about 4 days left 

I had a small measure of success today: the guest room is decluttered; the bathroom closet is organized; the hall closet is half full. I’ve washed the bulk of my clothes; I’ve separated what goes from what stays; I’ve started packing up the clothes that will stay in a friend’s empty closet while I’m gone. 

This would all have been much easier if I wasn’t renting my house while I was gone. I need the income (see: mortgage) but it adds an extra layer of stress. As I’m trying to pack for my adventure, I’m also cleaning and organizing the house, trying to put away as much in the personal department as possible. I can appreciate that I’m getting rid of clutter and giving things a much needed clean but I would have enjoyed this more if I’d started a month ago. 

Yesterday was not pretty. I stayed up until an ungodly hour Monday night (the sun was coming up as I went to bed) so I didn’t have much sleep. I got up for a meeting on campus, only to find I had a flat tire. A friend gave me a ride in; another brought me home; in between, I had a frustrating meeting and finished printing out the materials I need to take with me. The rest of the afternoon was spent getting the tire changed and plugggrd – not what I had planned on doing with those hours. 

I knew I was tending toward the manic – no sleep? no food? lots of stress? not pretty – but it was even more evident when I crashed last night. Rockford came over to help me with a few little projects; they took him all of 10 minutes but at least I didn’t have to do them. He mentioned I looked tired when he got here; a few hours later, I was practically comatose. I can remember going to bed but I fell asleep while he was talking to me and slept like a rock most of the night. So, as busy as today was, at least I felt human. 

a week to go

I leave a week from today, as you could likely guess from the chaos that is my house, not to mention the chaos that is my mind.

Yes, I’m stressed.  Excited.  Optimistic.  Nervous.  Happy.  Worried.  Unsure.  There are all sorts of emotions swirling around as I run errands, divide clothes, determine materials, clean my house, pack my valuables, call my doctors, answer my emails, double-check my to-do list, write my will, organize my closets, winnow my towels, order last minute supplies, purge my pantry…

Yes, I’m stressed.  How could I not be? That doesn’t take away from how great it is that I’ll be overseas for the next nine months.  I’m always a little frantic before I leave for any length of time; since my long trips are usually about a month, take this to the ninth power and you get a sense.

It will all get done.  Or it won’t.  Either way, I’m getting on a plane.  As long as I have my passport, my laptop and my credit card, I’ll manage (she says as she ponders how to get a winter coat into her suitcase).  I do realize that I can buy essentials there, of course; it’s not like I’m going to be living on Mars.  I’ve already decided I’ll be fleshing out my winter wardrobe from the local stores; sweaters and boots are just too bulky when every inch of space in the suitcase counts.  I like the idea of having what I need when I get there, though, from clothes to toiletries, and figuring out without the impetus of dire necessity how I need to supplement.

This week isn’t packed full of external stuff, I’m glad to say.  I had brunch with some girlfriends today, then spent the rest of the day here in the house.  For a few hours, I was just running in circles but I finally managed to focus.  I have a meeting or two on campus, which is fine since I need to pick up and print out materials on campus anyway, and I’ll get in a little exercise.  I’ll spend time with my friends as I can; we have our weekly dinner tomorrow and I’m sure we’ll do something celebratory next weekend.

Rockford and I are working our way toward good-byes, too, of course.  In a way, we’ve said what needs to be said – we know how we feel; we know that I’m leaving – but I suppose there are a few conversations still in the wings.  I did dinner and a movie with him and the kids last night…..If you ever need to check your importance to the universe, by the way, hang out with an 11-year-old: he said goodnight, I reminded him that I wouldn’t see him until next summer (if ever, but that’s neither here nor there), and he said, “Oh, okay. Night.” Okay, then….and we had some times to ourselves at the end of the evening. Ahem.  That rarely happens when the kids are there (as in, once in the 11 months we’ve been dating); I’m not sure what made last night different but I’ll take it!

visiting mom

I. Am. So. Tired.  I got home last night around 12:30 after my ~30 hours in Home State; I got a decent night’s sleep but today was busy.  By the time I got home, I was almost too tired to move.  I’ve been working through emails this evening until I hit a legitimate bedtime: it has arrived.

I’m not sure I can call any trips to Home State “good” at this point but I suppose this one went as well as it could.  I flew in, met Cool Friend for a quick lunch, then drove to my mom’s current home.  I spent most of Thurs with her, too, before heading back to the airport.  It’s a nice enough place; everyone is very pleasant; she has a window with a pretty view.  It’s also close enough for visitors, so there’s always someone to drop by every day to say hello.

My dad goes every day.  Every. Day. He gets there a little after Mom gets up in the morning; he leaves when she goes to bed in the evening; then he comes back the next day.  Everyone there is very impressed with his devotion, and they assure him that having him there is very helpful for her recovery, generally.  If I ever doubted that my dad loved my mother – which I didn’t – this more than proves it.  He still teases her and jokes with her; she still laughs at his corny jokes; they still fuss when he’s trying to get her to eat something she doesn’t want.  It hurts your heart in good and bad ways to see them together.

It’s hard seeing Mom as she is: frail and confused. She’s recovering physically from her surgery, so that’s good, but her mind continues the slide. She has sparks: she recognized me in a photo, she told me how pretty I looked one day, she called my sister by name, she loves it when my little brother visits.  And she still knows Dad; she asks for him if he’s out of her sight for very long.

I sat with Mom – just us – for a little bit yesterday, filing her fingernails and talking to her.  I told her I wouldn’t see her for awhile, that I was leaving to go overseas, and she nodded and looked pensive.  When I told her the country, she repeated it and then spelled the name of another country in Europe: “That’s where you’re going?” “Yes, Mama, that’s the place.”  I told her that I was dating a good man and I would miss him once I went overseas; she smiled and nodded. I told her this reminded me of her with her mother; she did Grandma’s nails when she visited her in the nursing home, and I thought how the generations keep repeating.  I cried a little, for many reasons – and then I got on a plane.

I’ll always feel guilty about my family: that we’re not closer, literally and figuratively; that I don’t do as much as I could or should; that I don’t visit enough; that I’ve made our interactions so difficult through the years; that I don’t try hard enough to bridge the distances.  I don’t know how to be anyone other than myself and that self has never managed to fit comfortably into my family. But  I did the best I could with this quick visit, and I’ll hope it’s enough for everyone’s sake in the long run.

making a list and checking it thrice

I’m sure I have some introspective thoughts around here somewhere but, right now, it’s more a matter of getting shit done.

There’s no way I’ll get through everything but I’d like to get as much off my professional plate as possible before I leave: editor duties, manuscript revisions, email responses, grad student advising, service expectations.  The less I have hanging over my head, the better, since I’ll be picking up plenty of new work once I get to my new home.

One of the new projects waiting for me is determining what to do with a completed research study.  I fully intend to roll up my metaphorical sleeves and revisit the data; the analysis that’s come before has been piecemeal and stop-gap and, therefore, useless as a definitive determinate for the project.  I haven’t had the time or bandwidth to really focus on this project; my goal for the next nine months is to finally figure out what I’ve got.  So, I’m working on printing out and organizing all the data – because it’s harder to ignore mounds of paper.

That project is all well and good but I also have to teach, and that means putting together my classes. I have rough outlines but nothing definitive, since I’m not quite sure what I’m walking into over there.  Still, I need to commit a few ideas to paper in syllabus form before I leave so I have somewhere to start in a few weeks.  That means making sure I have the resources I need, too, since I’m taking nothing for granted: the PDFs need to be on my computer before I leave.

I’m still packing up the bits and pieces around the house that need to be safely distanced from potential lodgers.  Most of the living space is done; the kitchen is the next big project (because no one uses my grandmother’s dishes but me).  I did admit limited defeat and have someone come in today to help with cleaning. My windows have never been so sparkly (which says more about my housekeeping than their fantastic cleaning powers).

I needed help, in part, because I’m flying back to Home State this week for a very quick visit with my mom.  All told, I’ll be there about 30 hours, which may seem crazy but I really need to see my mom and dad again before I leave the country. I had planned to drive but rational thought returned this morning when I woke up and realized how much I need to do and how tired I am doing it.  Thankfully, airline miles were made for such purposes.

rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, rinse…

You know what happens when you find old journals?  Besides the satisfaction of knowing you didn’t imagine past events that obviously scarred you for life?  You realize that you keep repeating the same patterns.

You know what happens when you look back at old blog posts?  Besides the surprise of realizing you’ve written as long as you have?  You have even more confirmation that you are a broken record.

I’m like my own angsty version of Groundhog Day.  Every few years: the same issues, the same laments, the same questions, the same musings.  I keep having the same conversations with myself and then doing the same things that lead to the same conversations a few months or years later.  Mostly about relationships, of course – the lack of, the search for, the difficulty of, the certainty of never having – because evidently I am forever a 16-year-old girl.

For someone who educates for a living, I really don’t learn.

And then a picture of me fishing with Rockford a few weeks ago floats by on my TV screen. I can see my smile from here as I stand in ankle-deep water, fishing pole in my hand, sunglasses pushed up, shorts rolled up, no make-up, no styled hair.  So totally not me. But I was happy.  Very.

So maybe I have learned something: to grasp happiness in the moment, wherever it comes from, however different it might be from the usual order of things.

Someone today said I looked sad.  I was genuinely surprised – I didn’t feel particularly sad – and I don’t think I was.  But I wasn’t happy, and that’s what they’ve seen over the last (almost) year. Realizing that doesn’t upset me, actually. Being with Rockford made me happy and it’s nice to think that the happiness from our relationship – even as it wraps up – was so obvious. That, at least, isn’t part of the pattern.

when things come to an end

I’ve never really had a relationship end in a relatively positive way.  The very fact of “an end” obviously precludes rainbows and ponies but my relationships are more inclined to implode than deflate.  They end abruptly; awful things are said; and the person is deleted from my life.  Sam might be the exception there; our implosion was a gradual action but, in the end, it ended in a rush and it left me bereft – for years, apparently, because why not extend the misery.

So, the conclusion of my relationship with Rockford is slightly bewildering.  We don’t hate each other; we aren’t throwing recriminations at each other; we haven’t cut all ties with one another.  We’re simply coming to an end because my time here is coming to an end.  The feelings aren’t quite that simple, of course.

We finally addressed the elephant in the room Sunday – with me pushing it forward. Things have been strained for some time now; even with the great date night last week, the more I thought about Saturday night, the more I realized I simply can’t keep punishing myself.  I can look for all sorts of signs and attempt all sorts of interpretations but, in the end, I’m simply refusing to see what is clearly in front of me: Rockford doesn’t feel about me the same way I feel about him.  He hasn’t led me on; he hasn’t lied to me; he hasn’t tried to distract me.  He’s a pretty simple guy in the end, although one who struggles with the whole feelings side of things.

So, we spoke on the phone Sunday evening and I laid out what I saw and what I felt and what I believed to be true.  And, to his credit, he didn’t try to deflect me.  He agreed: he’s a self-sufficient kind of guy who doesn’t truly need anyone in his life right now.  He has enjoyed our time together but he has increasingly felt like there’s a piece of the puzzle missing between us; he doesn’t know quite what it is but the absence has encouraged him to step back.

It’s never that simple, though, is it.   He also said he loves me, even as he admitted that he isn’t sure what love is supposed to feel like at this point in our lives.  That wasn’t as crushing as you’d think, actually; I think I’m in the same position.  I have no idea what love is, anymore, and I don’t trust myself to recognize it even if I’m standing in it.  I’ve been hurt too many times to believe my feelings and I’m scared to death of making the mistake of trusting something that will crumble under pressure.  I also know you can care deeply about someone and not love them, which may be where we find ourselves, in the end.

Regardless, I told him that night that I didn’t know how to say goodbye.  This wasn’t the way relationships usually ended for me and I was really at a loss.  My one request, if he agreed, was that I wouldn’t simply disappear: I want to say goodbye to his kids before I leave.  He allowed me into their lives, and I am cognizant of the importance of such trust, on his part and theirs.  Plus, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them and it wouldn’t be right to not have a farewell before I go overseas.  He said, of course, that was fine; the kids liked me, especially his youngest son, and his daughter, too, but she’s kind of quiet so you might not know…and then I realized he was as choked up as I was.  And he said, let’s not talk anymore tonight; let’s talk tomorrow after we’ve had some sleep.

Of course, I was sad after we hung up the phone.  I had a good cry and I crawled into bed in a pretty dark space.  At the same time, though, I was relieved.  However much it might hurt in the moment, finishing “us” up as I get ready to leave feels like the right thing to do, for both our sakes.  Rockford asked me, at one point, what I thought would happen with us if I wasn’t leaving.  I can’t answer that; I simply don’t know.  Perhaps things would be clearer without the pressure of my imminent departure; perhaps we would have moved more slowly during our time together; perhaps we would have seen months ago that we weren’t suited for the long run.  Any one of those seems like a perfectly acceptable outcome, because the one thing we’ve never been is simple.

He asked if he could come over yesterday and I said that would be fine.  So he came straight from work – in uniform and in car – which is rare; he gave me a kiss when he walked in and asked if he could get out of uniform and take a quick shower. Then he said he’d found a movie we’ve been dying to see: did I want to watch it?  So, we ended up on the sofa, watching our movie, sipping a splash of the whisky I brought back from Scotland. Then the movie ended; he asked me to stretch out beside him on the sofa and we snuggled into each other as always.  Eventually I told him I really wasn’t good with goodbyes.  He put his arm around me: “I didn’t come over to talk tonight…I just wanted to come here and be with you….I feel for you more than you think I do…and I’m going to miss you.”

I know how much those words cost him.  This isn’t a man who talks about feelings easily but he managed to get the words out and they were what I needed to hear.  Because, as of yesterday, we’ve been dating 11 months.  And I wanted him to confirm that that meant something to him.  Which he did last night, without any questions or requests or tears. Actions are very important, and his actions have meant a lot to me, but I still need to hear words.

So, when we went to bed last night, it was calm and quiet.  His arm around me wasn’t perfunctory; it was confirmation that he cares about me. Pulling me into his shoulder this morning while he was half asleep wasn’t suggestive; it was assurance that I mean something to him.  Simple things, really, but that fits: we’ve simply come to an end and that’s simply okay.

In these last weeks, I’ll likely spend some time with him; I’ll certainly see the kids next week at some point.  And we’ll have one last hug and kiss before I’m off.  And I’ll be able to say that I had such a good time with this guy who was absolutely nothing I’d ever expected to like. That doesn’t mean the feelings disappear immediately; that doesn’t mean we’ll disappear from each others lives immediately.  But it means I’ll smile when I think of him and hope he does the same.

remember this

I had lunch with friends this Thursday. And I laughed. Big laughs, the kind that roll out of your chest and interrupt the story you’re trying to tell everyone at the table. 

I went to a faculty function last night and met two people who graduated from my alma mater. It was such fun to sit there and reminisce. It’s easy to forget how much I love that place. 

I went out with a friend last night after the faculty thing. And we had numerous drinks. Because we felt like it. And we laughed because it was a nice night and we were having fun and we were simply enjoying ourselves. 

I went to a football game with some girlfriends today. I haven’t done that in years but Rockford was able to get us tickets so we decided to go. It was a gorgeous day, we were able to spread out on the bleachers since it wasn’t a big game, we had our soda and popcorn, we came away in different shades of pink. And it was a really nice afternoon. 

I spent the evening with Rockford and his kids. His youngest was particularly entertaining this evening, wanting to tell me all about school and his latest game and his favorite cartoons. Rockford didn’t have much to do with me tonight; we didn’t really have a chance to talk until after we’d played a game with the kids and watched a movie while sitting on opposite ends of the room and then he could barely stay awake, he was so tired. But I got his kid to laugh when I showed him a clip of Charlie Chaplin and teased him during the game and joked that he should be nice to me since I was leaving soon. And both kids told me good night when they headed to bed. 

Those are the things I want to remember. Not that my friend calling to tell me about her engagement today makes me feel so incredibly lonely. Not that I’m just this side of scared to pieces that I’m moving across the world in 22 days for nine months. Not that the man I’ve dated for 11 months will barely notice I’m gone when I leave. Not that no one really needs me in their life, even though they value my friendship and enjoy my company. Not that somehow I’m 44 and still not sure how to be an adult. 

I don’t want to remember those things. I want to push past those and hold on to the laughter and the silliness and the fun and the smiles. I need more of that, I think.