Now that we’ve sprung forward, the mornings again remain dark, and I move about our bedroom suite as much by touch as by sight in order to start my day. The fact that Daniel still sleeps after my second alarm chimes makes me jealous of his work-from-home ability on days like this. My work, certainly fulfilling, remains a difficult morning venture when it’s made without the benefit of sunlight.
I finish my morning preparations, and inch my slippered feet across the bedroom in an attempt to allow my husband a bit more time in compensation for my having woken him during the night.
“Good morning,” delighting me once the initial surprise of hearing his voice in the darkness wanes.
“Oh, my handsome husband, good morning. I was trying not to wake you.” Clearly today I fail at this task.
He stretches under the covers, repositioning himself, as if making a spot for me on the large bed. I shouldn’t expect much more verbally, but I willingly lie back down on top if the covers to snuggle against him.
“Good morning,” I whisper once my head nears his. He slides only his hand above the sheets, touches my face, my cheek, my ear, my neck, then pulls through my hair, finding one random tangle that escaped my brush. As much as I want to be undressed, I’m ready to finish my preparations: breakfast, pack food for lunch, and depart for the Forest Service office. In the darkness, the olive drab heavy denim isn’t the deterrent from his desires that they are in the light, and his hand finds its way into the limited space between my belt and my skin.
“Can we continue this groping tonight, handsome man?”
Truly Daniel deserves the moniker. His staggeringly handsome features mesmerized me the first time he wandered into my office, and to this day, the handful of years he’s added to his appearance remind me of the canyon rocks smoothed by the wind and rain of millennia. Despite his years in the military, and his adventurous activities since, his face remains scarless, allowing only the daily passage of time to impact his appearance. With each day together accumulating, despite what time and gravity may affect, I find him to be the most enticing human I’ve ever encountered. Of course, yes, I am completely biased.
My request for a reprieve, while I almost wish would continue deeper beneath my waistline, indicates how much he respects my body, my schedule, the importance of my work, and my equality in this relationship. He pulls his hand from my pants, sliding it around my side, tempting my hip from outside my thick work wear, and ending with his hand firmly pressing against my lower back. He pulls me in for a few bits of affection before I finally rise from the bed and wander towards the kitchen and away from him for the day. I’ll spend the next ten hours aching to be lying next to him again. By the weekend, I’ll be furious with myself that I let this moment escape without making love to him.
We pass the drive to Billings in silence. I don’t want to make small talk just to avoid becoming weepy, and he remains his usual laconic self. As we cross into Montana, the bulk of the drive still ahead of us, I decide just to be straightforward.
“You know I don’t want you to go. I mean, I want you to go because I want you to continue to do important, impactful work, but I don’t want you to not be here.” I trip over my words the way I stumble over the ottoman at our cabin. “I just miss you already.”
He squeezes my forearm gently, as if that will make me not miss him for the next two weeks. I’m sure he doesn’t mean for it to be a substitution for the soothing comfort of his cooking us dinner when I come home each night, or for his lying next to me when I pull back the covers to slide into bed, or for his kissing me whenever the mood strikes him throughout the day. I assume he’s got to be more stressed about this journey than I am about his absence, and here I sit bemoaning my own gloom. I need to think of him.
“Do you think you’ll be able to text from time to time?” Still, my inquiries sound selfish.
He tips his head, not answering, perhaps considering the possibility. This time I decide to accept the silence and just wait for his response. Nearly three miles are behind us when he does reply.
“Texting is probably more likely than Facetime, but you might just have to settle for an email.”
I’ll take whatever I can get.
“Whatever is possible, write when you can, but just know that if anything around you triggers anything, you know, inside you, you can always just send a single word or line to let me know how you’re doing.”
That’s a good question. What should he tell me that will let me know he is in a tough spot mentally, yet not alarm me?
“Do you want to have a secret code word?” I offer.
“I suppose, but I was thinking of something not so difficult to spell.”
“H-i-p-p-o-p…” he begins, with the slightest air of one-up-manship.
“Or maybe something not so lengthy, that just gets to the point.” I suggest despite his continuing to spell the word out loud.
“What did you have in mind?”
“I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about it.” At this point, I wonder if I am really making a useful suggestion or just sounding desperate for conversation before he’s gone.
He waits another mile or so and teases, “That’s……that’s an amazing plan.”
I can’t help but laugh. It is a pretty stupid idea.
“I don’t know, I guess I just worry that being back in country could be more difficult for you than you expect. I believe in you, and in the progress you’ve made, but there’s no telling what it will be like again.” He keeps looking northward. I remember our drives in the mountains during that first camping weekend. I know now he wasn’t keeping two strangers in awkward silence on that drive. This is how he always drives, and interacts, and ponders, and exists.
“I just want to be there for you, even if I’m all the way over here and you’re all the way over there.” Wow, that just sounds cheesy coming out of my mouth.
Again silence. I decide to let the matter go. I don’t want to stir anything up this close to his departure. I watch the mile markers count down. We’re still in the mid five hundreds.
What did he just say? “Pie?”
“What about ‘pie?’”
“That’s what I’ll text you if, you know, there’s a moment. If I am struggling, you know, with where I am.” He takes his eyes off the road and looks at me and discovers a completely befuddled look across my face.
This is the first moment in all the months leading up to his departure that indeed the possibility of his emotional state being impacted by this trip even exits his mouth. “Because pie fixes everything.”
Oh my god. This man! This man is beyond words! Even when admitting he is vulnerable to what he is walking into, he still tickles my heart.
“Oh Daniel, I love you more at this moment than when I got out of bed this morning. Pie does fix everything.”
He smiles just enough so that I see some of his teeth. I’m just lost in this moment and remain in awestruck contemplation of the ways I love him increasingly by his smallest gestures and remarks. We’ve enjoyed pie at the lodge dozens of times since that first taste together, and clearly it still means something to us.
Mirroring his own style, as I have grown into the pacing myself, I finally respond several minutes later. “I love that it’s ‘pie,’ although I’m sure you will be fine. You have more strength and courage than any man I have ever known.”
He nods, and again grasps my arm. The light squeeze wasn’t enough to reassure me ten miles back, but now, somehow, it is.
“Pie,” I mutter as the next mile marker flies by as we speed towards the big city. If only his time away would pass this quickly.
NEXT: No Secrets Here – Part 4