When I was a teenager, my older brother and I shared a strong bond. I'm sure at least partly based on the difficulties of growing up together, but also because we genuinely enjoyed one another's company. We shared much over the years-joys and tragedies and everything in between. I was 18 when he tragically died, and the grief was overwhelming-something I've written about here before. Ammon and I were newly married when Jeremy died, so it was easy to transfer my intense need for male trust and love to my husband when I lost my beloved older brother.
I mourned Jeremy for a long time-still do, in many ways. Ammon and I built a good life together, and chose to name our oldest son after the brother that had been stolen from me.
Then, another man was stolen from my life.
When Ammon died, everything fell apart for our family. For the first time in my adult life, I was without a strong male influence. My father was living halfway across the country from me, my older brother had been gone for almost 10 years, and now my spouse was out of my life as well.
The recovery I made from that loss has been well documented here, and although there are still wounds from the losses I experienced earlier in life, nothing is as bleak as it once seemed. The kids and I not only learned to survive without a man in our lives, but we thrived. We learned to rely on the people around us when necessary, but also how to fend for ourselves and build a life centered around each other. When Kevin met us, we had finally figured out how to become a family again. Not just a functioning (but broken) puzzle, but actually a family-vibrant, happy, and full of life.
The fact remains, though, that I am a girl with abandonment issues-and it has never been more apparent than every time Kevin packs his single small suitcase to board yet another airplane bound for yet another conference or meeting.
When Kevin and I were dating, we discussed his travel schedule. As an astronomer, he travels a great deal more than most people. In fact, the frequent and extensive travel is one of the perks that drew Kevin to the field in the first place. For years he had enjoyed the luxury of being unattached and free to travel as often and for as long as he or his employer wished. He has an enviable ability to function away from home, and freely admits that although he misses people-he never gets homesick.
The first time Kevin traveled after we met was to Germany-he spent 10 days there, but it was during our intrepid 3 week trip out west so his trip was barely a blip on the separation radar. The second time he traveled was about a month after we got married, and he spent 6 days in Pasadena at a conference. I cried when he left and nearly every day that he was gone-a fact that I hid well from him until about the 4th or 5th day when I ended up sobbing uncontrollably with him on the phone. By the time he returned from that trip, several more trips had been scheduled-roughly one week out of every month for the next several months.
I wish I could say that having Kevin travel has gotten to be old hat for me. I wish I could say that I handle it better these days than I did a few months ago...and maybe I do. Or maybe I don't. I know that the kids handle it better-as I mentioned briefly before, Kadon struggled a great deal with Kevin's first trip, but once he was assured (and shown) that Daddy Always Comes Home, he has handled subsequent separations much more calmly. I wish I could say the same for myself.
Oh, I cope with his trips the best I can. I cope with the long silences- the days that are punctuated by one 90 second phone call in the morning, and a 3 minute one in the evening. I tried requesting more phone time before the last trip, hoping it would help assuage my struggle, but it really didn't-it simply placed additional (and unnecessary) pressure on Kevin and made my disappointment when he wasn't able to carry through more acute. Even as I write this, Kevin is stuck in meetings in Pasadena and I have a slim hope for a short conversation late tonight before he rushes off to his next obligation.
I know I'm painting an unfair picture-I have no doubt that since Kevin and I got married, some of the lustre of traveling has been removed for him. I know that he is happiest ensconced in our home with our family, and the days he is required to be away are taxing on him as well. I know that the days when he IS away and isn't able to have long telephone conversations aren't a result of choice, they're a function of his busy schedule. I know he isn't lounging by the pool-he's stuck in long meetings discussing important matters and meeting with important people. I know that he has to eat, and that a great deal of his job (especially at this point as he tries to make a name for himself) is the ability to network and get to know the more established scientists. Often this involves long, late dinners from which he cannot escape to call home before I go to bed. I know that meetings and conferences are mentally draining for him, and physically exhausting. I know that in his position there is an enormous-HUGE-amount of pressure placed on him, with generally very little recognition. I know that he is hyper-sensitive that within a few short months he will be back on the job market, and everything he does or says at these meetings could either help or hinder his search for his next job. I know that because most of the traveling he has done to date has been to the west coast, the time change is part of the problem-by the time he is through for the evening, it may be only 10 o'clock there, but for me it is 1 am...and I am usually sound asleep. Prudence will often keep him from calling me at that hour, and I recognize it as a kindness.
I could go on and on and on about the logic of his trips, and why communication is necessarily suspended for the length of them. I deeply understand the restraints he is under, and I hate that I add to his burden. I hate that almost always, at least once while he is gone I will end up in tears on the telephone-with Kevin miles away and helpless to do anything. I know every time it happens it breaks his heart, and I hate myself for it. I hate that I cannot control this-this separation anxiety, abandonment issues, or loneliness-whatever name I choose to give it. He tries so hard-and I know that many wives aren't even as lucky as I am-no matter how busy he is, he always calls at least once. Even if it's incredibly short, I know I will hear his voice every day and that he will tell me he loves me. On a grander scale-I know he isn't dead. I know that in a few days, I will see him come through our door again, a luxury that my widowed friends don't get to enjoy.
I have to figure out how to conquer this. I don't know how-the response feels so ingrained and guttural and I'm not optimistic about ridding myself of it, but I owe it to him to try. And if I can't completely obliterate it, I owe it to him to at least be a better actor. He works so hard-and would do anything for our family and the impossible for me. I've ever met a more devoted man, and I am the lucky recipient. I have to stop adding to his burden.