Long Distance (I hope you're thinking of that catchy Beck song, too)
I am admittedly super late to the party with Orange is the New Black. For the record, I like it okay/LOVE the ensemble (yeah, I'm crushing hard on Laverne Cox & Uzo Aduba). I am a little disappointed that this show doesn't grab me like Jenji Kohan's first (Weeds). Specifically the first 3 seasons. Everything that happened after Nancy Botwin torched her house was less interesting than what had happened before. And I completely lost interest when Elizabeth Perkins' marvelously wicked Celia Hodes was written off. Aaaaaaand cutting myself off from further Weeds love-hate lecture... now.
The reason I bring up Orange is the New Black, however (other than the fact that I just finished the first season), is that it highlights the (ta-da!) long distance relationships of multiple characters. And I guess I already had that on my mind. Because my husband is currently 2,091 miles & 3 time zones away. And he will be for a total of 7 weeks.
7 weeks may not seem like the end of the world. And it's not. I know because I've done this before. This is our 8th period of not-together in the almost 11 years we've been together. And when I say “period of not-together,” I don't mean we're taking a break or anything like that. I mean that for whatever reason (usually work), I'm in one place & he is in another (that is not reasonably commutable by car) for a significant chunk of time (1 month or more).
Yes, it helps to have experience. It also hurts. Especially since this time I've prematurely plowed through the productive & catching-up-on-beauty-sleep phase. Right now I'm in the sad void, which is something like having “The Nothing” from The NeverEnding Story follow you around. At some point I'll start to go through that despondent thought process I have every time I come down with a cold: “This is my life now. I will never taste food or breathe through my nose again.” Except it's “This is my life now. I'm alone forever.”
As it gets closer to the finish line, I finally have something to look forward to & can lighten up a bit. I also get extremely impatient. “Why won't time move faster, damnit?”
Parting ways is something I've grown weary of. But here we are doing it again. The heart is so fond at this point... enough already.
I do not & will not begin to imagine that my woe is the same as someone who is incarcerated. Or in the military. Or dealing with immigration challenges. Or live-in caring for a sick or dying family member. Inevitably someone else has endured significantly more agony & a much longer wait.
I also know that modern technology makes communication stupidly easy- even constant if I wish (which, yes, I miss him a lot, but I don't need to do the Pam Beesly-Jim Halpert Bluetooth thing). At this moment, I have at least 8 options for making contact. None of them will make him appear next to me in the flesh or even a Star Wars-y hologram, but I can rely on the possibility of messages, photos, emojis, GIFs, shared content, Marco Polos (which I highly recommend), calls & maybe even FaceTime or Zoom between the hours of 8am & 1am Pacific Standard Time.
The numbers are very important. In fact, numbers are what I cling to when we do this. The countdown. How many days has it been? 6. How many days are left? 39 (less if I am able to visit halfway through). What time is it here? 2:56pm. What time is it there? 11:56am. When does it make sense to talk on the phone again? TBD.
Speaking of numbers, I added up the figures just for curiosity's sake. We've spent roughly 21 out of 127 months apart. That's nearly 17%. A third of that was at the very beginning- 7 months, which, at the time, was indefinite. We made the bold (& perhaps crazy?) decision to start a relationship when my address was Los Angeles & his was Chicago. It took 7 months for us to live in the same city. 7 months of falling asleep on the phone every night. 7 months of blind hope. How the f*ck did we do it?
But I'm not getting at what I really wanted to get at.
What I really wanted to get at is how f*cking hard it is. In detail. For anyone who's never experienced it. But mostly for those who have.
Bottom line (which won't be a shocker), it sucks. It sucks real bad. There's varying degrees of suckiness, too. And it's different every time.
When Seth was in Albuquerque in the fall of 2017, I was home in LA trying to tackle an extremely hostile work environment by day & plan our wedding by night. And he was in Albuquerque- where you are pretty much guaranteed a chance to be offered meth or have your car stolen over it (I wish I was just making Breaking Bad jokes, but I'm not- it can be a very yucky place). We were both having awful day after awful day after awful day. It was rough.
And then there was the summer of 2012. Seth & I moved into an apartment with maybe 2 or 3 pieces of furniture to boast & then he immediately left for Hutchinson, Kansas. I was alone in an empty, unfamiliar place with a persistent colony of ants that kept me awake at night, clutching a can of Raid as I lay on my air mattress. And the handyman employed by our management company didn't properly install the oven. So when I got home from work one day, gas had blown a hole in the wall. Yep. I was a little upset. And when I couldn't get Seth on the phone, I was very upset. Not that he could have helped. I just needed him & he wasn't available. And pretty sure I neglected to be cordial when I did eventually get ahold of him.
There were even worse moments than these of course. Moments I won't share simply because they're no one's business but ours & we are obviously still married. Bygones have been. Not all relationships survive these tests. We are lucky.
There's a mode. The long distance mode. It's sort of an altered state of being. You feel sadness & you know precisely why & you know that you can't really do anything about it. You're technically with someone, but you're physically alone. You're free to do things without really having to answer for yourself, but you barely act on it because it's so difficult to fully enjoy things in general.
Time. Filling it is a burden. I'm pretty good at it for the first week or two. I usually make a list of movies that Seth would rather not sit through. I take a lot of baths. I chip away at projects. When Seth spent the summer of 2019 in Oklahoma City, I took it upon myself to paint the entire interior of our house.
Eventually there's just too much time though. That's what television is for.
Indulging in things I can't or won't with him is one very small positive. For example: Seth HATES the sight, sound & smell of anything popcorn-related. When they throw Popcornopolis prizes into the stands at hockey games, he cringes & would absolutely duck for cover if one came his way. I haven't consumed popcorn in a movie theater since 2010. But I have probably eaten about 100 microwave bags of kettle corn in his absence.
The loneliness can be overwhelming. Tactile loneliness in particular. It is excruciatingly more difficult without the dog. Just having a warm body nearby was so comforting. It probably helped that he snored & hogged the bed & exhaled hot breath into my face all night (wink).
I try to pack in girl talk & catch up with distant relatives. Sometimes just going for a hike or taking the long way home makes a difference. Even humoring a perky Trader Joe's cashier can take away the heaviness for a few minutes.
I do a lot of the lonely by choice though. Some part of me wants to soak it in. Maybe it just feels appropriate? I don't know. There are days I don't leave the house or even get dressed. I cocoon in squalor. And I definitely don't shave my legs unless I have to interact with someone I know.
I like to joke that Seth may miss me, but if he knew what I let myself look like & act like when he's not around, he wouldn't even want to sit next to me.
There's awkwardness. Most of it is misunderstanding. Bad timing. Communication error or failure. But a lot of it is just the fact that you are living separate lives. The question “What are you up to?” isn't always one you feel like answering. “Um, I've been staring at a wall for 2 hours & now I'm polishing off a pint of Cherry Garcia. What are you up to?”
You run out of things to talk about pretty quick. Usually because you talk too often. But any opportunity to talk has to be taken advantage of. So you end up discussing minutia. You get bored with your own ideas. And there's the pregnant pauses. And sometimes you doze off waiting for the other person to speak or scouring your mind for something (anything) to say.
You make sure to say “I love you.” And “I miss you.” And you get really tired of only being able to say those two things, but you can't stop because it's all you can think. Meanwhile the random "I love you"s & "I miss you"s from the other person are everything.
You feel left out. You both feel left out. It's unavoidable. Any event that occurs without you is grounds for a little envy. Even something as petty as hanging a framed photo on a wall.
You become hyper-aware of change. Seth once hilariously returned to me with a haircut so atrocious, I couldn't live another minute of my life without fixing it.
You forget to eat. Or at least I do. I have become so accustomed to Seth cooking for me. When he's not around, I just... don't eat. Not adequately. I call it the “oh yeah diet.” Memory loss weight loss. Right now I'm wearing a pair of shorts I couldn't fit into two weeks ago.
There's paranoia. I am obsessive about locking doors & windows even though I have no reason to be. Every time I return home, I check the corners & closets & throw the shower curtain back just to make sure I'm actually alone. And I just realized this morning that the weird clang I've been hearing every night that scares the crap out of me is not a potential intruder, but, in fact, the water heater.
I can't talk about long distance without mentioning reunions. Or visits. Those hugs & kisses feel pretty damn good. And every time you promise yourself you won't take the other person for granted ever again. And every time you do just that within a week.
The farewells are sobering. Oh, the anguish of walking away from someone you love. The devastating mindf*ck. I'll never forget riding the orange line to Cicero with Seth the first time we had to say goodbye. I don't think either of us slept the night before. We couldn't even look at each other. Our hands were sweaty from squeezing. A bit of relief came in the form of an, ahem, eccentric man who took the seat next to us. He told us all about the alien chips in his brain & his famous parents (JFK & Marilyn). It broke the silent dread.
Every time I've been to Midway Airport since that dreary November day, I remember precisely where we were standing when a no-nonsense TSA agent yelled at us for hugging too long in front of the security screening entrance. Not his fault. He was just doing his job. He didn't understand that we were whirlwind romance idiots spending our final seconds in a tearful embrace.
I don't get as emotional at the airport now. You can't. It's business as usual. It's over in 10 seconds. Sometimes there's a meaningful second hug & kiss, which has been clumsy of late thanks to face shields & KN95 masks. No, it's harder in the days leading up to the goodbye. There's wasted hours where you should make the most of every minute, but you can't bring yourself to be uninhibited. And then it really hits when you walk into the empty house & there's no shoes to trip over.
All this probably makes me sound like a clingy, co-dependent sap. Usually I would care & have some severe bit of sarcasm to balance it out. But the boring truth is I'm human & I crave the presence of the human I share my life with. All the time. 6 days down. 39 to go.