I brought A back to campus yesterday. Neither of us felt like saying goodbye so we stretched it out as long as possible. We go from New York, through New Jersey, into Pennsylvania and then I make the return trip solo.
We drove the speed limit (mostly) stopped for coffee, then for food, then did a marathon grocery shopping trip to get her re-stocked for the next few weeks until it’s time to come home again for Christmas.
We bought fruits and veggies and I think she got chicken and bread and who knows what else. We set a budget of $110.00 to last the next almost 4 weeks and came in at $105. Not bad considering we totaled it all up in our heads.
The best part of the drive is having three hours to talk with A about whatever is on her mind. Right now, of course, it’s guys. I’m never sure why she asks me questions, or why she listens. I think she must have some hope that deep down inside I have something important to say – or at least a little bit of common sense.
Or maybe it’s because I’m always in the middle of a broken heart.
Or maybe it just feels that way.
I asked her that very question a couple of days ago as she was asking me about honesty. I don’t know if I’ve been more honest than I have over the past couple of years. I’ve been honest with myself and I’ve been honest with others and I’ve tried, really hard, to remember how it feels to be like this when it’s easier to do the opposite.
A asked me about how it felt to date her dad and I had to say it was awesome. We were these two kids who didn’t know anything, but thought we knew it all. We met when I was younger than A is now and the whole world felt like it was out there, just waiting. Twenty-two years later and the world still feels like that for me, it just feels like I need to get more sleep to be ready to embrace it.
I told her how, because he spent a lot of time away from home because of Desert Storm, we used music to replace the words we couldn’t say to each other. I would make him mix tapes and mail them in care packages filled with cookies and letters and whatever else I could fit into a box. I must have written A’s dad a thousand letters while he was in Iraq. I wrote three times and day and told him all sorts of silly things – what I had for breakfast, what I was going to make for dinner, what the weather looked like even though we lived in Oceanside, CA so the weather all looked the same. I told him about the dolphins I’d see at 5:00 am and the seagulls I’d see at 9:00 PM. I didn’t think the silliness was a bad thing – I wanted him to know he was missed.
The tapes I’d include were filled with these wonderful verses about who we were and where we would go and how much I loved him. It was all “So Anything.” When he came home at the end of his tour, he had a duffle bag filled with my letters and postcards and mix tapes but they didn’t mean the same thing. You see, he spent over a year finding reasons to fight with me about what I must be out doing, when the truth was I was writing to him, but the letters didn’t get there until he left Saudi Arabia for Iraq. Six months’ worth of letters sat at an APO location in the Arabian Desert waiting for him – and those six months almost broke up our marriage.
Years later, he fell in love with someone else and we divorced. I went into hiding while I tried to figure out what I’d done wrong and I raised A with the help of my friends and his family. Then, in an act of true courage, I re-married. Then divorced. The constant was raising A.
Twenty-two years after my first mix tape was made, I made a new one for another love and mailed it off. In between the time of the mailing it and doing a million other things – I learned that my whole first year of marriage had been a lie. No, a lie is not the right word – it just wasn’t what I imagined. For a year, A’s dad had had a number of affairs – I think that at 19 I would have been so angry (yes, sidebar: I want to write a Modern Love essay like this one) – in my late thirties I was less angry and more hurt. How funny to be hurt by something that happened decades ago. But the hurt was more about the ‘why’ – and not the why of the affairs – but the why he couldn’t tell me and let me decide if I could be okay.
Sometimes, I wonder if that’s the point I’m missing in all of my relationships. Maybe it isn’t ever about me being okay. Maybe it’s never really about me. What a grand epiphany to make in 2013. I should drive more. I learn so much.
Oh, the mixtape – I’ll never actually know if it was listened to – I never spoke with its intended owner about it – although I hear it was received just fine. I just remembered it because when words fail me I always turn to music. You can tell how I’m feeling inside by what’s playing in the air. Right now, it’s the Black Keys – better than it being Adele every day for a year. Or maybe it’s the same.