Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Consequences of Missing a Call

Last night I lifted a pan from the sink and lo and behold, a moth crawled out from under it. For the first time, terror did not jolt uncomfortably through my body. I watched the struggling creature with pity and then turned the water on and washed it down the sink.

I cannot say that we are co existing comfortably, the moths and I, but we seem to be finding some kind of compromise. They continue to come into the house to be trapped and to die without completing their cycle of mothy life, sadly. I step over them, around them, or sweep them out of the house with a broom, or go to bed armed with a dish towel in case they bumble by in the dark.

Tuesdays I look forward to, Tuesday has become the day when I let myself give into my food cravings, lest they overtake me completely and I eat them all the time. It's my outlet day. Usually I have a bag of chips.

Last night I was dreaming about Chinese food. I knew of a good restaurant down the street, but it was too far from home; I wasn't feeling that adventurous. I decided I would just stop in at the first one I saw.

That turned out to be a generic Chinese buffet. I was nervous, for some reason, more than usually nervous. And when I opened the door to be greeted by a huge, bustling room my nervousness exploded.

The hostess smiled a hundred watt smile at me.

"Do you have take out?" I managed to whisper.

They did, sort of. I could pay seven fifty for a take out box and fill it from the buffet with whatever I wanted. This was not what I wanted. I wanted the white paper cartons with the red dragons printed on the sides, with grease slicks and chopsticks, perfect for curling up on the couch and mindlessly eating while movie watching.

But my innate need to be a good girl kicked me in the ass; I was unable to say no thank you and leave. So, armed with my Styrofoam box I approached the steaming islands of Chinese cuisine. Around them swirled people, some of them soldiers from on post. This spiked my anxiety to newer, excruciating levels.

I had been particularly craving crab Rangoons and so piled four of them in my box, then scooped various other stuff in, whatever looked good. I knew that it would all run together and possibly tip out and spill in the car, but at that point I didn't care, I just wanted to escape as quickly as possible.

Back home, the food had indeed run together and it was very bad Chinese at that. I felt cheated out of my weekly calorie free for all. Worst of all, the crab Rangoons were dry and almost tasteless and I had forgotten a little container of sauce to dip them in.

However, my choice of a movie was almost made up for it; I had come across "Moonstruck" and knew immediately that it was the movie I had been dying to watch, perhaps for weeks now.

When it was over I wandered back up into the kitchen for something to drink and heard that most horrible of sounds, the chiming that indicates I have a new voicemail. My phone will sometimes take voicemail when the poor reception will not actually allow the call itself. This happens frequently downstairs where I watch movies.

I had missed two calls from Keith; he had left two voice mails. He didn't have time to call again, he was calling right before a mission. I felt sick to my stomach; my entire day was ruined. I left my phone upstairs on the table by the front door where I could hear it if it rang while I watched the second movie, but it was too late. He didn't call again.

The second movie I knew was an emotionally risky one, but it looked really good. I had chosen "Chrystal" with Billy Bob Thornton. It's set in the deep South, in the Ozark mountains. It was an excellent movie and I emerged from watching it feeling as though I were waking from a dream, and with a profound sense of isolation.

I sat outside on the deck, hoping the fresh air would wash the feeling away, but thunderclouds were massing low over the mountains and the air was thick and dim. I heard the traffic rushing by, several blocks away; it was almost five o'clock.

Usually I feel this kind of unfocused sense of loss and isolation during the third week of the month and it is closely tied to my month cycle. It's far to early for that, it must have been missing those calls.

I never did recover the day, though I turned on the TV to be distracted, to be pulled back into the daily pulse of life around me. I was informed of a lot of stuff that I can't do anything about and that I really would rather not know and then the sun finally came out of the clouds, so I turned the thing off.

Last night a fragment of a memory came back to me, piercingly sharp in it's impact. It was simply of the windshield wipers going back and forth, back and forth across the water slick glass and the sound they made and the sound of the rain on the truck roof as we sat at an intersection in Southern Indiana. The foliage seemed to encroach the road, to engulf the truck.

The rest of the memory is more hazy, but I remember Keith sat beside me literally shaking with rage. I remember how carefully I craned my head to see around the bushes growing at the corners of the road, checking for oncoming traffic through the blurred windshield and the lights changing up head. I remember pressing down on the gas and feeling the rush of power as the truck went forward, aggressive and smooth.

I keep returning to this memory, not because it is significant, but because it is still raw and carries with it the imprint of a man whose memories have become hazy in my mind. All the other memories have become lacqored from over use.

Though when I go back to this memory and follow it forward in time then I can clearly see the narrow winding back country roads and the house where we were staying. I can remember opening the truck door and smelling the rain and the smell of damp and rotting wood, how the loose stones in the driveway turned my ankles in my high heeled sandals and the beads of water on the black, highly glossed sides of the truck.

I can see Keith standing by the soaked firepit, talking on his cell phone, how his shirt pulled across his wide shoulder blades, the back of his neck, closely shaved and vulnerable looking and the black cap pulled low over his face. I can hear his voice even, in this memory, I just can't remember the words. I can simply hear the emotion.

I remember my own surge of feeling, of love and resignation both; knowing I could not make it better, that I had to wait for Keith to work through it and then back to me.

The next day was our last in Indiana; we woke on strangely patterned sheets that were not our own, in a strange bedroom with the fan whirling lazily overhead and the sunlight already outlining the window shades.

That night he drove me through the early morning hours into Kentucky for my flight back. There was construction all along the sides of the roads, endless rows and rows of orange cones glowing eerily in the night; I can hear Keith cursing under his voice as he manuvered between them, along the narrow, shifting route they outlined.

"I don't have to go," I told him, standing on the curb, my arms around his shoulders. With the help of the curb, I was almost face to face with him.

But I went, spent a week back East on my parent's front porch. There were paperback novels and a bag of chips on the bed upstairs where I would sleep, on the patchwork quilt that was heavy and cool to the touch.

In the long evenings I went swimming, my arms pulled me way out into the center of the lake. Wading out of the shallows, I felt my body settle back down onto my bones, the weight sinking my heels deep into the sand. The water in my ears blocked the sounds around me, I heard faintly my brother's laughter, the sound of my own pulse filled my head.

When I arrived back in the city, the heat was almost unbearable. The sun glared from countless cars and trucks in the long term parking lot at the airport, the pavement sent the heat back up into the heels of my shoes, my little bag rolling noisily behind me. I sat in my own car and turned the ignition with a profound sense of relief.

Traffic was slow on the way down to our house, long lines of vehicles were crawling along the wide interstate under the heat of the late afternoon. I missed Keith's call, my phone buried in my purse on the passenger seat, the radio volumn as high as it would go; I was listening to all those songs I couldn't hear any more now that I didn't live in the city.

When I got to our house, he was already gone on some erronds, he hadn't waited for me. I sat on the front step and cried with the disappointment of it. The geranium was half dead from lack of watering while we had been away, inside the air conditioner had turned the air crisp and somehow impersonal, like the air of the lobby of a bank.

Sitting on our bed, I called him.
"You didn't wait for me."

"I waited two hours! I have to get this stuff done."

"I was stuck in traffic."

"I tried calling you; I knew you were blaring that stupid music."

"You could have waited for me. You were just angry that I missed your call and decided to punish me by leaving early."

"I did not," he said, unexpectedly laughing. "Hun. I'll be back soon."

"You ruined it!" I admitted. The corners of my mouth kept wanting to twitch upward into a smile. "You ruined our reunion; I wanted to run into your arms and instead I came home to an empty house and now I'm all angry at you."

When the truck pulled into the driveway I waited upstairs, putting my book down. Nervous then, I waited until he opened the front door and heard him call for me. We met at the top of the stairs. He took the stairs two at a time, he was huge, he was like a lumberjack and he had grown a red bronze beard that made him look like a ruffian, like a pirate.

All in a moment I drew back. His eyes flickered uncertainly, he stopped, he was poised at the top of the stairs. His eyes lost their light and dropped inward, and then I knew him. I knew him for the clarity of his eyes, a clean and rain washed blue, the upright and moral character they reflected so clearly.

I leaned forward and his eyes caught fire again, it was as though the moment had never happened. He swooped down and grabbed me up in his arms; he tossed me, laughing, onto the bed while he kicked off his boots.

Later I traced his beard with my finger. My cheeks were chapped from it, but I still couldn't get over how attractive the beard was on him, how it highlighted his rapscallion nature.

"Don't shave it," I requested, shy.

But the next morning I heard the burr of the electric shaver and he emerged, apologetic and clean shaven, returned completely to the man I had first fallen in love with. I forgot all about the pirate. It was mid July and nothing then stood between us and his deployment; we had one and a half months left.


jlc said...

u and i are def different there. i hate sam's beardo!!! the man does not comprehend that asians can't grow facial hair.

and as for the chinese food?? ouuuu now you're making me crave it!! i havent had any since pf chang's!! and that's what my hubby calls "american chinese food" haha!

Rebecca said...

I love Shawn's facial hair! Too bad he's in the Navy and has to shave everyday.

Now I really want Chinese. After reading JLC's comment I really want to go to PF Chang's.

T said...

I hated missing phone calls from Baghdad. The voice mails left didn't make things any better either.

I love these moments you share. Thank you for your beautiful words.

Crazy Shenanigans said...

I hate when I miss calls. It always upsets me because I think how disappointed he might be from calling and not getting an answer! Sorry you missed them!

lala said...

on the chinese food thing...

i totally understand your "need to be a good girl." something about setting something in motion, you've already asked about the price, she's given you the answer, she's ready for you to take that next step...

when i'm in a group of people, my confidence is so much higher. if i had been with friends at that restaurant, i would have said, no, this place sucks, let's leave. and i would have left.

but if i had been alone, like you were, i would have done the same thing. i would have obediently paid the $7.50 and loaded up my styrofoam box and driven home.

and that's what scares me about deployment.