By 3:30 I am certain only about two-thirds, if I’m lucky maybe seventy-five percent, of my chores will be finished by bedtime. That includes most, but not all, of the laundry, and meal prep for the coming week, knowing I may not have access to a microwave, so it will have to be cold leftovers. Dishes get done, so that’s a small triumph, and when I sit down on the couch after unloading the first run, loading the second, and getting the machine started, I mistakenly close my eyes for just a moment, which turns into a full-blown nap.
My phone ringing and vibrating, still in my hand where I relaxed it when I finished reading Daniel’s earlier emails before nodding off, wakes me and I immediately pretend I’m wide awake.
“Hey you.” His voice wakes me quickly.
“Oh my gosh do I miss you!”
“I miss you, too. Did I catch you in the middle of something?”
You mean the urgent, unplanned afternoon nap? “Nothing that won’t keep. How are you? Are you doing okay?”
“I’m doing alright. We’re busy. And nothing gets done easily here. There’s always extra steps you have to take no matter what you’re doing, so it takes longer than you expect.”
“I bet that wears you down.”
I realize I may sound groggier than I feel. What can I ask him? Did I ask him how he is?
“How are you?”
“You just asked me that. I’m okay.”
“Sorry, I’m just really glad to hear your voice.” I’m still not able to lead the conversation.
“Can you do me a favor before I get back?”
“Sure, of course. What do you need?”
“I completely forgot that I scheduled a dentist appointment for this Thursday. I booked it, you know, six months ago. Can you call and cancel it?”
“Yeah, I can take care of it.” I stand up and wander around to find something to write it down so I won’t forget. I’m still a little loopy. I hate to walk all the way upstairs and back to his office, so I wander around the house trying to remember where I set my purse last night and find a scrap of paper to make a note so I don’t forget to call on Monday.
“Thanks, babe.” Silence carries us both, him because he’s good at not filling every moment with sound, and me because I’m trying to recall where I set my purse. By the time I locate it, I realize we are approaching an awkward silence. I try to write while making pointless conversation.
“So, has anything changed with your flights? Will you still be back on Sunday?”
“As far as I know. We leave here on Friday, connect flights in Germany on Saturday morning, catch a flight to Chicago, then change planes and get into Dallas early that evening. We should arrive in plenty of time to even get some sleep before the flight up on Sunday.”
“So, practically a direct flight?” I’m at least awake enough now to inject a bit of sarcasm.
“You’re going to be exhausted when you get here.”
“You might have to do all the driving back from Billings. I’m going to be spent.”
“You can just put your head on my lap and fall asleep.”
“Or just pretend to fall asleep.” Clearly he gets my reference.
My mind wanders back to the drive out of the mountains after that camping trip. I like that he’s thinking about it, too. I love that every moment of our lives is built on our foundation from that weekend. I decide to tell him the same.
“Daniel, I am so grateful that we started our lives together the way we did. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that and how important you are to me now.”
“Me, too.” I let the silence hang there this time. I’m far more okay with the gaps of time when we don’t talk than I used to be.
“Nat?” He pauses.
“Do you need pie?”
I smile, not that he or anyone else would know.
“I’m doing alright.” It’s probably best that I don’t mention I bought myself one.
“Yeah. Me, too.”
I start drawing little hearts on the paper around the reminder I wrote myself on the back of a crinkled grocery store receipt.
“I need to go. I love you, Nat.”
“I love you, Daniel. Stay safe and hurry home.”
“I will. Bye, my love.” I hear the line click dead before I can respond. Even if I manage to get my affection out of my mouth, I still would not have said it enough. It felt like a dull conversation, but I am awash in fresh emotion. I start crying simply because I miss him so intensely.
“Damn it. I shouldn’t have eaten all the pie for dinner earlier this week.”
The outside weather with just a few flurries but a significant wind precludes me from wanting to run any errands. Besides, I’ll be at the office tomorrow playing catch up and I can always swing by the store on the way home. My productivity dips for the remainder of the afternoon as I wallow in our empty home.
Focusing away my self-pity amid his absence, I give thought to what Daniel’s life must have been like before we met, living in this expansive house all alone. I’ve always seen our home as a physical manifestation of him, from the structure to the design, to the décor. Within these walls I see the soul of a man who displays the strength of the mountains themselves, rising up not only behind the house, but climbing the height of the two-story fireplace. The rise to the ceiling, illuminated by the large windows near its peak that bring in the sunlight and diffuse it throughout the great room, reflect the brightness of the snow-covered peaks through a large chunk of the year, even if not literally. The colors of the furnishings blend in the same way the trees, viewed from a distance, create the colors of the forest, scattered across the ridges and down the slopes of the Bighorns.
Yet for all its beauty and ties to the natural surroundings, the silence within aptly reflects the emptiness of being built for solitude. I imagine he knew when he drew the first plans for his forever home that the acoustics were a part of his creation. The materials and soundness of the structure almost entirely erase the howl from the outside gusts, yet I can hear my footsteps as I shuffle towards the kitchen, reminding me that I eat alone, I occupy this space alone, I fall asleep alone. I feel hollow as the faint echoes bounce back at me. I am certain that Daniel’s design accounted for his loneliness and he likewise stirred in this space acutely aware that he might well be its only occupant for the entirety of his life.
I always imagined his isolation to be akin to mine, but now that I hear the sounds distinctly, I realize in this space that from sketching to design to construction to completion, and in all his days before he met me, he accepted his course of life as a singular journey taken only by him. He came to grips with such a realization when I was still clinging to a man who beat and tortured me because I was unwilling to accept a life lived alone.
Daniel, however, likely embraced his place in life without the possibility of accompaniment and built this home to embody his complete independence as much as it reflects the colors and textures of the mountain range he adores. I don’t think he accepted his solitude with the same rich inspiration he absorbs from the mountains, yet he resolved himself to not push it away and instead made it part of his home and his life. From the silence and structure of this home, he definitely appears to have accepted it far better than I ever could, and better than I am able to manage for even two weeks without him. Again, his home defines his greatness and I am humbled to live with him here. I go back to my tent and curl up feeling small and alone as I do not feel deserving of so much space, character, beauty, and resilience.
NEXT: On The Job – Part 10