Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Fear of Flying

Billy goes away once a year. His commitment to travel somewhere new annually has allowed him to pepper his conversations with phrases like: When I lived in Africa...When I spent the summer in Costa Rica...When I lived in Italy...When I traveled through Morocco... But when he says it, it doesn't sound boastful or pretentious, it's not look at me, at how much I travel, how much money that implies I have. It's just more of a fact, a puzzle piece of a conversation. And you expect, even upon seeing him for the first time, that he's worldly. There's an air about him that announces his experience; A calm confidence that few people posses. A desire to be nothing but who he is, and an acceptance of everyone around him.

He travels modestly, packing what I'm assuming is just enough to clothe and sustain him in his journey. He stays in hostels, with friends he's met in previous travels, where ever there's a bed. He's bartended in Central America, can name people he knows who live in places I've never heard of. It all adds up to make him larger than life, a soul full of experiences and lacking in judgment. He fits in everywhere, as an individual.

I always try to picture his life before I knew him - before the two-story home in the Poconos, before a job that held him hostage from eight in the morning to nine at night - in some strange foreign country, smoking cigarettes and talking to whomever finds themselves in his proximity. When he talks about what he's done, where he's been before, I always picture him in some strange locale, and he's always smiling.

The life he lived before me, before this job, allowed him the freedom to pick up and go whenever he felt like it. With no need for fancy hotels or gourmet meals, he backpacked around whatever continent he found himself on. He mingled with locals at hole-in-the-wall cafes and bars on the beach. To me, it sounds simultaneously horrible and delicious.

But now, working where he does, with a mortgage to pay and a house to keep, his traveling is limited to one month a year. When he took his current job, he negotiated a month's vacation time. One month, at one time. Not four weeks throughout the year: One month. Thirty days of vacation taken in one shot. So that he can quench his desire to travel, not just vacation.

It's good for his soul, the traveling. It makes him rich in personality and tales. It thickens his stories, it compliments his character. It makes him sexy. But, too, he needs it: To get away.

We had been dating for only a few months when Billy regretfully mentioned that there was something we'd need to talk about: His vacation. Originally, he told me he would be gone for "a couple of weeks" in February. But I knew, before he told me anything, about his yearly trips."A couple weeks?" I said. "Like, four weeks?" Almost against his will, he confirmed that, yes, it's a four week trip. "But you won't even notice it, I promise. It'll fly right by," he said. "And don't be mad. It's just something I have to do." His tone was soft and reassuring.

I wasn't mad. But it was a question of whether or not I could handle it. For my delicate security issues and desire to be around him, four weeks apart is a lot to consume; I knew there was no way I wouldn't notice his absence. And while I can support him and accept it, I don't have to love that he'll be gone. And I don't have to want to talk about it.

Thanksgiving Eve we went out to Perkin's for a quick dinner. We sat across from one another in a plastic booth, the cheap overhead lighting magnifying the flaws in my skin, his tired eyes. I was starving, slurping my complimentary water while we waited for our meals. The waitress finally placed our food before us, hunger forcing us into silence as we freed our silverware from their napkin cocoons and started into our meals.

With his spoon neck-deep in his cup of soup, Billy broke the quiet and said, "So I was checking on airfare today for my trip. It's outrageous."

My appetite vanished. It felt like my stomach had shriveled into a tiny nugget and was trying to crawl up my esophagus. I dug through my eggs benedict with my fork. "Oh."

"I'm not sure where I'm going yet, though. I'm thinking South Africa. Or maybe the Maldives."

Shut up shut up shut up, I thought. My whole body felt the same way it does when you have the flu. The skin all along my back and neck and arms felt prickly. "Interesting," I said, trying to stay involved, checking my initial reaction to throw up. I didn't want him to think I was mad. But I didn't want to talk about it. At all.

"What do you think?" he said, looking at me.

"I don't know, babe," I shrugged, staying noncommittal.

"What do you think," he said again, setting down his spoon, "about coming with me for a week?"

I looked up from my dinner and into his face, in disbelief.

"Now, I want you to know," he warned, "that you won't be able to wear your heels or makeup. This is a backpacking trip. But I'd like you to come with me, if you think you can do that: You know, survive without makeup and hair products for a week." He offered me a smile.

I laughed. I didn't know what to say.

The point is, it doesn't matter whether I go or not. The point is, he asked. Whether he really wants me to go, or just knew I'd bow out at the threat of no high heels, he asked. He asked me to accomany him for at least one leg of a trip he takes every year, alone. And there's something about that that touches me so deep...I was, and am, beyond words.

We've only talked about it a handful of times since then. The trip was supposed to be taken this month, but work has kept him around against his will. But, any given day, he could come home and say "I'm leaving for _________ in five days!" It'll be at that point, I suppose, that we'll once again, breach the subject of my travel time with him.

And even if I do decide to stuff a backpack full of cigarettes and contraband makeup and go, the problem of other three weeks remains. They terrify me. Whenever he brings up the fact that he still hasn't decided on a locale, I tell him I don't want to talk about it. I tell him that I don't want to think about his vacation until I have to. Because it kills me.

But I want him to go, I do. I know how important it is to him, and how much he loves it; All I want is for him to be happy. But insecurity rears her ugly head and I'm consumed by questions. What if distance doesn't make the heart grow fonder? What if he doesn't want to come back? Or, what if he comes back and everything's different?

Strangely enough, I don't worry that he'll cheat, or meet somebody better. What I worry about is that we'll lose something - something intangible, but important - in all that time. As though we must be around each other every possible second to maintain this unbelievable connection. Sometimes I wonder if I depend on our proximity to keep him reeled in. If he's in Africa, how will I prove what a catch I am with morning coffee and folded laundry and a good laugh? How will he remember the blue of my eyes? Will he think of me? Will he miss me? Will I miss him more? If I can't remind him how much I mean to him with my actions, how will he remember?

Perhaps I need to remind myself that he didn't tell me he loves me because I fix his coffee, because his shirts are folded. Sure, those are nice little benefits, but they don't make up who I am.

But still, how, after waking up to him every day for the last six months, will I be able to go for three weeks without even seeing him?

I don't worry that another woman will creep in and get him. I worry that freedom will. It's not an issue of his fidelity, his ability to remain faithful; It's an issue of my own insecurities. That, no matter how much he loves me now, he'll fly to some foreign country and remember what it was like to just travel, to be solitary, to move around at will, and just be. And, suddenly, I won't be enough - or maybe I'll be too much. I worry that his trip will make him happier than I ever could. And, as silly and irrational as that is, it scares me.


DesignGuy said...

That's cool that he takes a month each year to travel... a great idea.

Too bad for your fragile self esteem he couldn't have arranged the trip for the month of February (the shortest month of the year!) but keep in mind that it is only 4 weeks. If I were you I'd try to look at this as a "reboot" opportunity for you. Take time to focus on yourself and your new job for a bit. You've poured so much into your relationship over the past few months this will provide an opportunity to step back and appreciate your hard work while you fine tune your self and your path outside of your relationship.

Just be sure to give him a little reminder of yourself to keep with him during his trip.

portuguesa nova said...

1. Get a passport and go go go go go go go go. Don't bring cigarettes. They are way cheaper anywhere outside of the US. GO WITH HIM!!! Cannot stress this enough. Go. Nothing to do with the trials of being apart, everything to do with travelling together as being a really, truly fabulous thing for a relationship (both as a strengthener or possible test). And,as you prob. know, travelling is just fabulous in and of itself as a way to cleanse your soul a little bit. But, seriously, back to my original point: GO. Isn't you mom an immigrant? I think the two of you should visit her homeland (provided its not freezing and/or dangerous).

2. I lived away from Antonio for over a year while I was in Japan. We even both saw other people during that time. I was completely in love with every aspect of being in Japan--immersed in a totally new place, new job, first time truly living on my own, learning a new language...all sorts of exciting things, new friends, etc.

Not a single day went by that I didn't think of him at least 40 billion times, and I would safely say that 5 out of 7 nights a week (i.e., the number of nights I fell asleep sober), I fell asleep with a painful desire to feel him next to me.

But if I had to do it all over again, I'd still have gone. And I'm positive that he would want the same for me.

Anonymous said...

Don't go!!! You need to show him that you can do here with out him. I think he asked you to come to see how fast you would say yes, or even to consider really going (and also to be polite) If life before you was like this for him, let him go alone. Let him go and be alone so he can really think about you and miss you. You should give yourself this time for yourself. Go hang with friends and family, venture out with just the girls, write some new blogs with out billy in them. But miss him everyday that he's gone. You'll really have that time to think about how much you love him!~

Shawn said...

If he's in Africa, how will I prove what a catch I am with morning coffee and folded laundry and a good laugh?

The fact that you let him go will be more proof than you could ever hope to give him. Believe me, the gift of accepting his need to travel will mean a lot to him.

How will he remember the blue of my eyes? Will he think of me? Will he miss me?

Ummm...duh! How could he forget? You're remarkable enough for him to ask you to share his life every day. And while he sounds like an open, sharing guy, he doesn't sound like a shallow guy that just flits on to the next thing.

Of course he'll miss you. But for some people, travel isn't a vacation it's a way of living. In another time, he might be the guy that sails off in search of a spice route. For some people a trip to the store is a big journey, for others a trip across the globe is jaunt to the mini-mart.

It's pretty hard to convey in words just how much different travelling for a month is from travelling for a couple of weeks. It becomes so much more. First it seems normal, then after about two weeks it gets hard and you just want to come home. But then there's a point where everything just clicks and you absorb everything. It's a bit like a knotted muscle just relaxing when you press a thumb on it for long enough. That's been my experience anyway.

So, there you have two cents worth. Don't you feel like - I dunno - about two cents richer?


The Editter said...

Hi Laurie, I've been reading you since your first date with Billy, came via one of your comments on Portuguesa Nova's blog. Listen to her, not Anonymous, and go! You'll appreciate why Billy needs to travel, you'll have an in parts horrifying and in parts delicious time, you'll appreciate going home and although the time without him will be hard you will SO appreciate each other even more when he gets home!

You are so honest in your writing, sharing your vulnerabilities like you do. I'm in awe of your bravery.

Anonymous said...

A man's view. Let him go alone....
Chances are if he has not left yet it's not because of work. He dosen't want to leave you. If he goes (with your blessing) he will be back before the 4 weeks. Trust me let him breath!!!!

Lunchy McBox said...

I don't think you should go. What if he's a double agent. You don't want to get caught up in that. Trust me. Jeez...have we learned nothing from True Lies???

Also, I heard Jamie Lee Curtis is a hermaphrodite. I don't know what that has to do with anything. Just an interesting tidbit.

Lunchy McBox said...

Joking. You should go. I heard Pennsylvania kinda sucks anyway. It'd probably be good to get away.

Anonymous said...

I think you should go. It's a big world out there beyond Pennsylvania. You might learn something. Anyway, I think you should go meet him at the END of his trip when he'll be extra glad to see you again! -- T.

portuguesa nova said...

I have no fucking clue how anyone could advise you to not go. I'm sorry, but I hold to my theory that men are incapable of thinly veiled hints...what's this "He's just asking you to test you and see, blah blah blah blah." In fact, I think its just the opposite.

I say to Antonio: "Do you want to come with me to the mall?"

I mean: "I'd really rather you not come to the mall with me, but don't want to be rude by not asking."

Antonio says to me: "Do you want to come with me to (insert anywhere, near or far)?

Antonio means: "Put your coat on, I'm leaving in five minutes and I want you to come with."

And really, this has everything to do with the wonder of international travel and how great of an experience it can be for a relationship (romantic, familial or otherwise) and nothing to do with missing anyone or anything like that.

Passports take a long time to get, so if you don't have one, find your birth certificate and go get one.

If you are lacking in fundage or time off, well, that's another story.

Cripes. GO!!!!!

The end.

Laurie said...

I agree with you, PN. I don't think men ask just to be polite. I think that if he didn't want me to go with him, he wouldn't have asked.

I have my passport. I have a week off. The money is another issue that we haven't discussed yet.

I'm torn...I'd really love to go with him (I've only ever been out of the US on a cruise, and I don't think that counts as "travel," I think that's more "sightseeing."), but I sort of do want to give him that time to himself. And, plus, I'm not sure I could handle the backpacking part (The joke among my friends is that, for me, "roughing it" is staying at a Super 8), but, for him, I'd sure try. And, of course, for the experience, too. But, anyway, my time with him would be one week out of four. I think three weeks alone is plenty of time to himself (I just typed out the internal argument I have with myself in my head over this all the time!).

He read the post yesterday and laughed at me for being such a worrier. He told me to relax. He still doesn't know when or where he's going, and so we still don't know if I'll be along for the ride.

But don't get me wrong, the idea of going somewhere foreign and new with him is insanely appetizing. I want to go. I do. Just as I want him to go, with or without me.

I'll keep you posted as the details unfold. :)

portuguesa nova said...

Okay, my sister and cousin (cousin who is more like our sister than cousin) are, I shit you not, the biggest divas alive. It is a long standing, but true, joke that whenever we go anywhere we are guaranteed to wait three hours for them to get ready.

I'm talking Chanel makeup, steam-their-faces with Evian, designer label wearing, swanky club hanging with NBA stars, very attractive, well-bred, witty, handsome and diplomatic lineage having boyfriends. How they afford this lifestyle is beyond me, but it is what it is. The only bigger divas I can think of are the fictional characters on Sex and the City. Emphasis on fictional.

And they are the champions of backpacking around third-world nations. It is one of life's greatest mysteries how two divas accomplish this, but I have it solved.

You travel with two outfits, which have two names:

1. uniform
2. cool outfit

Uniform is what you wear every day. And depending on the weather it is either a pair of jeans or a pair of shorts and a comfortable t-shirt or sweatshirt.

Cool outfit is a pair of black pants and a clubby black shirt and cute black shoes. All black and you can't go wrong, because black is fashionable anywhere and if its dirty you can't tell.

Three pairs of underwear, three pairs of socks.

A long piece of string.

You wash everything by hand at night, tie the string between two bed posts (assuming you are staying in a hostel or whatever), and hang it to dry at night, using the string as your clothesline.

Anything more than that and you kick yourself for all that extra crap to lug around or you kick yourself for all of that extra crap you brought that only brought undue attention from the locals and was stolen.

Laurie said...

Seriously, PN, that is awesome advice. That makes it seem so easy. I was throwing myself into a tizzy, trying to figure out how the eff I would ever find the balance between travel and looking somewhat presentable.

And the string? That's brilliant! I never, in a million years, would've thought of that.

I know this probably sounds stupid, but that last comment gives me hope that I could actually pull off the backpacking.

I hope this response doesn't come off as anything less than genuine. Becuase no body has given me any direction when it comes to the whole backpacking thing as a girl who loves to be a girl, but who would like to try and rough it for a bit. Everybody (yes, including Billy) just sort of laughed at the thought of me staying in a hostel. And I'd love to do it...I just had no idea how to go about it.

You are one kick-ass chick, PN. I must admit.