Blue Valentine

I learned early on that you’ve got to pay the price. The lesson so touched one of my little brothers, that Mom recalls him sitting on the potty, legs dangling, chanting, “Pay price, pay price.” Apparently, Bob’s family stamped him with a similar meme. “No pain, No gain” has served us both well. He and I have made many hard decisions and taken immediate action; changing the way we eat, perhaps, or pulling up roots to reinvent ourselves in another part of the world. It’s one thing to say, “I’m gonna,” and quite another to accept the burden involved with making it happen.

I am super proud of Bob for biting the bullet and taking on a job that would make my head explode: reams of documentation, many-paged questionnaires, air travel, hotel rooms, driving into a Fargo-esque polar vortex after dark in an unfamiliar vehicle, and a skyrocketing learning curve that would make NASA proud. Bob has taken on every bit of this and more in order to cushion our golden years. This past week he was in training with the administration team at SBS Global Services in Emeryville, California and will continue stuffing his brain with new information next week. In the evenings he squeezes in sales tax reporting, payroll, and bookkeeping for a second, part-time job. Not many 60-year olds would accept this challenge or willingly take on this level of mental punishment. Few are made of the stuff Bob is made of.

Meanwhile, I’m home, humming Christmas songs like I do, and shoveling compost into buckets. I’m dumping them into nine empty totes that Bob Sawzall-ed in half for container gardens. After adding peat moss and vermiculite, I stir vigorously with a spade shovel. Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas is on repeat and I think I know why. Bob won’t be home for Valentine’s Day this year. First time ever. Later, I light the flame beneath a pan and find myself humming,”The bed’s too big, the frying pan’s too WIDE” from Joni Mitchell’s My Old Man.

I deposited Bob at RDU’s Terminal 2 well before dawn a week ago Saturday and watched him walk away. When I got home and saw his coffee cup in the dish drainer, tears stung my eyes. I knew I wouldn’t see it on his desk for nearly three weeks.

Yes, we Skype every evening and that certainly helps. “I’m getting more quality Bob time on Skype than I would if you were here,” I quip. We laugh but we both know this isn’t true. It’s just one of those things people say, like “Oh, I’ll be fine,” or “Don’t worry about me, I’ve got this.”

The truth is my home feels strange without my Bob. Little things make me jump when my lover isn’t home. Last night I heard a couple dozen rounds echo through the woods, and jumped up to lock the door. As if anyone with a boot couldn’t kick that flimsy lock apart. I think of how lame that lock is every evening before I click it shut on my way to the shower. I have a lot more bravado before the sun goes down. After it gets dark, our home’s chirps and pings take on a sinister hue.

Even my laundry routine is upset. I peer into our hamper and shake my head, “Not today.” Finally I have enough for a load, and when I dump the clean clothes onto the bed for a solo laundry party (Bob calls it a laundry party when we fold our clothes together) I realize that not even one sock in this pile belongs to Bob.

On Valentine’s Day, my valentine will be 2,806 miles west. We will get up and go to bed at different times. We will text each other during the day and Skype in the evening. We’ll say, “I love you” just like we do every day. We’ll say “I miss you,” and “This is the last time we’ll be apart for this long,” and congratulate ourselves on being grown up enough to bite the bullet and do what it takes to steer our lifeboat toward solvent harbor. We’ll go to bed alone and wake up alone. It’ll be alright. This is the last time.

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