For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Tara Roberts challenged me with "'Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island... discuss' Mike Myers in SNL skit 'Coffee Talk with Linda Richman'" and I challenged Brett Myers with "'The core is where you write, or do your thing. It's where artists come from.' -Joe Strummer"
We had tried listening to music, but she wasn't happy with that. An audiobook was next, but that wasn't any good either. I tuned in the baseball game, but she complained about that too. So we drove in silence, riding down the claustrophobic highway that runs through the state on the way to the airport. The buildings are unusually close to the road as you rush by them, as if the size of the state left them no room to spread out. It reminded me of Luke Skywalker flying into the tunnel, trying to destroy the Death Star.
"She came from Providence," I sang softly, "the one in Rhode Island-"
"I don't want to listen to you sing," she said flatly.
"Can I hum?," I asked.
"Shut up," she explained.
I slowed down as we approached a forest of brake lights. We had left ridiculously early, my father's prudent planning showing through. Even with traffic, we'd be at the airport 3 hours before her flight.
"I don't know why you insist I use Providence instead of Boston."
"It's nicer. It's cheaper. It's easier to get to. It's smaller."
"Bigger isn't always bad," she said.
I let that sit.
"Did you know there are counties in Texas bigger than Rhode Island?"
"Did you know I don't care?," she said.
The traffic loosened again and I went forward, only to have it slow down again. Progress by increments. Forward a little bit, then stop again. We listened to the little creaks and shifts and bumps that cars make when they are uncovered by silence.
"When do you think you can come back?," I said.
"I told you I don't know. It's going to take as long as it takes."
"I know you don't know. But when do you think?"
"Not for at least a month."
"You can call, right?"
"I'll call when I can," she said evenly. She half turned, looking out the window. "I'll be busy."
"I know. I just want you to know that I'll miss you." The traffic stopped again, right next to a billboard for a strip club. I thought about the time I went in one, congratulating a friend after he passed his boards, the parody of sexuality it was, love and sex and beauty reduced to a cold, unsentimental business transaction.
"I know that," she said.
"One of my father's friends was away from his wife for a year and a half once. And they survived."
"That doesn't help," she said softly. "Nothing helps, nothing makes it any better. We've said everything that there is for us to say. There isn't anything else. I don't want to do this, but I have to. I'll stay in touch as best I can. You'll write me, I'll write you. You'll miss me, I'll miss you. I just don't want to talk about it any more. I don't want to think about it anymore. I just want to get there, and get it done, and get back as quick as I possibly can so we can get back to our lives. That's it. That's all I want. I need this job, and we need the money. So just let me do it my own way. Don't comfort me. Don't tell me it's going to be OK. Because it's not."
We accelerated again, then stopped, creeping and beeping towards the airport exit. I could feel the seconds ticking by. She had been away before, and so had I. It had to be done. But it didn't get easier.
"I wish you didn't have to go," I said helplessly. She didn't say anything. I let a minivan move in front of me. "Marriage=1 Man + 1 Woman", the sticker on the bumper said. I wondered what kind of person insisted that nothing ever changes, that everything has to be the same forever. I could understand deriving some comfort from that notion, but it wasn't reality. Life wasn't like that.
"I'm going to miss the hell out of you," I said. I knew she didn't want to hear it, but I had to hear myself say it.
I found the airport exit, waited my turn, and then accelerated onto the ramp. This was it, a split in the path of our lives together, an onramp onto another part of our lives. The same, but also very different.
"I will be here when you get back," I said to her. She knew that, I'm sure, but she remained silent. When I pulled over at the curb, she got out without a word. I got out and helped her get her suitcases out, tipping the redcap as he spirited the bags away.
She slung her pink and black carry on over her shoulder, then turned to me, pressing against me, turning her head to one side and grabbing me tightly. I let my arms find her waist, and we stood there for a moment, among the chaos and the noises and the exhaust fumes. I eyed a cop warily, who looked like he was going to ask me to move along. He suddenly thought better of it.
"I'm sorry," she said into my chest.
"It's OK," I said.
"Goodbye," she said.
"Goodbye," I said, and she turned and walked into the terminal.
I got back into my car and moved back into the traffic pattern. I had lived alone before, and I could do it again. There would be less bickering about the television, and I could probably go to the movies more. Things would be different without her. But that was the thing about love. When you were in love, when you were part of something larger than yourself, you felt incomplete when your other half was gone. You missed the sound, the smell, the touch. You even missed the aggravation.