Sweat dripped onto my glasses as my wrenched right arm stretched up the bottom of one sofa section, holding a nut in place while my left arm extended to twist an ingeniously minimalist tool. Pains reached every muscle when I earlier passed the one-man torture test otherwise known as dresser assembly. Still, backaches from the 20 hours I spent putting seven pieces of IKEA furniture together over Labor Day weekend were easy in comparison to what followed.
When I left New York's Long Island City to drive home to Illinois, I left someone very important behind: My wife, Cathy. Granted, I've known this day was coming since early June. That's when she received an offer to take on her dream challenge; a chance to test all of the skills she has developed and honed since skating into her teenage years. I knew she needed to take it, and encouraged her to do so. I'm proud of her, happy for her and know that making this move is what is best for her.
Besides, now that I'm pursuing what I love as a struggling writer (the writing is the enjoyable part), I couldn't logically argue that she shouldn't pursue her dream. It doesn't make it easier. Cathy has actually been based in New York for two months already, but the permanence of setting up her new apartment struck a bit harder than I had hoped during the drive home.
I've had time to come to grips with our separation. Logically, I know I have nothing to complain about. Military spouses go months and even years without seeing each other. We were separated for nine months at the start of our relationship while I was in Washington, D.C. and she was finishing up at the University of Illinois. The longest we are likely to go without seeing each other is three weeks, maybe four when she gets into her crunch season at work. We're even likely to meet in places with more options for entertainment than Zanesville, Ohio, the host city of many of our early relationship dates.
Time has made it easier to alter my life plans and my mindset. It's tough to not have her around, but knowing I'm not missing her at night gives me more freedom to connect with others and engage in activities she would just as soon skip. When we met in Washington, D.C., during July, I drove so I could hike in Western Maryland (Rocky Gap State Park) and in West Virginia (Spruce Knob and Seneca Rocks). On the way back from New York this time, I stopped to hike up ski trails at Camelback Mountain in Pennsylvania and spent a few hours at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland. It's easier to accept the separation if I use some of the time apart in a way I find nourishing.
Why don't I just move out to be with her full-time in Long Island City? The easy answer is that Cathy works long, hard hours and enjoys that pace. At least until I build up a new network, I would be lonely if Long Island City was my home base. I do have friends in the area and plan to re-connect during extended trips over the coming months and years. But most of my days would start in 587 square feet that offer more difficult access to the dozens of forests, parks and lakes I frequent for sunlight, exercise, writing and simple enjoyment of peace and nature.
I also try to avoid situations that could spiral the wrong direction. Having dealt with severe depression as a teenager, I've since learned important behaviors I can control to preserve my mental health. Maintaining connections with people I enjoy is important. Our daughter, the youngest of two, is a six-hour drive away at Mizzou, but I can see her more frequently from here than I would if I were based in New York. Our son is home. I enjoy our time together, particularly after having worked too many hours through his and our daughter's childhoods. I also relish being part of a large family concentrated around Chicago, connections that would be far tougher to maintain from long distance.
So I'm focusing my energy on making this move work for both of us. We've had great visits since Cathy moved, spending more real time connecting than we had in a long time. Perhaps, after 26 years of marriage, this physical separation can bring us closer. Unquestionably, we are off on a new adventure.
We will build our altered life together one step at a time. Without pre-packaged tools and instructions, I don't know exactly how it is supposed to turn out. I'm sure I'll put a drawer liner in upside down or dent a surface from time to time, but I'm determined to make our life strong, stable and, hopefully, more than just a bit beautiful.