I wake up and, for a moment, forget that my husband is sick and thousands of miles away from me. For a moment, that split second between asleep and awake, it feels like a normal day.
It’s nice, that split second.
A phone call from my husband – “They’re keeping me here” – and the day turns into an obsessively-referenced check-list. Flight is booked, cell phone plan changed to include international capabilities. Lists of emergency contacts compiled and distributed. Neighbors alerted.
“Why do you have to go get daddy?” my oldest asks at lunch.
“To bring him home,” I say, a weak smile on my face. And I silently will it to happen.
I put them down for their nap and tell them I’ll see them soon, hoping they accept the relative term. They do, and soon slumber peacefully a floor above me, unfazed by the contingencies and changes and rushing and doing. They will be happily distracted by their grandparents, and they will cry when I come home.
My suitcase is packed – though for a week or a month I just don’t know – and while I bide my time during afternoon naps, waiting for my mother- and father-in-law to arrive from errands and work respectively, I survey our home. The house is filthy. There is, suddenly, so much to do. I dust, I sweep. I clean windowsills. I clean baseboards. How could I not have noticed this filth? I berate myself, I blame myself. I slice bananas, store them in freezer bags and shove them into the freezer. We can’t waste it, I tell myself. As I slice the sixth or seventh one, I think of my husband. Of how far away he is. Of how little I know of what’s happening to him – is he alive? – right this second, while slicing bananas for smoothies.
I put the knife down, stow the cutting board, and remember our goodbye at the airport only two days before.
I’m so glad I hugged him like it was the last time. Just in case.
My father-in-law drives me to the airport, filling the air with chatter to take our minds off of our unexpected reality. I am grateful, and as I watch the sailboats rock back and forth in the Potomac, I long for summer.
A rushed goodbye, a strong hug. “Take care of my boys,” I tell him, “I’ll take care of yours. “He smiles and within seconds our lives are heading in opposite directions.
“You bought a one-way,” she says, a frown on her face, “I can’t let you go, you don’t have a visa.” Her crimson red blazer clashes with her burgundy lipstick.
“Reciprocity,” I tell her, “we have reciprocity with Chile.” I stay calm, I know I am right.
“But that’s only if you buy a round-trip. Not a one way,” she barely looks up. “I’m sorry, I can’t let you check in.”
I take a deep breath. It was too easy, I think. It was all too easy.
“I need to go, and I need to leave tonight. My husband,” my voice breaks and my eyes fill. I am embarrassed, but I can’t stop myself. On autopilot, my body is functioning with only one objective: get to him. I start again:
“My husband is hospitalized in Santiago. I don’t know when he’s coming home. I need to go. I’ll buy a return ticket for whatever day you choose. Please.” I don’t look at the passengers checking in to my right, but I know they are staring. I fumble with my phone while the attendant calls her manager, my tears splashing on the counter. I wipe them away with my sleeve.
After the exchange of a credit card and curt sympathy, she slides me a slip of paper with a number scribbled in blue ink.
“Call this number when you know you’re return flight. They’ll waive your change fee,” she gives a side glance as if to emphasize the discretion I must show. I slide the paper into my pocket.
“Thank you,” I say to her, but she has already moved on the next passenger.
The plane climbs steeply into the DC skyline as we lift up and over the Potomac and fly right over the spot that I know they’ll be. I squint and see little dots on the docks, I imagine it’s them. I saw you! I’ll say. I waved! Did you see me?
The dots disappear and we fly straight into the sun, streaks of orange and pink streaming forth, taunting the plane as it chases the sunset. Pink and orange, their favorite colors. A sunset for my boys. I make a note to tell them. It was your sunset, I will say.
In Atlanta I have a two hour layover and long walk down a stark, modern corridor to the international terminal. At some point between the bathrooms and my gate, I pass a hanging sculpture – a corn cob with a dragon tail that looks like a giant flying penis. I stop dead in my tracks. I take a picture. I send it to my brothers with a witty hashtag. We have a ball with this picture. I find my gate and a seat. I sit down, and I laugh. I laugh and laugh, uncontrollably, at the absurdity of the sculpture, until I begin to cry. I pretend it’s from laughing so hard at the flying corn penis, but now I cry uncontrollably, just waiting.
I cry for him, and I cry for me.
What’s next? I think.
Originally published January 20, 2015