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.