For our 4-year wedding anniversary last fall, my husband—ever astute he is—offered to ship me away for a weekend while he stayed home with the babe.
"I thought you could go visit Lisa in Vancouver," were the specific words that sprung from his lips like a flock of Warblers. Lisa—a dear friend and one of my first acquaintances upon moving to Boulder as well as the lady who introduced Jesse and I—is indeed delightful company, a master conversationalist, instigator of unconventional situations and someone who is quite easy to relax with. The perfect concierge for my first weekend away.
Let's be clear. When I say first weekend away, I mean first overnight away. I mean first longer-than-a-half-day chunk away. And here we were, going big and bold, with 4-days and 3-nights elsewhere.
A few days prior to departure, I drew up a meticulous schedule for Jesse, complete with a photograph and font variations. I was fixated with having every piece of laundry be clean and folded before I left and strategically laid out a handful of outfits. By the time Wednesday, the day before I left, rolled around, I was a steel-wool tangle of nerves disguised as how-do-I-get-all-these-blasted-ducks-in-a-row?!
"Honey, this is all helpful but we'll be just fine, you know." Jesse said over the phone. I told him I knew, know, that he is the most competent person on the planet, that Opal adores her daddy and these preparations were intended to help him to be able to relax more and enjoy his time with her once I left. But we both knew, and there was no need to admit, that the copious notes and 'helpful hints' (shield her in a smock and hat before mealtime lest you plan for a bath directly to follow, keep the humidifier dial at six o'clock...) were indeed to abate my own anxieties.
The night before my departure, Opal and I experienced simultaneous stomach issues. My insides felt like a questionable wiring job. Her's exploded with sandy diarrhea, filling her pant leg and socks like a cheap sausage and with a stench so intense that it stayed in her skin after a bath, skunked her, as Jesse said. She had another bout during the night, effectively skunking her room, requiring her to stay home from daycare that day and for daddy to stay home from work.
When I gave her a hug good-bye on Thursday, leaving curiously before her morning nap, she was wearing her happy-hour robe and headlamp hat. A decapitated doggie sticker stuck sideways to her lapel. She said “Bye Mama” and then fell to the floor, kicking and twisting in her p.j.’s. But by the time I pulled away, she and daddy were waving amiably through the front window.
At the airport.
In the beginning, I couldn’t help myself from sharing the news with anyone who would listen— the bearded guy on the bus, the lady with Nefertiti eye make up who shined my shoes. But it didn't take long to realize this state of travel-anonymity was a rare feast. The rushing masses of wheelie-luggage, the oblivious cell-phone gabbers and tiny self-consumed family systems, all ignoring the periphery to make their way eagerly to Point B. Such mindlessness and speed has been cause for irritation in the past, sparks for questioning-humanity conversations and the like. But for that first day alone, the airport-sea of chaos and extreme sensory stimulation offered the merciful potential of full consumption. A diluting-rinse for all the cramped-up life details in my brain.
In no time, I found myself relishing the booming voices from the overhead speakers, the breeze from zipping-by motor carts that were laden with wheelchairs (on your left, ma’am!) and finally, the roar of the airplane engine, going, going, going, like seamless hurricane winds against the side of the plane. I sat quietly by the window as the ground backed away and pulled a cotton cloak to its chin. I allowed my mind to go elastic.
An example of the sweeping ramblings taken straight from what was written in my journal on the plane:
“—Eyes open: a comfortable wash. Eyes closed: unexpected morbid thoughts of getting lost in space and never returning to my husband and daughter. Eyes snap open again out of reflex and turn to look out the window. The vision of pulling away from the ground, as if it were avoiding an embrace, is mesmerizing. Further and further it goes, no explanations, no goodbyes. Timid, complex as an edgeless quilt, each snow-encrusted square a mis-told history all it’s own. One square is an irrigation circle like a wall-clock with no numbers, no bold-faced minute hand, simply the barely-visible halted strike of a single sprinkler, an etched slice into the white pie. Another square is a minimalistic canvas with a slate-grey river veining through, reflective like pieced-together shards of mirror. Another is a tiny country neighborhood decipherable from a distance only as a poorly distributed pinch of seasoning (black pepper). Another boasts meticulous garden plots and resembles factory-made gingham..."
The abstract details were surprisingly comforting.
I had one of Opal’s burp rags tucked into the pocket of the seat in front of me as a conduit for some essential oils that are supposed to ward off contagious airplane demons. The pink posy pattern shuddered like a flag in a breeze of unknown origin.
I shared the row (an empty space in-between) with a wiry-haired, middle-aged woman with transparent eyes who went straight from deep head-bob sleeping to feverishly underling passages in her book “My Grandfather’s Blessings,” by Naomi Remen.
“I study blessings,” she said when she caught me eyeing the cover. Neither forthcoming nor inviting.
A little later I inquired about where she was headed (Okinawa, Japan) and, after many hours of speaking barely a word, felt compelled to let her in on the spiel. Anniversary. First time away overnight. It will be so great for them, and so on. It didn't take long for me to realize that I was telling her out of courtesy, obligation—to a stranger?— and the words came tumbling out in automation. I wanted to shove it back under my coat, not be so quick to hand it over, and re-affix my stare on the wing and the sky that somehow held it in place.
(*Author's note: Who was it that said the definition of a boring person is someone who says everything, omits nothing. I believe it was Kafka, though I can’t seem to find the original quote anywhere.)
“Good for you,” said the lady, only partially friendly. She then closed her book, inserting her finger to keep the place, and shared that she has, in fact, been visiting the same friend for one weekend every year for the passed 30 years. She currently has two sons and four grandchildren. “It’s life-giving,” she said.
I realized my book was wide open and that the photo of Opal that I was using as a bookmark was lying on my lap in plain view, so I offered it to her.
“Adorable,” the lady said, and handed it back after barely a glance. “But try not to stare at it too much.”
The Actual Weekend.
The three nights and two full days spent in Vancouver were delicious. Unique Lisa-inapired conversations were enjoyed all over the map: with bed-head and faces in tea steam until late in the morning, with another friend and a bottle of afternoon Chardonnay at a cafe by the coast as miniature ships inched their way along the horizon (the breathtaking view not at all distracting from our boisterous storytelling) and late enough into the evening with Lisa's sweet husband until nearly all of us sunk into slumber as we faced one-another in a circle of chairs. (Lisa: “Would it be wrong of me to wish for a troop of gnomes to come and brush my teeth for me?”)
There was an impressive tour through Vancouver, as guided by Lisa and her lovely friend Raena, from inside the tomato-red Mercedes they dubbed “Betty.” The taxi-boat ride to-and-fro just as the sun clawed its way through the dense clouds and inspired every Vancouver-local we came in contact with to comment on what a beautiful day it was! The next day we wandered through ancient forest— a spiraling ecosystem thriving as they do when untouched by human hands— and had Betty transport us to continue our wandering in Chinatown after an abundant feast of dim sum.
Throughout the weekend, I kept in good contact with Jesse, talking once or twice a day and emailing as well. He was so kind to send photos of he and Opal playing in her first fort, Opal in the outfit he picked out on his own (not bad!), he and Opal wearing underwear on their heads. The reports were sparkling. She was having a ball with family that’d come in from out of town. She and daddy were enjoying their time together. She was asking for mama, but easily calmed or re-directed. But by Saturday, she wanted to be held all the time, Jesse said, not even so much as to be set down next to him while he made breakfast.
I thought of her constantly, not so much yearning for her as having fond, simple mama-thoughts. There was a continuous stream of things I imagined showing her when she was a little older as well as thoughts of how she’d describe the things we passed in her perfect little toddler-diction. It wasn’t until Saturday night—I was to leave on Sunday morning—when I was socked by a longing as strong as any drug. I hadn’t spoken to Jesse since that morning and wouldn’t reach him again until Sunday morning when I got to Seattle. I was up for much of the night feeling as if my throat had closed, dreaming of her and waking to what I thought was her tiny voice through the monitor. What amazing things the mind and body can do! It was as if my missing her— and more importantly, feeling as if she was suddenly missing me, had the power to change the weather.
Once I got to Seattle, I breathlessly called Jesse to be informed that, in fact, Opal was doing just fine. No problems. Can’t wait to see you soon, honey. Immediately my appetite returned and my heart rate clicked into a moderate tempo.
The worst part was the 3-hour layover in Seattle. No movement towards home. Any other day, those 3 hours to myself would have been an extravagant wedge of space. I wont lie to you, I didn’t hold back when it came to hot chocolate and chair massage, but if I’d had a chance to hop on a plane to get me home earlier, you bet your britches I’d have been the first in line.
I was giddy and fluttering as I pulled into the driveway, all gawky with tangled limbs. When I entered the house—a house that, incidentally, I adore coming home to—daddy was holding Opal in his arms. His grin was much more vigorous than hers. As I described later to my mother-in-law, I had to use every ounce of restraint not to linebacker her face-first into the carpeting. Opal’s veneer expressed that she was basically unaffected, though there was clearly more going on underneath. She gave me a quick hug, scurried over to dump her basket of finger puppets unceremoniously in a heap on the floor and holler for her B.
Since then, for the accuracy of our records, Opal has been glued to my side and slightly fussy at times for the better part of the week. She had also been experiencing sustained and major meltdowns every time I leave her for a nap. But as I finish this lengthy entry, it has been one week exactly and, overall, she is doing just dandy. We made an audacious move and it was a booming success. (Thanks, Daddy! xo.)
As it turns out, daddy is the one who’s gone this weekend and Opal's been asking for him, calling him on her fake phone and standing by the front window, anticipating his headlights. I can only imagine how she’d like to lasso and hog-tie the both of us to our living room couch as this point, bless her heart. And maybe we'll let her.