I am feeling distinctly weird.
The Husband is now in Guadalajara, Mexico. He left on Friday. His mother and I escorted him to the airport, where we both clung to him and cried. Especially me.
‘I don’t know why I’m doing this,’ he told me as we sat, hand-in-hand, on the grey plastic seating by the departure gates. I told him that he would have a wonderful time and an incredible experience and that we’d see each other soon. Or, at least, I think I did.
After the cliché-ridden farewell (hugs, tears, ‘now I’d better go’, ‘now I’d really better go’), I slid my big black sunglasses from atop my head to cover my face, not caring how stupid I looked, just wanting some kind of shield between my puffy eyes and the world. My mother-in-law swept me up in a hug and hurried me out of the building in a swirl of chatter, suggesting coffee in Carlton on the way home.
It had been an odd week. The farewell party, exactly one week earlier, was the first time that I felt it was real, that The Husband was really going.
The next day, Saturday, was his last day with F, the first of a series of ‘last days’. We went to the beach, they had a Lego Star Wars Play Station marathon (I let them play for FOUR HOURS. Okay, I fell asleep, woke up and realised they had been playing for FOUR HOURS and promptly switched it off), and The Husband assumed bedtime story-reading duties. In the morning, The Husband went to work for the Last Time. He knelt and said a heartfelt goodbye to F, who was sprawled on the floor making a comic book. F was pretty casual about it, until he got up to follow The Husband to the front door. There, he looked up me and said ‘Mum, we won’t see [The Husband] for a really long time, will we?’ I said ‘no, we won’t’ and he threw himself into The Husband’s arms, hugging him tight, his head buried in his shoulder. I stood in the doorway and cried.
Sunday, F and I had some Quality Time, hanging out around the house reading together, lunch in Yarraville, swimming and a playground in nearby Kensington, and dinner for two at F’s favourite restaurant on the way home. The morning farewell had made me painfully aware that not only was F leaving to spend two weeks away with grandparents, but soon I would be leaving for Mexico. When F’s dad arrived to pick him up at 8.30pm, F held onto his bedposts and shook his head. ‘I want to stay. I haven’t spent enough time here with Mum.’ It wasn’t difficult to change his mind by reminding him that he was about to go to Queensland in the morning (7am flight). Queensland means Granny and Grandad’s swimming pool, Dreamworld, Seaworld, Movieworld, and some kind of themed space restaurant he visits whenever he’s there.
Monday was farewell dinner with the mother-in-law, her partner and their foster child. It started off grim. I was mopey and somewhat angry. Nothing had been worked out for where the dogs would go, and I was feeling stuck with the dilemma of what to do with them. A kennel looked like it would cost a couple of thousand dollars we don’t have. The foster child, being four years old, was in particularly chatty spirits. I wasn’t. At the dinner table, my mother-in-law asked me something about how I felt about leaving F, and I broke down into sobs. Not tears trickling discretely down the cheek – gasping, boo-hoo-ing sobs. There were reassuring words and reminders that they will be popping in on F to see how he’s doing while I’m gone, and the conversation moved on to The Husband’s sister, who is living in London and miserable about it. My mother-in-law broke down into sobs, and it was our turn to comfort her. By the time the fresh berries and cream were brought out for dessert, the funereal air of gloom that had hung over proceedings had dissipated somewhat.
Tuesday night, I race home from work to conduct a phone interview with Canada. (The last phone interview for some time that will be conducted with my husband wandering in and out of the study in the background.) After my dictaphone has clicked off, signalling that the hour is up, I wander outside, where I find The Husband tossing a tennis ball to the dogs in the driveway. Friends are coming over any minute for a farewell drink, he tells me. Another round of goodbyes. The evening ends on the back deck, as The Husband and guests sit on the couch and drink beers, while I loll on an armchair with a G&T. Then it’s take-away dinner and bed.
All day, I’ve been getting more and more irritated with The Husband. I’ve lunched with a former colleague who is leaving her own husband (for indisputable reasons), a colleague who used to give me ‘oh that’s normal, we fight like that too and look at us, we’ve been married for nearly twenty years’ advice. It was good advice, but now, as she muses that all those little things in her relationship really were ominous after all, I can’t help wondering. All afternoon, small gripes nibble at the edges of my consciousness. Tonight, by the time I go to bed, I am quietly furious with unvoiced angst. And it has all congealed around one central grievance: if he really loved me, why would he plan to leave me FOR SIX MONTHS straight after we get married? How can he really care about me if he leaves me all alone? Which leads to thoughts about how lonely I will be when he’s gone. Which gives birth to a blanket despair.
I go to bed sniffling a little. He comforts me, but not enough to combat my angst. He falls asleep. I am furious. How can he sleep when I am suffering? He clutches a pillow to his chest like a lover. I yank it from his grasp and throw it at the wall. He blinks at me. I grab my own pillow and stalk out of the bedroom. On the couch, under a blanket, I sob and sob until my head aches and my eyes are hollow. It is late when I finally tire myself out and fall asleep.
Wednesday. The Husband yells from the bedroom when the alarm goes off. I peel myself off the couch twenty minutes later and sleepwalk into the shower. I peer at myself in the mirror. I look ill. No time to address the problem. I pull on jeans and a singlet top and throw last night’s neglected book in my backpack. On the train, I stare out of the window as the stations flash past. Halfway to the city, I pull out the book, a connected short story collection by Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes. It draws me in from the first page and distracts me from what I am beginning to recognise as a bad case of narcissism (acted out in the form of a tantrum worthy of a pre-schooler).
The Husband and I speak during the day. Neither of us mentions last night, but as we talk about other things, the memory fades. Tonight is a farewell with The Husband’s dad and his brother, in Carlton.
The restaurant we’ve arranged to meet at is closed, due to a family funeral. I book us into a Mexican restaurant on Johnston Street, Fitzroy instead. Apparently, it serves authentic Mexican cuisine, as opposed to the Tex-Mex fare of most Mexican restaurants. I have to admit that I adore Tex-Mex – nachos and burritos and enchildas - and hope I will like this, too. After all, soon I’ll be eating it every day. On the way to the restaurant, early, I run into The Husband and his brother in an adjacent bar. I was planning to retire to a nearby square of lawn and read my book, but I join them instead. The restaurant is pleasant, unpretentious, decorated with a map of Mexico on the wall and dancing skeletons in the window. Our waitress is Mexican, and she talks to The Husband about Guadalajara. She assures my brother-in-law that he won’t taste the chocolate in his mole sauce. The atmosphere at our table is festive, celebratory. The men drink Mexican beer and my father-in-law, a seasoned traveller, offers tips on navigating LA airport. The meals come. My brother-in-law tastes the chocolate in his mole sauce, but doesn’t mind it. My enchiladas verde turn out to be smothered in lime-green salsa. (‘Ah’, I say to The Husband. ‘So verde is green?’ I tell myself once more that my Year 12 French (green: verte) will help me navigate Spanish. My meal is not bad, though the accompanying beans taste straight out of a can, complete with briney juice.
We finish our meal with cinnamon infused Mexican coffee and I take a round of goodbye photos. The waitresses bring us enormous hats to wear. One of them, studded with glass stones and silver sparkles, sits heavy on our heads as we take turns with it.
Then we are off to Readings to buy books on the way home. I greedily buy four, as I won’t be able to buy English language books soon.
The night ends well. Last night, I was convinced that that was how I would feel from then on – devastated, desperate, angry. Tonight, I realise with relief that I’ve got a lot of that out of my system in one big temper tantrum.
Thursday. My last day at work for the week. (And one more week to go!) I’ve taken tomorrow off to accompany The Husband to the airport. Apart from work duties, mainly supervising my (delightful, supremely competent) replacement, my big task today is to process my passport application.
Come midday, I walk to a nearby Post Office where an appointment for the passport interview is unnecessary. The woman at the counter recognises me from when I had my photos done last week. It took five tries to get it right. (‘Don’t worry,’ she’d told me. ‘Not everyone is photogenic.’) At the counter, I realise that I haven’t filled out the form. I did it online until I reached the bit about providing the number of your stolen passport (which I don’t have) and had to give up. Obviously my brain processed that as ‘I have done my passport application’. No drama. I retired to the back of the post office, filled out the form, and returned to the counter. I HATE doing these things with a passion, partly because I don’t drive and therefore have no photo ID, which causes complications. In this case, I needed two guarantors to sign photos confirming that I am indeed me. The interview is fine, every box is ticked off, until we come to my photos. I confidently hand over my guarantor forms and my signed photos and wait.
‘What’s this?’ asks the clerk, returning my photos. ‘Why is this signed twice? And why is this one blank?’
I look. One of the photos carries the specified declaration: ‘I confirm that this is a true photo of (exact name on passport)’ with the signature of my mother-in-law’s partner beneath. So far so good. But beneath that is another signature. The signature of my boss, my other guarantor. And the other photo, the one that was to have carried his written confirmation and signature, is blank.
I curse my boss aloud, swearing floridly.
‘I don’t know why he did that!’ I tell the clerk, vaguely aware that she has little idea what I’m talking about. ‘I TOLD him SPECIFICALLY not to. I TOLD him what he had to do in great detail. I can’t believe this!’
She tries to look sympathetic and asks me if I want to take a new set of photos now. And tells me that not only am I missing one guarantor (the Boss), but his signature invalidates my other guarantor. I need to find her and ask her to redo her declaration on a new photo.
‘You’ll probably need to pay for a priority application if you put it in later than today,’ said the clerk. ‘If you’re travelling on that date.’
Last week, I’d had to try not to giggle or smile as my photo was taken. This time, I try to temper my glower into the camera. I am not successful.
Back at the office, my boss greets me at the door.
‘How did it go?’
‘Well, pretty badly actually.’ I tell him what happened and he looks suitably sheepish.
‘Oh nooo. I’m sooo sorry.’
I bring him the photo again and instruct him in detail what to do, again.
‘The really bad thing,’ I say, ‘is that I have to use this photo. I can’t even believe that I have to show it to you. Don’t laugh.’
I hand him the photo. He laughs until his eyes begin to tear. I can’t blame him.
‘Are you sure,’ he gasps, ‘that they’ll let you into the country with this photo?’
‘Yeah, I look like a serial killer.’
‘You look like a little Dutch girl, with those plaits. An angry little Dutch girl.’
‘I actually thought I looked like trailer trash, like a hillbilly from South Carolina or something.’
‘Oh, YES.’ He laughs harder. ‘Leave it with me.’
So. The passport application will need to be processed on Monday. And I was so angry as I walked back to the office that I didn’t stop for lunch. (I did, however, eat a Magnum.)
Thursday night, we go for dinner a deux at The Husband’s favourite local restaurant. His dad comes over to drop off his old laptop (a year-old Mac Powerbook), his farewell gift to The Husband. I try not to fall asleep on the couch as they go through all the computer’s features. The Husband has a million things to sort out for the morning. I photocopy some documents for him, then, assured that there is nothing else I can help with, I retire to bed, where I read and attempt to stay awake for as long as I can (until 11.30pm). The Husband goes to bed after 3am.
Friday. Post-airport. The mother-in-law and I have coffee and tarts at Brunetti’s in Carlton. We talk about other things. We visit my sister-in-law at work, nearby, and go our separate ways. I browse the second-hand bookshop on the corner of Lygon and Elgin streets and buy an Aldous Huxley book I think I should read. Feeling purposeful, I go to the Post Office to process my passport. I discover that I’ve left the documents at home, having absentmindedly taken them out of my bag before dinner last night. I catch the tram home, via the city, where I stop to buy This Life on dvd. I go home, go to bed with a glass of water and a roll of Pringles, and watch the dvd, taking time out to call my son in Adelaide. He shouts into the phone, ‘IT’S MY MUMMY!’ He is at a restaurant with my sisters. We can barely hear one another over the background noise. ‘I can’t hear you’ he says. ‘I’ll go outside.’ My sister comes on the line.
‘He just walked out of the restaurant!’ she laughs.
I stay in bed all day Saturday, sleeping and eating and watching my dvd. I feel in limbo, removed from my ordinary life. It is strange to think that The Husband doesn’t live here, that he won’t come home and pick up his dressing gown from the end of the bed or change the pile of CDs beside his computer.
I get up to feed the dogs. I speak on the phone twice, once to the Husband in Guadalajara and once more to F in Adelaide, where he answers the phone at my mother’s house: ‘IS THIS MY MUMMY?’ I think he misses me.
In Guadalajara, The Husband is disoriented. He misses me, too. He says that the city is nothing like he imagined. It’s older, poorer, more run-down. Apparently the road from the airport is lined with shells of abandoned cars. He is the only gringo on the streets near the inn where he is staying. He feels the stares: not unfriendly, but curious. He has been to Wal Mart for supplies. They have all the western goods (and brands) you’d expect, only with Spanish labels. He tells me he has bought a packet of Doritos. He has been there for half an hour.
‘I don’t know why I’m here,’ he says.
I feel lucky to have two people who love me and miss me. It’s time to pull myself out of my self-indulgent slump.
Sunday morning, I go out for breakfast. I email The Husband (who is feeling somewhat better). I call F. And I don’t return to bed, or my dvds, all day.