I have driven across landscapes looking for him. In the middle of the night, across two states, that boy was waiting in the early morning to open the door for me, to pull back the sheets and lay beside me. These through-the-night drives happened over a handful of years a long time ago. I often wondered what compelled me to get in my car at midnight, what propelled me to his eventual doorstep, what kept me awake through the dark hours before the sun would rise over a Southern forest, vast and lush.
Was it lust? Was it love? Was it escape? The only kind I knew. Mostly, looking back, I think it was longing. For him, maybe, and for other things I didn’t or couldn’t yet know.
These cross state drives turned into cross country flights. Last minute, desperate in our yearning, one of us would board a plane to find the other in an apartment somewhere in Dallas, on the wet side of the Cascades, in a Boston brownstone. This, too, went on for years.
And then it didn’t anymore.
The weaning was gradual and, in the end, not as dramatic as I would have guessed or, at one time, would have liked. We each filled a void in the other, or at least we tried to. When that gaping hole in each of us began to fill with other things, things like healing, maturity, life experience, we were done.
And when it was over there was really nothing left to hold onto. When I think of him I remember moments warm and 20s tender but I do not long for him anymore.
A few weeks ago I was driving west across Montana. As I looked out the window that old sense of longing rose in my throat. This time it wasn’t for long lost lover but it was longing just the same. James Galvin writes about “aspens chattering like nervous girls” and I thought of it as yellow leaves trembled in the wind as I drove past long stretches of trees along the river. At the crest of the divide and at every bend in the road, Montana took me in, tucked me in its wing and said look. Feel. I settled in behind the steering wheel, a place that is so familiar and comforting, and let stretch before me the time to figure out where this feeling was coming from.
I missed the smell of Eliza’s hair, the feel of Lucille’s hand on my face first thing in the morning. The curl of her little body wedged into me as she tries to get warm in the cold dark. I missed Seth’s carpenter hands around my waist as he pulls me close.
These are things I long for now. And deeply that day.
I had been away. Back East for a 10 days without any of them. My grandfather had died with little warning. I had to go, I told them. Seth understood for the reasons adults do: money, time, logistics. But Eliza and Lucille know nothing of those things and all they understood was that I was leaving without them.
“I have to go be with my family,” I told Eliza as a way to try and explain why I was going on my own.
“But we are your family,” she said looking at me with unwavering eyes.
“It’s true, baby, you are,” I said and pulled her close.
Even so, I went without them and wished they had come every minute I was away. A few days after I got home I had to drive across Montana for a meeting for work. It felt deeply wrong to be driving away from them again and on the way home I touched a place I thought was filled in me. No matter how fast I drove I couldn’t get to them fast enough. No matter how I tried to rationalize the past few weeks, the desperation was rising in me and I could feel it in my fingertips.
I drove straight to their school in the middle of the day.
“What are you doing here?” Eliza said when she spotted me.
“I just needed to see you,” I said as I put my cheek to the top of her head. Somehow those words sounds vaguely familiar, like I had spoken them twenty years ago.
“Well here I am!” she said as she flitted off to the playground.
In that moment I put it all together. Life can leave us with empty places and we try to fill them with whatever is closest to us. That boy was the closest thing to me for along time. Now I have two little girls and their dad who gets in my ways no one else ever has. Instead of driving across a few states, I drive across town to a playground tucked in the trees. I pull them close and wait for healing and understanding to fill this latest empty space knowing that my family will fill it in the meantime.