“Love, Recorded” is back:
Matt’s wife returns from Korea, but this time, it’s different.
Here is something you can do in writing that you cannot do in life: skip ahead 3 months to when your wife and baby return to you.
Being apart from your family for so long is to realize how much your day is structured around them. Wake beside them, work, return to eat dinner together, take care of baby/give wife a break, put baby to sleep, spend a few minutes with wife, write until bed.
I can hardly remember this routine, now.
When your wife and baby are away for 3 months, people ask if you are okay and you mostly say, yes, you are fine, but after a while, you don’t feel like faking it anymore, and you admit, no, you are at a loss.
You see your daughter via Facetime, and she hangs up on you with some regularity, wanting to play iPad games.
You watch Korean dramas, 20 hours straight.
“To feel closer to them?” someone asks you.
Yes, you say. To feel as if they are not in an entirely other world.
For my wife, for my daughter, I wasn’t present for them. Of course my daughter would hang up on me to get something more immediate. Why should she care about a father-shaped image with no production value, even?
But in writing, 3 months pass in a paragraph. You skip over the snowstorm that locked you in for a weekend, a night without power during which you tweeted until your phone died and after which you sank into a week-long depression. When I finally got hold of my wife, then, she said she couldn’t deal with Sad Matt. She didn’t have to.
I got over it, though. Slowly, I got so used to being by myself that I worried about the adjustment back.
Then 3 months pass, and 4 words later, a phone call. She is in America, about to connect in New York. She wants me to leave work earlier, take the bus home, drive to Logan without delay. She can’t wait. I feel a rush of sentimentality, but what my wife means is she is tired and doesn’t want to be kept waiting.
On the way to the airport, the GPS fusses. I pull into departures 10 minutes late. As I put the car in park, I get a call from a blocked number. I pick up because it must be her, but then it is someone I cannot hang up on. I walk and talk. I find my wife with a cart on which are seven bags and boxes. The baby is asleep. I am still talking. I am ironing out a flight of my own, hanging up as nicely as I can. My wife is scowling.
Back when we used to date long-distance, that first time we saw each other after 3 or 4 months apart, at the gate in Korea, I always felt the chemicals. We always had a kiss from that film you wished you were in. In that movie-version, that kiss showed, in an instant, the impact of being apart for months. Catharsis a matter of disappeared time.
Now I push the cart to the car and load most of the bags into the trunk and the rest beside the car seat. I leave the front seat open for my wife, but she reminds me that she always sits beside the baby. I forgot. I move the bags. She gets the baby in the car seat. I feel my arms tingling with desire. Before she gets in on the other side, I stop her.
“Come on,” I say. “Can we hug?”
It is the most anticlimactic hug.
I drive us back in silence. My wife is tired. The baby is sleeping. I haven’t even been able to hold my daughter, to feel how much she has grown. I feel angry with myself. I want to do everything over. I have had my wife’s arms around me as an obligation.
My wife calls my mom to say they made it. I drive and drive without resolution. We are right back to how we were before, as if for her there was no gap, nothing to sew up. As if all that time meant nothing to her.
And then I realize: we are not right back. We are at a forward time, together. That time is more real; this reunion should be less cathartic. This reunion, our time apart was not time spent waiting to reunite, to feel like love was fleeting or in danger so we could snatch it back. Our baby grew up, even if I had to see it on the iPad. That time is ours, each moment that isn’t on the page, that isn’t in this essay. That time wasn’t a point in a plot, wasn’t propelling us toward the end of an arc. That time is still there. You want the movie ending? Maybe our love, too, has grown up.