He sounds like a teenager.
That's the text that came from the Not Boyfriend an hour or so after his call to us. And a few days later: I feel like I am missing summer.
The Not Boyfriend has been gone 11 days. Five more to go. We'd thought, perhaps a bit too optimistically for the previous pattern, that he'd be able to text frequently, call regularly. But cell-phone reception where he's doing his Army thing is unreliable. Texts come repeated in threes, sometimes at 4:30 a.m., fired off as he jumps out of bed and into his boots. Calls are full of static. His time is overspent, his body overworked, his brain overtired, his voice gone. None of it makes for good, if any, communication.
And so I leapt and raced across the apartment when E heard the telltale ringtone and yelled at me, "It's him! He's calling!"
There was the familiar, awkward rush to catch each other up and then the silence of soaking up being as close in proximity as possible. Of course, as is also the pattern, the call came five minutes before E's dad would arrive to pick him up for the weekend. We crammed in as much as we could.
E got on the line, told the Not Boyfriend about his upcoming Tae Kwon Do belt testing, filled him in on a few other school details. And then just as quickly as the first call in more than a week came, it went. The doorbell ring, E clicked the phone off, we ran down the stairs, hugging. None of us got a proper goodbye.
The NB and I have spoken a couple of times since then, briefly but stuffing each minute with Cliff Notes on what's happening there and here and I love yous and It feels like a million years since I've seen you and Take cares and too soon again, Goodbye, my loves.
During one five-minute call, I realized I was rambling on about some little detail, and not because it mattered but because I wanted to keep him on the line. Just to hear his voice, just to imagine him nodding along as I spoke. It was late for him, though, and the static pulled us in and out of range so much that it was better just to go.
I've sent some emails. E and I made a video message for him. And I've texted a few times a day to let him know I am still out here. I don't know what of all that has made it to him. I am sure he is holding on to just as much to share with me as I am anxious to tell him.
It's not the same as years past when this kind of absence has lasted months. It's small -- very small -- compared to the service and time and space others endure. I know all of this well. I am not panicked or jittery. Just wishing for him. For five minutes more.
And I hear him saying the same, that he feels far away, that it feels time has spanned years not weeks. The sentiment of his texts -- that E has become a teen and summer has flitted away while he's been just a few states away -- is one of longing for home.
It's been part of my challenge in knowing and loving the Not Boyfriend, from long-distance to delving deeper into our own careers, to focus on doing my own thing while he does his. I want to spend these weeks fully in the time with my child, the to-dos for my own business, writing and strategizing and maybe even beginning to clean the damn basement. But all that is tempered by the possibility of a call. One call stops it all.
So I straddle two forces: immersing myself in my stuff and pausing for the possibility of his.
I spoke with a woman once who is married to a man in the military. He'd been deployed several times and she seemed adept at pushing her own life forward while he was gone. It was routine for she and her kids that he'd call or Skype in the middle of making science projects due the next day or just when someone was throwing up or just as someone else spilled milk and cereal all over the laptop. She rolled with it. But during his last tour, when the kids were finally old enough to be at home alone for short periods of time, she began running, cherishing the twenty minutes to do something only for herself.
Without fail, she told me the first time we met, when he'd call during that year, it would be during her run. Once she shifted to focus on herself, he was sure to interrupt it and she just could not roll with it.
She was making her way up a hill, pushing herself to get to the top, when she felt her phone buzz in her shorts pocket. She told me she was so irate that he was interrupting that moment, she broke into a sprint all the way to the summit.
I didn't care that he was calling from the Middle East, she said firmly but with the edge of a laugh, I needed that one minute for me. I needed to stop dropping everything when I heard his ring.
The hill ahead, the beckoning of both she and him, the long-distance calling out to one another -- a very real metaphor.
I didn't re-know the Not Boyfriend then, wasn't edging my way along understanding military family life yet. I couldn't get what she'd been doing as a mom of three and woman making her own way up all those hills. But I tried not to judge her for ignoring the call, and that pause has served me well in the years since. Now I get it a little more.
I want that call. I really would like to hang on to the Not Boyfriend's voice. But life cannot stop here, sometimes even when the ring sounds.
That means there may not be another phone call until he returns. And there probably won't be many proper goodbyes during weeks like these in our future. We will have to be good with that. Whether we are sorry for missing the chance or we ignore the call on purpose, we have to keep sprinting our own hills until we see the other person in the distance.