He sat at the counter with our daughter, telling tales from his trip to China, as I scurried around the kitchen. He described the fish skin dumpling soup he ate for breakfast in Shenzhen and the Jetsons-esque skyscrapers he saw in Shanghai; she chattered about cross country and honors math. I tried to focus on their conversation, to relax and enjoy having him home, but the perfect meal I wanted to serve wasn’t turning out as planned. The mashed potatoes were lumpy. The gravy was too thick. The beef brisket wasn’t big enough. It was my husband’s first dinner with us in 10 days, and I had ruined everything.
A few minutes later, we were seated at the table, and I watched the two of them devour the food on their plates. I apologized for the lumpy potatoes and inadequate brisket (there was actually plenty since our teenage son wasn’t home), and they dismissed my culinary self-consciousness and served themselves second helpings. The food was obviously at least edible, so why was I being so hard on myself?
It wasn’t about the dinner. It was about my husband leaving again in two days. He would barely have a chance to recover from his jet lag only to board another flight, and we would be saying good-bye all over again. I hate good-byes. I hate being left behind. I know these things about myself, but I can’t seem to control my fight-and-flight emotional response when people I love go away. My modus operandi is to pick a fight before the person leaves and then withdraw emotionally. It hurts a lot less when someone says good-bye if you were mad at him or her anyway. This time the fight was different, though, because I was having it with myself. Before I knew it, my husband would be walking out the door again. I wanted to appreciate our time together. I didn’t want to screw it up.
The next evening, I was alone in the kitchen as I made dinner. I poured a glass of wine and turned on some music. I thought about the fact that I had made it through 10 days without him. The next trip was only two days, the one after that seven. And in 11 days, it would all be over. I could manage. I would survive.
Dinner was perfect that night, or at least as perfect as salad and chicken parmesan with store-bought marinara can be. My husband and I took our dog for a walk afterward, holding hands and laughing as our crazy little Yorkie ran from one side of the street to the other. When we picked up our son from marching band practice, we cranked up Led Zeppelin and sang along in the high school parking lot.
Later, as I watched him pack his suitcase yet again, I realized that instead of worrying about the good-bye, I should relish the hello. And that night I did.