His travel mirrors his previous trip: Billings to Dallas, Dallas to somewhere else, and then somewhere else, and then eventually Afghanistan. The in-between locations don’t matter – they just take my husband farther away. We again agree to our pie emoji, just in case all other forms of communication fail, and the trials of life need to be condensed down to a single character. His departure hurts as much as the previous trip, but at least we prepared together to ease ourselves into his journey.
When I get back to the house, my first activity is to check the bed for a letter, but I don’t find one. I am disappointed, but given my actions last spring, I cannot blame him. Just in case, I check downstairs by the fireplace since he’s smart enough to assume I might curl up in my tent again. Nothing there either. The only communication I receive during the day of his departure is a text:
Wheels down in Dallas.
It never occurred to me during his last travels to explore beyond my comfort zone, but I decide to meander through our home. I wander down the hall past our master suite and peek into his office, where I find every surface immaculate. I enter, feeling a bit like an intruder, but glancing at the handful of items sitting on the dark, open shelving to the left. Until now, the only time I came into this office was when he was here working, so this is the first time I see the room with the windows masked by their coverings. Not quite curtains, and definitely not blinds, I realize I’ve never seen them before and that there is a slender cabinet at the window-end of the shelves into which they must recede.
The island including his desk and guest chairs look as if they could be present in any c-level suite, yet I’ve never seen a single person here on business, so the fabric of the visitor chairs appears practically new. Against the wall opposite the windows, in addition to the doors, the flat screen used for conferences is mounted, flanked by recessed bookcases, also mostly empty. Beneath the flat screen lives the cabinet behind which Daniel’s safe resides. Along the wall to the right of the windows, Daniel’s drafting table, plus a collection of his work. When we first toured his home office, I suggested these works should include a small plaque, featuring the details of the structure: size, when it was built, location, the name of the facility or building.
“It’s my office not a museum.”
“Are you sure? These are works of art.” He rolled his eyes at that remark.
The one feature missing from the room: dust. Either the maid recently visited or he kept it up himself. I would wager the latter.
Since I disrupted nothing, I close the door behind me and wander around the loop to the northern upstairs hallway. A small restroom adjoins the office, with a separate entrance from the hallway. There is a closet where the vacuum lives, but the main door on this wing provides access to the guest room. I’ve only peeked in here once, with Daniel, so opening it feels more like a violation than wandering through his office.
Facing north, all light cascading into the room bounces indirectly into the array of soft colors akin to a hazy sunset. On the nightstand, a lamp and two small picture frames: one of Daniel in his dress uniform with a woman who I presume is his mother, and another with a younger version of the same woman, her husband, obvious from the way his arms are wrapped around her, and a small boy of maybe seven upon his shoulders. Steep lush mountains in the background could be anywhere in Montana, or Alberta, or really so many places in this area. I’d love to ask him about the picture, but I assume I know who is in the photo, and I choose to leave it at that.
After my sorry excuse for dinner, an uneventful text exchange about his equally unfulfilling dinner in Dallas, and only enough effort to complete the dishes, I make a cup of tea and sit staring at the downstairs fireplace, with no fire, contemplating the prospect of sleeping alone in our bed. In fact, I have been thinking for the past several weeks leading up to his departure about my unwillingness to stay there last time. I ought to have given more thought to accepting my place in our bed without him, but now when it is time to climb the stairs and pull down the covers, I still am not prepared to lie alone.
I ask my cup of tea for its advice.
“So how about the guest room? After all, the bed is made.”
My cup offers little input, even when I gently swish its contents.
Perhaps the soft pastels of the guest room could provide me with a restful night’s sleep without my feeling isolated, aching my way through his absence next to me in our bed. I’ll still shower and get ready each day in the master suite, just like I did last time. There’s no reason to use the adjoining bathroom in the guest room when everything from toothpaste to deodorant to makeup is in our shared bathroom.
I barely disrupt the linens as I crawl in and doze off with the image of Daniel in his military attire staring at me.