me laugh.

I go home. The message light on the answering machine is blinking. I avoid it, going around the house, opening windows, turning on fans. I imagine everything that that message could be - none of it good. I tell myself not to be an idiot. I play the message. It's nothing.

I crawl into bed and stay up as late as I can, reading a book until the pages blur in front of me and I can no longer concentrate on the words. The fan is a quiet hum of noise in the otherwise silent room. I turn off the light, and the cats creep slowly onto the bed, settling beside me.

I pull the sheets around me and watch the streetlight outside my window. And then I cry.

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