All throughout the summer, Daniel’s pending business trip feels like a far-off plan that still offers the possibility of cancellation. Yet as the leaves lose their chlorophyll allowing the golden aspens dispersed among the evergreens to draw attention to themselves, as the elk trumpet their voices to be heard without being seen, and as the snow falls without sticking, reminding me that it will be back to stay shortly, I realize Daniel’s impending travel looms and lurks allowing the truth to sting at me like the changing winds: he will be departing soon.
He must know how panicked I feel this time, despite my improving sense of security in the forest. In fairness, my current anxiety measures only slightly more concerned than I felt last spring, but a repeat journey increases the odds in some mathematically inexplicable way that I believe justifies my angst. He likewise doesn’t share with me his fear, but personally, I don’t think it’s because he isn’t feeling it, but because he doesn’t want me to worry, which I fully intend to do anyway.
Unlike last time, however, I do think we should talk about it more than just a quick conversation on the way to the airport. Yes, he admitted in his own written words his fear in this travel, but ever since his alarm at my situation in the forest, he’s likely more worried about me by myself without him than he is about himself in a war zone. He can claim this environment in which he finds himself and the level of security in the sector versus his tour in Iraq are incomparable, but I disagree – not that we really ever talk about either in detail.
I startle him as I wander into his office, a room I rarely visit. It’s not his room of choice when I am home, but as I plan to transition back to weekdays, he’s already jumps back to his regular weekdays, so I’m home on this workday Thursday.
“Hey you, what’s up?”
“Am I interrupting?”
“A little, but I could use a break.”
“I wanted to visit with you, but this is more than a little interruption.”
“Can it wait until this evening?”
“It can, but it’s weighing on me, and I just thought it might be weighing on you similarly.”
He stays quiet, doesn’t get up from his drawing table, yet sets his hands on each thigh as if their weight equates the tone of my request.
“Is ‘it’ my trip next month?”
“Yes,” I whisper, not to intentionally be quiet, but wanting to ease us into the conversation. I stay near the door in case he doesn’t want to discuss this tough topic at the moment. He rotates himself on the stool ninety degrees, with his hands still on his thighs, but I take his turn as an overture to proceed. I walk partway towards him to confirm.
“I’ve been hoping it would get cancelled.” I don’t mention I’ve been hoping daily.
“You don’t want to go?”
“No.” I didn’t know he feels this way.
“You can’t ask Mr. Waterfield to send someone else?”
He lifts one arm, gesturing with an outreached hand for me to come closer. I don’t know the protocol for this room or how to interact with him here. As odd as it feels, it strikes me as even more odd that in the years we’ve been together, we’ve never navigated this space without my having first been invited.
Shortly after our wedding, he took me by the hand and led me into his home office, a space I knew of, yet never entered.
“Now that you’re my wife,” he introduced, “I want you to know where a few important documents are kept.” It felt like a formal exchange for two people who stumbled into each others’ lives in a weekend of hearts broken apart and broken open, but this formal structure to his professional side, too, was a part of the man I married. Seeing him in a new light, not just a new room, opened another door to our relationship.
In a small safe, embedded into an interior wall and disguised by a lightweight, rustic bookshelf, he unlocked and revealed the types of documents one might expect: life insurance policies, passports, stock certificates (which always felt like a movie prop until I saw his), the contract entering him into the architecture firm’s ranks, an external computer drive, his birth certificate, which I desperately wanted to see but never did, his divorce decree, enlistment and discharge paperwork, and, yes a single, yet thick, stack of neat, tightly bundled twenty dollar bills.
“If you have anything you need to secure, you are welcome to use this.”
“Like my secret stash of Alexander Hamiltons?”
He smiled, appreciating my humor. “Or your social security card, or birth certificate, or important pictures.”
“You don’t have any pictures in there.”
He tugged on the external drive; I nodded. Of course he kept all his pictures digitally. They’re probably categorized chronologically, and cross referenced by who was in each photo.
At a later date I retrieved my social security card and placed it with his, but beyond that, my meager history accumulated to practically nothing. Even my college diploma, once folded in fourths, had since been mislaid, although it might be in the handful of boxes I’d been carrying from storage unit to storage unit and now lived in the storage room downstairs. Not having changed jobs requiring me to provide I-9 documentation, I have yet to retrieve anything from the safe. In truth, I don’t even remember the combination. The total duration of that first offer for extra security for my most cherished property quite possibly was the longest duration of time I’ve spent in this room until now.
“This isn’t Mr. Waterfield’s decision. This is mine.”
He brings me back to the conversation.
“And you’re deciding to go.” It’s a statement, not a question, but I do not speak it with certainty.
Now he stands, approaches me and puts his arms around me. This is a hug, but I feel brittle. I resist, eventually releasing my shoulders and leaning into his body.
“Why do you think you need to go?”
He strokes my hair, conveying his love and his strength, and what will eventually be his justification, kneading it into me.
“The easy answer is I don’t trust Newbold.”
“So, why not remove him from the project? You’re a partner.”
“It’s not that easy. He’s a partner, too.”
Most of what I know about Daniel’s working relationship with his firm comes strictly from what he tells me. I have met a few of the people during the annual Christmas party, which we’ve attended together two of the last three years, except for the one year when the snow and wind closed Interstate 90 between Billings and Spearfish. Among the staff, Daniel is respected and admired, but junior. He’s the newest partner, but not the youngest.
I don’t recall Newbold. I’m sure I probably met him at one of the two parties, but it’s always a matter of being a dutiful supporter rather than a social mingler. There was one architect I met during the second party who I recall distinctly, and not for a good reason, but otherwise, I mostly spent time speaking with Mr. Waterfield and his wife, or the office staff, feeling a kinship with them.
“The bigger issue,” Daniel finally continues, “is that I have the military experience to develop strong relationships with our government partners.”
“I’m sure that makes sense, but can’t modern technology provide that support without your having to travel there?”
He pulls me tighter. That’s a ‘no.’