Sunday, January 14, 2007

Going, going gone

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.

15 comments:

lucy tartan said...

Ariel, I'm awestruck by how well you're holding it together under all this. I cannot imagine how it must be to be beginning a separation from your partner for so long in a situation where it's to some degree the partner's choice to go away.

Kate said...

My man left me (the day before my birthday) to go and work on a remote mine site. It was 2003.

I dropped him off at Sydney airport then went to work, which I spent sitting in the bathroom crying. He rang me that night from the mine accommodation, upset and lonely. Some more crying.

He called me, on my birthday, pissed as a newt. (He'd been catching up with an old school friend at remote mine site. Worst birthday evah!) Even more crying ensued.

I didn't see him for two months. Then I got to see him every six weeks for two-four days, except for the period after his dad died, when I didn't see him for three months. That was pretty shitty.

Anyway, this went on for the next two and a half years.

Then I moved to Perth to be with him (cue violens etc) and he proceeded to Go Away A Lot. He still does, possibly for a couple of months this year to Saudi Arabia. I'm SO looking forward to that.

So. Yeah. Awful. Hope it's okay. It does get easier, not that you want it to, but it does.

(And what Lucy Tartan said too.)

meva said...

But you're seeing Husband in Mexico soon, no?

It's very disorienting when your home loses it's family, and it's just you. Maybe enjoy the peace for a while. It (the peace) won't last, thankfully.

xx

Ariel said...

Thanks all. It's days like these when I know why I started blogging. So nice to have people think you're coping admirably when you feel like a big fat sook! Ditto on hearing that other people have been in a similar situation (or more so) and survived. (The half-hearted hack had a similar tale to yours, too, Kate.)

Yeah, I will see The Husband in Mexico soon, which helps. I think it's mainly disconcerting because I know that for the next six months, I'll be missing one of the two most important people in my life - when I'm in Mexico, F will be back here, which knots my stomach every time I think about it. Ahhh, modern life ...

Kate, condolences on the Saudi trip. And at least he was here for my birthday (though he'll be alone overseas for his).

I go to bed feeling comforted.

elsewhere said...

Mmm, passport photos are always weird.

Sorry, that's all I can think of to say. I think it was very sporting of you to organise the Mexican farewell, etc.

redcap said...

Poor Ariel. It won't be fun, but I know you'll make it through.

Things are very quiet and empty here too. The cat is prowling around looking miserable and I've been sleeping curled up to himself's pillow since he left. Remind me to tell you about the blazing row we had before he left for the airport last Tuesday morning. It was truly farcical.

How are you going with working out dog accommodation? I realised last week that puss was going to have to go to the kitty hotel while I'm away because my usual catsitter and my back-up catsitter both fell through.

Oh, and by the way, mmmm, Brunetti's. I adore that place.

Ariel said...

Elsewhere, mine are in a new category of weird. trust me. *sigh*

Hey RC, I thought you were going with himself this time? Or are you following, like me? Yay, someone else responds to sad farewells with blazing rows! Weirdly, I was in the middle of frantically sending out dog-accommodation feelers when I checked in and read your comment. I probably (90%) have someone for the two months, but the week in Adelaide (next week!) is looking scary. I'm not sleeping at all yet. Two hours last night ... Weird how you get so used to someone's presence. Are you still on for bloggy Adelaide drinks next week? I'm thinking maybe next Weds or Thu at Exeter, though need to check in with Ms Audrey.

redcap said...

Yes, I'm following too. Quelle cowinkydink, eh? He has work to do before we can cross the great grey green greasy Limpopo and hit the road for Botswana. I leave on the 3rd.

Definitely still on for drinks next week! We'll all have to carry roses between our teeth to recognise each other ;)

ThirdCat said...

The good thing about people missing your birthday is that they do bring ace presents when they return.

Passport photos have got even worser since the introduction of that strange covering they seem to do to them.

Airport arguments are a mandatory part of this relationship. It's the all-round stress I guess.

Will you be blogging Mexico? I hope so. Since I read this post this morning, I've been reading in my diaries about Guadalajara. Was going to post a bit, but it sounds pretty naff as my travel diaries all seem to do.

Good luck finding a dog hotel, and I hope you are sleeping okay.

Ariel said...

RC, that is one helluva cowinkydink - you're leaving three days before me. SPOOKY.

TC: Oh, PLEASE post bits of your travel diaries about Guadalajara. I'd love to read them. And yes, I do plan to blog from Mexico, so long as I can get proper net access, which it looks like I should. And slept much better last night, thanks - waking at 4am meant I must have SLEPT before then, right?!

Melly` said...

I so feel for you. They will be fine, and .. nope ... I have nothing useful to give you. But thanks for your heartfelt description of how you feel about your loved ones...

Dance naked and drink stuff you promised everyone you would never drink again. Lick all the flavouring off the biscuits and put them back in the packet. Drink cream straight from the carton. Play the music you like and your lover and child dont... really really loud...

And.. good luck with the dogs. If I was nearer I would take them. Doggie playgroup at the beach is always heaps of fun.

Ariel said...

Thanks Melly. I found someone for the dogs! But nice thought ...

audrey said...

Oh Ariel, once again your writing is so special.

My parents have spent their whole lives working apart and being reunited. Pops is in the oil biz so he basically worked the fields for the first couple of years of my life. Then it became working on/off overseas.

Chin up chook. I am definitely still on for bloggy drinks next week, but it'll have to be wednesday if that suits you guys?

Ariel said...

How about Weds 6.30pm for Adelaide bloggy drinks at the Exeter, then?

audrey said...

It's a date! red?