Sunday, December 1, 2013

Almost Home for the Holidays

I'll keep this brief.  For one thing, I've got a lot to do and only one more day in the long weekend to do it.  The holidays, as I've complained many times before, are relentless.  This, apparently, does not change even when you find yourself by yourself.  But, for most of the holiday weekend, the family was back together, so I know many readers have been waiting to hear how Greg is, so I knew I owed everyone an update on my husband's brief trip back up to Pittsburgh for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The short response is that everything went fine.  But of course, whenever there is a situation like this  - a long separation punctuated by brief visits here and there - the emotions surrounding the visit will be more complicated.  Or so I imagine it is in all cases, and so it was here.  First there was the preparation. Do you prepare the house as you would for a house guest?  Clean, polish and shine everything from top to bottom, lay out clean towels, put on clean sheets, and so on?  Or do you treat it like someone who was just away on a long business trip and is merely coming home now?  I chose a hybrid approach.  Cleaned everything, but let him get his own towels out of the closet.

And of course there is the worry that you'll look older, or things will have sagged a bit more in noticeable places.  Or that your spouse will just look at you with fresh eyes after a period of time and say to him or herself, "Really?  I am not attracted to that person at all anymore and not sure how I ever was."

Finally, for me, the creature of severe habit, there is the nagging sense that you'll find you've grown much too comfortable in the new routine - as much as a way to cope with the sudden change than anything else - to accommodate vestiges of the old one again.  That one didn't get a true test since the holidays are anti-routine by their very nature, and Greg's time here was pretty brief, but I think we did all see the same things about one another we find perplexing and realize we're still perplexed by them.  In short, we haven't changed as people in our months apart.  If I drove too timidly to suit Greg before and he drove WAY too aggressively to suit me, that's all still true.

But, for the most part, I think I'm safe in saying what we found is that we're still all a family.  We fell back into a comfort level of being together quickly.  There was a slight worry, I'll confess it now, that we'd find ourselves almost awkward strangers.  Which was a strange fret to have because I didn't stress over that when I came up here by myself for several months.  But the circumstances were different then, I guess.  And of course I was the one who had struck out on the journey, not the other way around.  I think that puts a little different spin on it.  But, it was a needless concern.  We've been together a long time and so it'll take a lot longer than four and a half months to make us all strangers.  Maybe ironically we went to see 12 Years a Slave on Friday. When Solomon is reunited with his family after more than a decade, to naturally find his children grown and even one of them married with a child, I reminded myself now that is what coming home to find yourself a virtual stranger must look like!  We're no where near that!

Greg looks fine.  Much the same.  I also worried the cares and responsibilities he has taken on would tax him.  And maybe, with more time, they will indeed.  But not seemingly so just yet.  I'll have to press him to write the guest post he agreed to in order to really get his thoughts and feelings, but I think it was bizarre being here for him - and by here, I mean the city as a whole - because it felt both familiar and a little strange.  Home in a way, yet not where he lives.  Maybe we all get that when we go back to visit our parents if we've moved away.  I did a bit when I would go back to Bozeman.  But I spent my formative years there, so there is a bond with the town that won't break.  Greg was here only relatively briefly.  I think that all messed with his head a bit.

And then there is Ripley, currently laying quietly at my feet.  Everyone noticed how she brought Greg through his grief.  My neighbor even commented on it one day not too long ago!  Yet here Ripley stays without him.  He commented that he had been away from her a quarter of her life.  I think he found saying goodbye to her the hardest.  And I get it if that's true.  I'm also fine with it.  I'm a dog person after all.  But the things dogs do for you are hard to match over Skype.  You need their wet doggy kisses, the warmth of their fur as they snuggle against you on the couch.  You need their need for you sometimes to remind yourself why you have to get up in the morning.

For my part, I was initially stoic about his leaving again because I have, maybe not by blood, but by familiarity, my mother's Pennsylvania steel heart.  Yet when I got back home yesterday from dropping my husband at the airport so he could fly back to Texas and found things he had left lying around - a half consumed bottle of water, his Cowboys pajama bottoms in the laundry pile, his windbreaker casually draped across a chair - all as if he were coming home in just a few hours, I had some bad moments.  Later in the day when I was putting up Christmas decorations and came across his stocking on top of Kelsey's, I sat on the floor and sobbed.

I know he's where he has to be.  The job of caring for his brother is too taxing for just one person.  And I know that's not really anyone's fault.  Life simply isn't fair or easy much of the time.  And there I will leave it for now, since I've already violated my promise to keep it brief.

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