It’s an image that continues to appear unbidden in my mind’s eye. We’re driving to the airport. Somehow I’m looking in through the windshield at Sarah and myself, light flickering over our faces. Muscles stand rigidly along my jaw line. Everything is muted, soundless. Then inside the terminal. Me with my bags, Sarah with her purse. Our eyes dart left and right, up and down. And then I’m on the other side of security dazedly waving at Sarah standing still, watching me. Maybe we share some secret, meaningful gesture. Then. We drift apart with wet eyes greeting the first seconds of 30 days apart.
In all of the travel blogs I read and with all of the travel bloggers I interact, I have yet to find someone attempting the same plan that I am: leaving a spouse or significant other for a month at a time to travel and repeating this three to four times per year. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it is unquestionably the most worrisome aspect of the Traveling Savage mission for me (and believe me, there’s plenty to worry about) and the one our families are most concerned about as well. How will our marriage hold up? Won’t you miss each other? And on and on.
That I would even consider undertaking such a quest must convey to you the importance both of us put on it. This is no secret difficulty waiting to spring upon me that I will curse after the trip wondering how I didn’t anticipate it. No, this is a nauseatingly obvious obstacle, a heart-straining hardship staring me down from 15 million seconds away.
How will I survive on the road without Sarah? Survival, in this sense, is a metaphor for our hearts, our relationship. Mentally, this type of trip requires a kind of identity management. I can’t go to Argentina for a month and live the same way I did back home. Not only is it not possible, it would be damaging to the project’s goals. On the road I need to make sure I’m at my most outgoing, confident, observant, and friendly. These “muscles” need to be in tip-top shape. I’m a planner by nature, and while I’m trying to embrace spontaneity this is not an issue I can leave to chance.
No, I’m getting tactical on this.
The Time Period
The amount of time I plan to be gone is the most important factor. If this were a weekend or even week-long trip, I wouldn’t be writing this post. One month is a different story. The month I spend in a destination will be a kind of cultural investigation that requires time for me to find opportunities, stories, and people. Some of the time is needed to simply internalize my surroundings. At opposite ends of the fulcrum I have “place time” and “face time” (with Sarah). If either one gets out of whack, the plan fails. I’m happy to start with a month and reassess after a trip or two. Anything more than six weeks feels like dangerous territory for our relationship. Anything less than three weeks feels like it won’t be effective for the venture.
Our communication options are truly ridiculous. Not long ago I remember buying international calling cards and hitting up phone booths for scant three-minute conversations. Now I can video chat in my hand with the recent announcement of iPhone4’s FaceTime feature. We are seriously considering the jump. The iPhone4 can even be tethered to my laptop for an internet connection wherever I go. Expensive? Yes. Google Chat, Skype, FaceTime – we have a plethora of options to keep us in contact when needed. The trick with all of this technology is to not overuse it or spend the collective time of days searching for wifi hotspots and internet cafes.
I’m not talking about carrying around a saint’s old tooth or dessicated eyelid. If you’re familiar with Zane Lamprey’s stuffed monkey, Pleepleus, you’re familiar with my idea for a talisman. A talisman is a physical object into which you impart meaning. The physical nature of a talisman may seem outmoded in the age of instantaneous communication, but there’s a kind of power in the physical reminder of someone. A talisman could be a stuffed animal, a picture, a necklace, or any thing that represents another thing. It’s on Sarah’s to do list to give me a talisman for my travels.
There’s not much to be said for this most important element. You simply need to trust in each other. All the common worries flicker through our minds: what if she meets someone else? What if HE meets someone else? Etc. Etc. Only your shared past has the power to banish these unwanted ruminations. Truthfully, if we didn’t believe in our shared trust, this plan wouldn’t have hatched.
Have you struck out on your own and left someone important behind? How did you get through it? Was it worth it? How was the return home?
Original photo by Eric Vondy via Flickr under Creative Commons