The countdown has begun. A. finally booked his flight home. He returns in 40 days. 6 weeks. One-and-a-half-months.
He arrives on a 6 a.m. flight at Dulles the day before our two-year anniversary. I’ve already reserved a silver Volvo on Zipcar. I’ll be there, even if my eyes are droopy from sleepiness. Maybe I’ll hold one of those cheesy “Welcome home!” signs. I’ll probably just stand there in jeans and a tank top and sunglasses on my head and lean against the wall, patiently waiting for him like I have for the past few months.
I miss the man so damn much. Every morning, the first thing I do when I wake up is grab my phone on my windowsill. I refresh my email to look for his name. There’s always a message from him, even if it’s just a one-liner. But it inevitably makes me laugh or smile. He’s one of the funniest and sweetest people I know.
I can’t wait till I can wake up with him by my side again.
I am in love with an addict. That’s right, A. has an addiction. To chess. The man has spent hours and hours playing online chess — deep into the night. And when I’m with him, the fastest way for me to see his face light up like a little boy’s is to suggest we play a game. Sadly, I have to wait till we get to Tanzania to see this super cute expression. And although I like chess, I don’t obsess over it (or let’s be honest, really have patience for the end-game). But playing it with A. means quality time — we’ve played on the train to New York, at the airport in Costa Rica, at L’Enfant Cafe over egg-filled crepes and a big latte. It’s something we share — even though he does beat me 89.3 percent of the time. (He might argue it’s higher).
When we’re at my place, we play on this transportable board that my brother bought when he lived in Germany. One of the pawns is missing, so we use a 5-cent pfenning (the German cent that isn’t valid currency anymore) as a replacement.
When we’re at A.’s place (I should say “were,” since he has moved out) we play on this set that A. handcrafted and finished over the summer. It took the man a year to make. He bought all of the raw materials and designed it himself. He agonized over how to make the knights (in my sophisticated way, I call them horses). I think it’s one of the most beautiful things ever.
And a few weeks ago, A. sent me this chess board from Afghanistan — hand-carved out of stone from somebody in a nearby village. He later told me it was the first pretty thing that caught his eye since he was on base, where there “is not much to see or do.” I can’t wait to play on it with him. I have the feeling the horses will dominate.
Yesterday, a bright yellow card with a green smiling frog that said “Happy Retirement?!” arrived in the mail. In his beautiful handwriting (see sample below), A. wrote that there were “slim pickings” on the base. Slim pickings, but there’s a retirement card? That’s funny to me because I have never sent one retirement card. Ever. It made me giggle.
Inside, A. enclosed this postcard:
I have to say, Skype may be the best thing ever invented. I know that I’m way behind in declaring this now, but the fact that I can see and chat with A., lying in his bunk bed in Afghanistan in his adorable white T-shirt and funky glasses just before he goes to bed — and do it for FREE — is incredible to me. (I won’t get into how I made a $500 telephone call from Germany to Spain when I was in college — but I’m sure my parents would be happy to elaborate).
A. and I skype on the weekends — he’s 9.5 hours ahead (don’t ask me about the .5, I think it’s weird too). He’s a night owl, so I catch him at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. his time for our weekend date.
To prep, I actually brush my hair and sometimes put on lipstick. And then I put on these very nerdy and awesome red headphones A. mailed me that I can speak into (I look like I work in the window at McDonald’s: “Can I take your order?”). And I situate myself on my olive green couch and wait for him to sign on.
Occasionally in the middle of the conversation, I’ll have an awful, screeching feedback that sounds something like this: “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” and I make a face of disgust and discomfort until it passes. Also, occasionally (OK, more than occasionally), I can’t hear A. — he’s talking and his lips are moving, but I can’t hear what he’s saying. It’s because his connection over there isn’t as good as mine.
And it’s OK. I’m comfortable in our silences. I’m content with just looking at him with a twinkle in his eye and bringing in my lips really close to the camera for a kiss.
Since A. left for Afghanistan, I’ve had two dreams where I’ve been mad at him — both times because I felt abandoned. It doesn’t take a dream analyst to know that I’m still grappling with him not being by my side when I wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night. But what I find amusing (after the fact, of course) is that unsettled feeling from the argument lingers and that I wouldn’t mind an apology. For my dream. For things that A. did not actually do. But yes, an apology would be nice.
The first time it happened, A. said, “You want me to apologize for your dream?” And we laughed a little bit. I know it’s ridiculous and just saying it makes me laugh.
This morning, I woke up and sent A. an email about my dream — trying to make the crazy that goes on in my brain sound as coherent as possible. I wrote that we were at a massive sports complex/concert venue — and my cousin Kate was there [weird], as was my coworker Ali [weird]. I decided to go for a swim in a humongous pool where I saw an old high school soccer teammate Jess [weird] and when I got out, I couldn’t find A. [see earlier note about dream analysis]. He still didn’t show up overnight and I was hanging out with some friends. When he did come back the next morning, he was hung over [A. can’t drink on the base and doesn’t drink that much, anyway]. He had gone to the concert and ended up sleeping on the floor of a random girl’s place. And in my dream, I wasn’t mad, but thought I should be mad, so then I became mad. [Read: Ridiculous].
A., who in real life has a cold and isn’t getting much sleep, sent me an IM this morning saying hello, and then: “Sorry I abandoned you at the concert.”
Sigh. What a good man.
A. has told me countless time that I wouldn’t have been interested in him 10 years ago. I told this to his friend P., over a recent IM chat, and P., who knows A. from their PhD program, wrote: “You wouldn’t have been interested in him five years ago.”
I find this hard to believe — I feel so connected to A. on so many levels. I feel like we would have fallen in love at any stage in our lives — even when we were walking around in our diapers (I’m 16 days older than A.) A. laughs and says he didn’t like girls until he was 14.
His college friend agrees that I would have thought he was a loser. She was at A.’s going away party two weeks ago. (A. still hasn’t left. He’s been delayed twice — and he’s staying with me till just before Thanksgiving.) She said A. was always very kind, but not nearly as relaxed and as adventurous as he is now.
I’m just glad we brought up the topic because I was able to capture this shot — one of my favorites of the year.
It’s official. A. is going to Afghanistan. He booked his flight today. He leaves at the end of the month and he’ll be gone for seven months — though we’ll get two weeks in the middle to meet up. We’re thinking Tanzania in March.
At the moment, I feel surprisingly calm. I’ve had a few months to wrap my mind around not only him being gone (and me missing him), but also him going to a war zone. Lucky for me, he’s not combat and he won’t leave the base. He’ll basically work 10-hour days and sleep in a tiny room held up with plywood.
But that he’s going into the unknown does stress me out. I’ve had a few crying spells — a few “I’m so worried about you!” meltdowns. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had a few more. But when I get past my moments of weakness and can think clearly, I’m really excited for him. It’s going to be an adventure. That’s one of the reasons I fell in love with A. — he finds challenging opportunities. He’s driven and smart and fun and he challenges me. I’ve never been so in love. And I’ve never been so nervous to face separation. But I have a village of wonderful people for support — and ideas for adventures for me.
Bring on Skype, letters, emails. We’re going to be just fine.
Two weeks ago, on June 16, I got a call from the mail room at work.
“You have a package delivered via courier.”
Having received many press-related packages, I didn’t think much of it. That is, until I walked into the mail room and saw the balloons.
“Oh my god.”
There was a huge monkey balloon smiling and wearing boxers with hearts on it. And several other balloons surrounded it. It was a balloon-o-gram, with the message: “Hey lady… see you soon.”
A. was in California for work. And it was a year since we first met.
I laughed as I walked down the hall with the balloon-o-gram and all of my coworkers looked at me funny. I must have been asked 20 times if it was my birthday. “No,” I said sheepishly, “my boyfriend and I have been together a year.”
Then I took a photo of me kissing monkey and emailed it to A. with the subject line: “I’ve met another man.” A. later said it was the funniest message he’s ever received from me. (I personally think I’ve been funnier, but that’s another matter.)
The monkey jokes haven’t stopped since. “The monkey is looking anemic,” C. said a few days ago. “Oh, how sweet, how touching,” said another with his British accent. “Are you still together?” said another.
But monkey is still hanging in there — two weeks later, he’s upright, sitting on my desk. One coworker suggested framing him when he dies, and hanging him on the wall so we won’t forget monkey. I think I’m attached to a balloon, like Tom Hanks was attached to a volleyball in the movie Cast Away. Is that weird?
A week ago, A. dropped me off at work and as I was getting out of the car, I said, without thinking, “OK, bye, I love you!” I hadn’t used the “l” word yet, though I had thought about using it several times — and imagined feeling very emotional when I finally told him. Instead, it slipped out and I felt panicked — like I should get out of the car and run, run fast and not look back. (I’m very slow with that language). A. later told me I flinched. But he grabbed my face, kissed me deeply and said, “You are so cute. I love you, too.” Relief washed over me and adrenaline pumped through me for the next hour. Sometimes — most times — things don’t happen as you imagine.
A. has been in California for a week for work. He’s there with a buddy of his — they’re on a project together and had to gather research from the Marines. He’s stuck till tonight — if not longer — since all flights into Washington National were canceled yesterday because D.C. got more than two feet of snow in what people are calling “The Great Blizzard of 2010.”
Anyway, A. and his buddy went on a hike in Joshua Tree last week, and his buddy asked him what A. and I do during the week. A. said: “Well, we go climbing… and sometimes I chase her around my apartment.” A. and I both laughed when he told me this story — it’s not something you readily say to people. His buddy was slightly disturbed because he said it reminded him of his parents, who still flirt like teenagers and grab each other.
But I think it’s wonderful: There is something hilarious and magical and unencumbered in “the chase.” One of the nights it happened, A. and I were playing chess on his round leather ottoman, and he said something snarky and I went to grab him and he jumped up and tried to get away, and before you know it, we were literally running circles around the ottoman and then around the kitchen and I was laughing hysterically like a four-year-old until we both collapsed in a dizzy, happy spell.