Extraordinary stories from everyday life on the edge of the world

Stories

the best thing about us is the people we know.
 

How To || travel far away from someone you love

Bedroom, hoelzen house, phoenix, arizona

I wake up and don't know where I am.

It's the first time in a long time this has happened.

Normally I enjoy it.

This time, it makes me clutch at the blankets and start up in alarm.

window, hoelzen house, phoenix, arizona

It's my house. The nearest I've ever had to having one, anyway. I'm in the bed Juice gave me, under the quilt I made in high school. My suitcase and camera are piled on the Ikea table that Tex left behind. My notes are still on the window, where I wrote them in dry-erase marker before I left.

Allecto is trotting across the floor in the front room, looking for the square of sunlight that hits the northeast corner of the house in the mornings, her nails clacking against the honey-colored hardwood.

The temperature in December is back to what it was when I first moved here, the morning cool maintained by the white tiles, the roman shades, the circular layout.

All things that used to be familiar are now disorienting.

Allecto, Hoelzen House, Phoenix, Arizona

We said that this would be the best way for the long-term. Or maybe it was just me saying that. Anyway, he'd promised to be in Michigan for Christmas; I had to go back to San Diego. It seemed to me that it would be good for us both to touch ground for a minute in the places we'd come from, before embarking on life together. He needed to put his stuff into the attic. I needed to...I'm not sure now what it was I thought I needed.

I was still a little bit scared.

We made it through a month apart while I was in Portland; we can do another few weeks, I thought. Maybe it will be better than being together nonstop. Maybe it will make us appreciate each other more. Maybe it will force us to decide decisively, rather than just follow the headlong rush of feelings.

window notes, hoelzen house, phoenix, arizona

Michele and I met during the summer--she's part of Laurel's dance troupe, the Gypsy Jitterbugs. More than that, she's a veteran travel who goes running to the farthest corners of the globe every time someone sends up a distress call for health crises, women's rights, education...you name it.

Michele is far and away my superior, in terms of courage and expertise and miles traveled. Nevertheless, she treated me like some kind of celeb from the day we met--she jumped off a couch and ran to shake my hand. She was so excited to meet a like-minded woman traveler, she told me...she was used to feeling like she was the only one.

We chatted one night a party a week later, sitting out on Jonathan's patio in Arcadia, me smoking one of Sam's Camels and she sitting on the lap of her husband Mike. Mike has traveled with her some, but he's a homebody...one, incidentally, who knew from day one that she was a wandering type and wasn't interested in changing her.

That was what had made her fall in love with him the most, she told me--that being with him didn't require an end to the things she loved most.

He's never asked her to stay home, she told me, except once, when she had plans to go to the Middle East. Some gnarly stuff broke out (again), and he asked her not to go.

That time, she didn't. Because love.

Opuntia, desert botanical garden, phoenix, arizona

Some weeks later, Michele and I were wandering around Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden when she confided in me that she was planning to leave soon for a monthlong sojourn in India. Mike wasn't going with her.

I'm sure I asked her some perfunctory stuff about that aspect of things..."Won't that be hard?"...the way people do. But honestly? I just thought how lucky she was to have someone who loves her that much.

I didn't know yet, you see, how hard it is to have someone love you and not have them. Even when it's just for a few weeks.

window, hoelzen house, phoenix, arizona

While still in Wyoming, I got a note from Michele saying that she was soon to depart. A sudden desperation broke over me, and I emailed her back in a fit of anticipative despair.

"It's terrifying to think of being apart again," I told her. "What if he changes his mind about me? What if something happens to him?" 

I needed veteran advice.

Me + Michele, Desert Botanical GArden, phoenix, arizona

Here's what Michele gave me:

"Before parting, I say everything in my mind and heart and make sure that I am 100% complete. No baggage. Allows the present day's experiences to rule communications."

Bryan building a fire at the Rusty Parrot, Jackson, Wyoming

"As much as you love him and want to be with him, if being apart changes his mind about being with you, better to know it now. Consider what in a relationship is a deal breaker. As for something happening...the way I see it, I'll find out soon enough.

Bryan reading Isaiah, Jackson, Wyoming

"Technology and schedule permitting, we have a conversation every day. For us in the first days apart, the phone calls or skype might not happen as planned; it is a necessary adjustment period that can create anxiety. Being apart is not the same as being together, but the communications are sweet."

FaceTime with Bryan, Jackson, Wyoming

"Usually night is when my heart aches the most. Writing, deep breaths and music help."

Bryan + me on the porch

"And I think about how wonderful it is to have someone important enough in my life to miss."


Hey so if you're reading this and have more advice, please post it below. It's already a long couple of weeks. And yes, I know I'm a wimp. And some of you have it a lot harder. So don't just share your advice for my sake...share it for someone who's going through the same thing as you.