We allow plenty of time to get to the airport, plus a cushion to get lunch together, and even refill the tank on the truck. I wish we brought my car, but this is his trip and he is driving, and I want his departure to be as undisruptive for him as possible. But now he’s following the signs to the airport and we pull up to the curbside check-in.
“Are you going to check your bag early before we go grab food?”
He doesn’t answer and proceeds to walk around the back of the truck and unload both a suitcase and his backpack from the back seat.
He closes it, then opens my door. He reaches out his hand, I take it and he helps me out of the truck. I’m confused. We can’t park in the loading zone. Of course, the engine is still running.
“Let’s leave it at this. Anything more will just make it too difficult for both of us.”
He pulls me so tight that my mouth is lost in his sweater. Breathing hardly matters, because in moments, he’ll be gone. But damn it, as painful as this is to not have another hour eating a meal that only takes up time, I feel equal parts sadness and certainty that he’s right.
I finally pull away so he doesn’t have to be the one to break our embrace. “I am going to miss the hell out of you.”
He kisses me the way I like to be kissed – as if it’s that first time in my apartment. I cannot believe how much more I love him than I did that day.
“You have everything you need, and you are a strong, beautiful woman, and I’ll be back before you know it.”
“You’re such a liar, and I love you anyway.” He smiles and kisses my forehead. He squeezes my arm, my hand, touches my cheek, and kisses me softly one final time. He picks up his bags and disappears behind the reflection of the sunlight on the sliding doors.
The truck continues to idle, so I close my door, and walk around to the driver’s side of the truck and climb inside, like I did that day leaving the mountains. I remember on that day, feeling so much stronger than I’d ever felt before, not because I changed, but because he showed me his soft underbelly. He let himself be weak and vulnerable, impressive traits I’d never seen in a man. Looking back, I’m reminded that I am indeed strong enough to survive his two-week business trip, especially given everything I have survived in this lifetime.
“You’re going to be fine, Joan Wilder,” I tell myself out loud. Suddenly my phone chimes, and I pull it out of my purse to see one new text from Daniel: an emoji of pie.
I take time for a good cry on Saturday night, just after sunset, when the house is empty and quiet, and I am overly tired from the early departure for the morning drive to Montana. I fall asleep on the couch and sleep intermittently.
Sunday drags, and I expect the two weeks Daniel is gone will be devastatingly long for me, lasting for what will feel like a month or more. When I arrive at work on Monday, my boss changes the trajectory of the week, and quite possibly the long term.
“Hey, good morning,” he shouts across the parking lot, waving his arm out of the window of his vehicle. He backs his oversized pick-up truck into a space farther away from the building so he does not have to park near any other vehicles.
I respond in kind, but not as loudly. He’ll get the gist of my message just in the fact that I respond.
I’ve been reporting to Aaron for the past nine months since a reorg changed the overall structure of the forest. Changes like this typically happen when there’s new leadership, when there are budget cuts, or when multiple team members leave around the same time and others are left to cover for them until replacements can be named. Of course, by the time they are, it’s a different structure entirely. I’ve seen each of these impacts on our office staff, including the last transition twice in the few years I have been in Wyoming.
I wait for him to reach the same worn, wooden steps aligned against our makeshift trailer, that have been make-shifting for more than a decade.
“Hey, good weekend?” Thinking back to my weeping mess of a Saturday evening, I know that’s not the answer he wants to hear.
“Well, Daniel left for his business trip, so I drove up to Billings so he could catch his flight. I stopped at Costco while I was up there and picked up a few non-urgent items since I was in the big city.” Now I know Billings is not a big city compared to the megalopolises of Texas, but considering the confined size of Sheridan, I am not the only one who describes Billings as such.
He holds the door open for me as the cow bell bangs against the glass. I love that some things never change here. “Was that this weekend already? I remember you mentioned that, but it seemed like such a long way off. When will he be back?”
“I say two weeks, but given the weekends, it’s more like two and a half. Feels longer.” I know it’s a small distinction, but three weekends without him feel like an entire month.
“So, what are you doing to keep busy while he’s gone?” He hovers at my desk while I drop my lunch bag and purse.
“I’m sure I’ll find something to keep myself out of mischief.” I have a sizable list of activities I would like to get accomplished but being motivated while he is away is the largest obstacle to the successful completion of most of them.
“I have something that might keep you occupied.” He glances around at my unpacking process of getting my jacket hung, phone unforwarded, and the other assortment of details I manage in order to open the facility for another week. “How about you get settled here, I’m going to grab some coffee, and then I’ll wander back up in about ten minutes. Sound good?”
“Sure, that’ll work.”
“Okay, I’ll be back in a bit.”
I’m not sure what Aaron has in mind, but the fact that we have to meet at my desk because there’s no one else to cover the phones is part of the problem with organizational restructuring. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the work I do and the fact that I can look out my window and see the majestic mountains, weather permitting, making every day spectacular compared to every job in my lifetime preceding this one.
Two restructurings ago, the forest elected to move many of the back-office operations to the southern ranger district, and that included Bonnie. In so many ways, it was a blessing for both of us. Her sister and husband faced a few hardships when his health went downhill, so her being in close proximity to them obviously helped out all of her family, not that I really cared. Despite the extra work in the office now that she was not there as a backup for phones and visitors, removing her gloomy disposition from an office that literally drenches in direct sunlight on the days when the sun didn’t rise seventy degrees above the horizon didn’t need her dark scowl. Besides, the independence and autonomy her absence allows gives me the ability to shine even brighter myself.
Of course, the downside are moments like this: shortly after Aaron heads for the coffee pot, three visitors enter looking for permits and administrative support. Three at once can be a lot for this office, especially in the off season, but with the mild weekend weather, undoubtedly people are starting to think about their summer plans. Thankfully, some of the reporting and data duties, and all of the recruiting paperwork, moved with Bonnie, so the bulk of my responsibilities focus on the people who wander in on their own timelines. I cannot complain about those faces – that’s how I met my Daniel.
NEXT: No Secrets Here – Part 5