long distance relationships

Plane taking off

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Rob’s been in Texas since Sunday. I didn’t blog or Facebook about it because that’s like inviting serial killers to your house for tea.

“My husband’s out-of-town on business. Why don’t you stop by in the middle of the night and murder us in our sleep?”

When I spoke with him last night, he mentioned that trips to Texas might become a habit, which reminded me – again – that our house is not up to “Dad’s away on business” standards. There are no blinds or window coverings of any kind in areas that make it too easy for even the most casual observer to notice that it’s just Dee and I. With the absence of daylight becoming more pronounced, I feel quite exposed in the evening with all the lights on. That needs some immediate action.*

I am actually able to sleep now when Rob is away. Without leaving lights on even. But it’s not restful. I sleep lightly most of the time anyway, and his absence just attunes me that much more to the creaks and groans of the house, sounds outside that penetrate the windowpanes and to Dee’s restlessness across the hall.

Dee hates her dad being away. She almost takes it personally.

“It will be better when Dad is back,” she remarked.

“Aren’t I doing a good job?” I asked.

“It’s just better when Dad is here,” she is tactful with her dismissal of my ability to manage.

I reminded her that once upon a time it was just she and I, and I managed everything without any major mishaps.

“Yes,” she agreed, “but with Dad, it’s better.”

And there you have it. Dads are better, and I kind of have to agree. Single parenting is not a choice I would ever purposely make.

The threat of a traveling for business husband has got me thinking that the house needs to become a bit more ship-shape, and in a hurry. The kitchen is all but done. Just a few things left and the living room is nearly painted which paves the way for fireplace, flooring and light fixtures that aren’t hanging  loosely from the ceiling. The old kitchen, however, is nowhere close to its future as a dining room, and it needs to be because Christmas is now 25 days off.

With his mother’s impending divorce, we will have at least her for the holidays. Edie, Mick and the future sons-in-law haven’t nailed down their holiday itinerary, as far as I know, but Rob’s youngest sister is making noises about a visit. CB even threatened to drop by if he could sneak across the border, but I have doubts about that. So Rob’s traveling couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time. Between the days away and the days he will need to catch up on his rest, this week is a wash, and the weekend is given over to the company’s children’s Christmas party and children sleeping over. The next weekend is my birthday, and I had designs on it that will probably need to be sacrificed for the greater good. It’s a good thing I will be 48 and not 8 or this might sit poorly with me.

The Texas thing has a stinky disruptive feel to it. We had thought that travel, and the specter of relocation was off the table, but its shadow is casting a pall again, and at a time when we were settling in and rooting deep too with the house on the cusp of being livable and practically perfect in all ways that matter. Isn’t that always the way of it?

Relocation would be better than Rob traveling or Rob having to be on some insane schedule like those husbands who work up in Fort Mac on or around the tar sands. I have a yoga teacher friend whose husband works three weeks, comes home for a four-day weekend and then heads back to work again. One of Dee’s little soccer mates has a father who is away for as long as a month at a time.  If we were young, the awesome of good money might off-set the sucky of separation for a  few years, but we are not young.

Rob and I worked the heck out of the LDR thing before we married. I daresay we were as good at it as a couple could hope to be, utilizing email, IM, and the phone to maximum advantage, but even with the addition of smartphones and Skype, maintaining an intimate relationships via technological aids is difficult. It’s like having another full-time job (if I had a job that is) and not really as good as being in physical proximity. But what is?

Dee is correct in her appraisal of the situation. It’s better when Daddy is home. Home is missing a vital component when he is not around. In a lot of ways, he is home itself.

Life is good regardless but it’s practically perfect in every way when my husband is here, and selfishly, I prefer the latter.

*And I also need to locate my big baseball bat like stick and find the hatchet that we keep in the bedroom of the holiday trailer for when we are camping in remote areas. Seriously, a nice sturdy axe does wonders for a person’s peace of mind.

Devil's Den State Park

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Skimming back through the spring of 2007, I realized that I never really wrote about Rob proposing to me over Spring Break that year. If I have written about it, I don’t recall or perhaps the references were in passing from one idea to another in a blog entry that was likely totally unrelated to the event.

We spent the March vacation together in Arkansas mostly at Devil’s Den State Park though the week began with us taking Dee to my parents’ home in Dubuque.

Actually, the week began on a Thursday with Rob meeting Dee.

I’d stayed home sick from work. It was just conferences and being one of the drop out prevention teachers, I expected no one in particular to show up. I left a sign up sheet for anyone who did on my desk, asking for name, number or email with the promise to get in touch right after the holiday. I think there were two names – parents I was already in regular contact with anyway.

But I was exhausted and worried about Dad, who had just discovered a tumor in his lower intestinal tract and had yet learned if it was cancer or not (it wasn’t that time) and Rob was due to arrive that afternoon.

And I wasn’t packed.

I am never packed.

The Dubuque leg of the journey went smoothly. My parents and sisters were highly suspicious of this long distance, too quick for their liking romance but were keeping their stronger opinions to themselves. Partly because I had made it clear that I wasn’t polling the audience for input and also because my history with dating was such that they knew I brought no one home to meet the family unless I was sure. Case in point? They’d only ever met one boyfriend – Will.

I was not worried about them meeting Rob and he was completely zen.

St. Patrick’s Day was on a Friday. We drove back to Des Moines in the late morning and spent the afternoon “catching up” before getting ready for a dinner date with BFF and her husband.

The dinner was another meet and greet for Rob. He knew BFF because they emailed too.* Her husband was a high school buddy of Will’s, one of the very few friends who bothered to visit Will when he was ill, at home or in the nursing home. He made an effort to be helpful after and was good to Dee – the only one of Will’s friends who bothered about her at all.

But he liked Rob, in spite of himself I think. I would imagine it difficult to see your friend’s wife in love and happy with someone else, but he rose to the occasion with grace and a smile.

After dinner and a show at the local comedy club, it was home rather early because we still had to grocery shop and pack the truck for our drive on Saturday.

We were crawling into bed when the subject of the future came up and Rob wanted me to know that his intentions were serious and life-long. He rummaged through his suitcase and pulled out a ring box.

As he took out the ring he said, “I can’t say the words yet but I want you to wear this.”

I tried to assure him I didn’t need the ring until he was ready because I knew we would get married, but he insisted.

“It’s stupid that I can’t just say it,” he said, “but I will ask formally. Please wear it.”

So I did.

It was Sunday night when he asked. We were in bed again. So many important moments in my life have found me supine.

“Remember what I said when I gave you the ring?” he asked. “Will you marry me?”

And now its four years later. No time at all really and yet at this point with Will, he was dying and absent from our relationship in every way that really counts.

Not a Hallmark moment. More Judd Apatow rom-com perhaps. But outcomes are what make up bottom lines and the sum total of ours is healthy and in the black.

*She had wanted to check him out a bit, so he began including her in some of the notes he sent me when he had a funny vid or joke to share.

Front cover of the book Love Letters of Great ...

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Rob courted me with the assistance of Yahoo and Google. 600 and some emails later we were married.

In the wee hours of yesterday morning, some douchebag hacked the older of the two accounts, which exists only as a storage box for old correspondence/love letters between Rob and I. It’s derelict otherwise.

The culprit changed the password but forget to change the settings, so it wasn’t difficult to get back in and lock it up. But what to do about the history before junking the account?

The server cleverly prohibits exporting old files en masse. For that service, one must “upgrade”.

“I don’t think so,” Rob said.

And he sat down and within an hour managed to jumpstart the process of moving all my precious mail intact and to another location.

I’ll close that account now. But it deserves this final eulogy for the part it played in something awesome, love.


city in clouds

I “celebrated” the official end of the first year of widowhood, mourning or whatever one chooses to call it with lunch. I took a sick day and met my BFF for lunch at our favorite Mongolian grill.

It was a girly thing. The kind I don’t do anymore as my few girlfriends are scattered all over North America making lunch and window shopping dates a  bit hard to arrange. And being girly, all manner of girly things were discussed once she took my emotional temp for the day.

“How are you doing?” she’s a home health care nurse. Temp taking is second nature to her.

“Surprisingly fine, ” I said, though in retrospect it probably shouldn’t have been. The power of suggestion is strong and stronger when emotions are amped to the stratosphere, as mine were because I was an active member on a message board for widowed folk at the time. People in the first year or so were constantly bombarded with messages that probably led their emotions more than it helped them sort emotions out.

Being a nurse, the talk turned to the sinus infection I suspected I had and she applauded me for making an appointment for after our lunch with my doctor. I had a habit of trying to ride them out because they would supposedly peak and resolve themselves with OTC care – mine never did but I chalk that up to a run down immune system, among other things. I seldom run to the doctor for sinus now that I have discovered a few home remedies that I wish I’d had in my arsenal back then.

We talked kids and her husband, who was not stellar at the time until she turned the table and brought up Rob.

At that point, Rob and I had known each other a bit over a month. We were email pals and IM buddies. It was nice and though I recognized that he and I were quite compatible and scarily alike in more and more ways, I wasn’t inclined to pursue him. Mostly because he’d indicated that he was going to wait out his first year of widowhood before attempting to date and in some part because another widow at the message board where he and I had met stalked him for a while despite his point-blank refusal of her attentions. I liked Rob and didn’t want him to lump me into the same category with her.*

“I had a short note from him this morning,” I said.


“And what? We’re friends.” I said, and not for the first time. BFF suspected he had feelings for me from nearly the get-go.

“I like him and sure, I could go there, but it would have to be his idea. I won’t spoil our friendship by introducing romantic intentions. He’s too sweet and he wants to wait until after August to start dating. I respect that,” I said. “Besides, he lives in Canada and I live here. Logistically difficult at best.”

“He’s going to make a move, ” she said with that sage look of hers.

“I doubt it.”

I was home on the 24th too. Sinus infection. My new lease on work included taking sick days when I felt like crap and I did. I taught too many years with the idea that I had to drag myself in because I owed it to my students and employer, but as a 20 year veteran, I was finally over that. The only reward for dedication in education is nothing. Truly.

Dee was at preschool. She attended an all day Montessori school run by my school district and I was damn lucky to have gotten her a spot. Her teacher saw them for a few hours in the morning and a few in the afternoon. The rest of the time she was in the daycare that she’d been attending since she was seven weeks old. An awesome set-up that made the whole single mom thing far less of a hassle for me than it was for most.

After I’d dropped her off, I hit the Starbucks at the grocery near home. The young man had my drink started even as I walked in. He smiled and inquired after me, and I admitted I was playing a bit of hooky that day. He just laughed as I paid him. I stopped at the Chinese deli in the store for egg drop soup and rice. I lived off that because in spite of the removal of my gall bladder a couple of months earlier, I still couldn’t eat much. In fact, it’s only just recently that my ability to eat has started to return to normal.

Sipping chai and scanning my work email – because even sick there was work I could do and I could never completely shake my keener ways – I noted that my personal email had a new note from Rob.

It was long – even for him. And rambling. Even for him.

And it radiated with “I have something important to say”, so I began skimming until I hit a paragraph many paragraphs in that proved to be the big reveal.

He admitted having feelings for me that were more than friendly and proposed exploring them if I felt the same way.

That was four years ago today and though I write about this every year, it never loses its awesomeness. Nor its wonder. If I were ever to come to a point where I believed the universe had no meaning or that destiny was a fiction – I have only to remember this one day to set me right in my thinking again.

Rob’s modest proposal kicked off a whirlwind of long distance courtship that culminated with our meeting in Idaho Falls a month later and the rest, as they say, is history. One that we are still working on and is destined for the books, in my humble opinion.

*Every new widower who posted on the widow board was subject to her “attention”. It wasn’t the good natured banter that occurs in co-ed groups. It was predatory Gone with the Wind style. She fancied herself a southern belle and I always pictured her a cross between Suzanne Sugarbaker and Dolly Parton. In reality, she sported the biker chick look complete with a mullet on top.

When Rob and I were first corresponding via email, I didn’t know what he looked like or he me. It wasn’t important. We were friends although looking back we both realize that the intent changed sooner than either of us realized until much later.

Rob had taken a long road trip through the U.S. just before he and I “met” courtesy of my rather flip/flirty reply to a post of his on the widow board. At the time I was just being cute. One of the social aspects of the board allowed for kidding that bordered (or completely crossed the line at times) on that kind of adult banter.

On his journey, he had sent periodic updates of his progress to the board and posted pictures of the places he’d stopped along the way. Many of the pictures featured him and he acquired quite the widda fan club. Women emailed/pm’d him with invitations to lunch or for coffee or dinner if he should happen to be “in their neighborhood”.

I hadn’t been paying attention and didn’t read about his travels or see the photos until after we’d started to write/IM.

He never knew what I looked like until after he told me that he had feelings for me.

Today’s tee is one that Rob was wearing in one of the first photos I saw of him that were not from the widow board collection. It was one that MidKid took of the two of them in the kitchen here in our home. She had it posted on her MySpace and Rob directed me to it.

Yes, I saw both MidKid and ElderD’s MySpace pages. Rob shared them with me because he is proud of them and wanted me to know them.

I still love this particular photo. It is one of my favorites Rob looks good in tight tee’s.

The spring after Will died I spent a lot of time playing The Sims. In retrospect it wasn’t as mindless as it probably seemed at the time. In my little virtual reality, I had control over everything. Nothing happened without my consent and I could manipulate circumstances to have everything just the way I wanted it. Therapeutic? Professionals might not think so but as I played I slowly got tired of being in charge of everything and the lack of surprise and spontaneity and was soon just constructing my little worlds and letting the Sims run amuck in it.

There is an interactive version of sorts of the Sims called Second Life on the web now. You can build a doppelganger and hang out in cyber-realities like the crew on the Enterprise would with their holo-deck. Okay, not that “real” but I have been thinking lately about my on-line connections in terms of real or not. It was prompted by a comment that my friend Murphy made on our mommy message board the other day. She mentioned the fact that we had been “talking” with each other for eight years this coming February. Though some of the other members of our group have met in person, I haven’t met a single one. I haven’t even spoken on the phone with anyone other than Christie and that was years ago when Will first got very sick and Katy was just a baby. She twangs. A southern girl who has moved more times than I can count and fearlessly pursues her dreams from the perfect mode of employment to the best locale. I admire that about her because I am not that way at all. But aside from pictures and posts, I don’t know her like I know my best friend, Vicki or my new friend, Char. There is something about face time and body language and seeing someone in their element.

But still, Christie and Murphy and the others are my friends. We went through infertility, IVF (some of us), pregnancy/adoption, nursing, weaning, potty-training. They were there during the early days of Will’s illness when I didn’t know it was physical and was tearing my hair out – virtually – not knowing what to do. Eight years and a lot of life has been shared.

I think about my blogging friends and acquaintances too. Rob and I are acquainted with a law student in New York City who goes by the name of Pulp. He probably isn’t much older than Farron and I wouldn’t know him from a hole in the wall if I were to walk by him on the street. But he counts. I know people all over. There is Rick the rabid Republican who blogs at the Register and stubbornly refuses to except that he is wrong about climate change (he is a flat-worlder in that respect). Barb and Ali are in Australia. I got my initial dating advice from Jim and Martin in Great Britain. Tanja is my larger than life Dutch friend in Arizona. I have friends all over Canada. Sally, Heather and her sister Karen, Cheryl – who came to our wedding. I know a lot of teachers. Murphy is an economics professor in the SF Bay area. Marsha teaches somewhere in Illinois and Andrea is down in Texas. Tanja will likely be in NYC come the next school year. I met a White House correspondent ala West Wing who is now blogging in Iraq somewhere. Janet is in Idaho. Liz and Candy share a place in Arizona and date biker/musicians up in the mountains at their leisure. A recent Facebook friend has a successful pod-cast that she sells on iTunes. And I know more widowed people than I can shake a stick at.

Alicia, a widow acquaintance, and I had a short exchange on yesterday’s blog about our “relationship” and though it is not friends, it is not strangers either. We know more about each other than many people who we likely interact with on a real and regular basis. How is that? It’s a puzzlement, as the King would say. What defines a relationship? When does it stop being acquaintance? And does that mean friendship? I think not because that is a mutual consent thing but I don’t remember asking anyone to be my friend ever. In some cases I just presumed and was not rebuffed when I did so, but in many instances it seems to be unspoken but mutually understood.

So what has prompted this ramble? Moving. Again. I am finally settling in here and at the same time am getting ready to travel to Texas for an extended stay. Though not to put down roots because the idea of fire ants, alligators, humidity, hurricanes and endless expanses of concrete can’t compete with the sky here, which I will miss terribly, or the space and the dry air. And I like the people. It has been easier to fit in here than in any place I have ever been. I am not sure if that is Canada or me however.

I am psyched for Texas. Really, I am. But while I didn’t really feel as though I was leaving home when I sold the place in Des Moines and came north. I can’t say the same thing about returning.

This time last year I had known Rob for about ten days. He introduced himself to me via a PM (private message) on the YWBB (young widows bulletin board) in response to my response to one of his posts. He had posted about his daughter, Jordan, commenting on his teenage like behavior and I had replied, jokingly offering to be his evil twin as we seemed to share many of the same behaviors. His reply message to me was entitled, Hey there Evil Twin. Our hailing each other as twins proved more prescient than either of us could have known at the time. He offered an ear via email despite the fact that he’d recently had a bad experience with another person on the board. Someone who had contacted him, and he misunderstood the true intent behind this woman’s reaching out to him. Despite that he reached out in friendship to me anyway. He had been reading my posts, sensing that we had much in common and also they occasionally made him laugh.

We began writing to each other off the board on December 18th which was just short of a week later. We nearly stopped communicating a few days after that when he told me I reminded him of a character from the Chuck Palahniuk novel, Fight Club, and I googled the character only to discover she was a support group junkie and a nymphomaniac. I was more than taken aback, and he was profusely apologetic, and persistent, and we continued writing. Now Rob tells me that his initial impression of me, based on my posting on the YWBB, was way off, but I have since watched Fight Club and I can see why I reminded him of Marla Singer. He remarked the other day that “last time this year I was on the verge of fucking things up” and I had nearly forgotten all about it. Later that evening I went back and reread the letters from that week and the week of January 1st. I was at a low point then, and I remember how much I looked forward to hearing from him, reading his emails. They weren’t necessarily grief-related, and they certainly weren’t romantic or even leading to that way. They were just the kind of emails you would send to and receive from a new friend. Full of information about daily goings on and sharing interests and interesting things. They are long letters. I have plans to print them out someday and bind them for posterity – whoever that might end up being.

A year ago tonight, Rob was in Vancouver with the girls and Katy and I were just getting back home from Christmas Eve dinner with friends who are like family. Tonight, I cooked a Chinese feast and we were all together. I don’t think I could have imagined this back then. Even though I knew I would someday meet someone and know love and marriage again, and even though I thought I would be lucky to find someone just like my new friend, Rob, I don’t think I was quite ready to imagine it was Rob. Or he me. But we were closer than we knew.

Merry Christmas to all my friends out there.