So on a Monday evening, Mr Faraway calls me to let me know that he is on the ferry, and an hour later, we meet in front of a Southwestern restaurant in my suburb’s small downtown. I decide immediately that it’s too crowded and noisy, and he doesn’t mind the sudden change in plans. We go around the corner to a neighborhood staple, where we sit in a booth and talk.
We talk for hours, about genealogy and travel and our kids and what we studied in college.
We talk until the restaurant officially closes, but they let us stay at the table as long as we want, so we stay on, talking.
Finally we move on, and he suggests we walk around the town a bit. It’s changed a lot since I was last here, he says.
We walk together, and he puts an arm around me as we do, then takes it away quickly. We look in windows, and as we check out the offerings of an art gallery, I feel that same urge as before – to just step slightly to the side, and his arm will be around me.
But I’m afraid he will move it away again, so I don’t.
Finally, he walks me to my car, where I receive a warm goodnight hug instead of the kiss I am expecting.
I drive home, but as I leave, I can see him in the car mirror, standing there, watching me depart, not moving on until I am completely gone from view.
I’m confused, again; again I play the evening over in my mind, trying to see if it went wrong somewhere.
But as I drive home, it dawns on me: he has driven nearly four hours – and will drive another four hours back – just to sit and talk with me about nothing in particular.
I wake up the next day, and see Mr. Faraway’s lengthy messages in my inbox, and get mad. I’m sorry, he says, in a dozen different ways.
Go away, I think. You don’t have time for me and I don’t have time for this.
I’m sorry doesn’t mean anything, I tell him. I’m sorry doesn’t do anything to make something right.
I don’t know what to do, he says, and then launches into another lengthy explanation of everything swirling around him.
And that’s the point, I tell him. You’re just too busy.
He goes on and on, but I can’t listen to it, and anyway, I have to take The Child to school.
When I get back, he calls: He’s trying to sort it all out. Please, I am very new to this. Please be patient, I was in high school last time I did this.
I’m tired of waiting for everyone else, I rage. I waited for eight years while everything else came first, and in the end, I got nothing. I know that’s my issue, I tell him, but I can’t pretend it doesn’t matter.
No, he says, it’s not just your issue, it’s our issue.
I listen, silently, for him to say something that will help.
I will figure this out, he says.
That evening, he calls me again: I thought about it today, and I think you need to hear this: You were right, and I am very sorry.
A few days later, he asks if I am free – on a Monday evening.
Yes, I can make it. Do you have a meeting in town?
No, he says. I moved a few things around so that I could come to see you.
Later that day, Mr. Faraway sends another email, apologizing for some mis-directed message he sent me that was intended for his almost-ex-wife. I had gotten the message and replied, Huh? Then realized his error, and didn’t give it another thought.
He did, though. He sends me a message from his phone, saying he had a weird phone issue and would explain later.
I’m still thinking about his schedule, and feeling mad, and wondering if I have the right to feel that way, and feeling hurt, and wondering what to do about it. I spend every evening chatting with him on-line – I fit in there, when he’s sitting on the couch, sort-of watching tv with his kids. But in the real world, I don’t fit in.
I dwell on this a bit, and realize how much I don’t like it. Time is the most precious of commodities; it is one of the few things we simply can’t get more of. I think about all of the things I did with that time before he started filling it – writing and knitting and reading and cooking. I like talking with him, but if that’s all it is – talking when there’s nothing else to do – well, in that case I need a lot less of it.
A lot less.
I don’t reply to this message, and an hour later, receive a lengthy email, explaining the misdirected message. I don’t care. I don’t care about his almost-ex or his phone problems or any of the rest of it. I care about my feelings, which become more and more bruised with each effort by him to get my attention.
I decide my feelings matter, and compose a careful email explaining my point of view to him. I appreciate that you do all these things, I say: It is wonderful that you are so committed to family and community. But there is not a lot of room for me in all that, or anyone else either. I have some thinking to do about that, and what it means for me.
He replies that evening: this is a big issue in my life, one I’m trying to deal with. I’m sorry to drag you into it, I truly did not mean to cause any hurt. He tells me I am smart and attractive and witty and how much he hopes that, no matter what, he will have me as a friend for life.
It stings much more than I imagined it could.
He tries to talk to me later, on Facebook, explaining himself over and over. So many things to attend to, so many demands on his time. It all seems very complicated to him, and I am sure that it is, given his mid-divorce status and all the adjustments he suddenly needs to make.
To me, though, it is very simple: he doesn’t have time. The reasons don’t really matter, in the end. He fills my message window with lengthy explanations, but after a while I stop reading them and go to sleep.
We spend our evenings chatting on Facebook, but three weeks have passed since our dinner, and Mr. Faraway and I still have no plans to get together. I hint a bit here and there, but though it’s clear he takes my meaning, he does not take it any further than that. We make plans to see a movie that is coming out in a few months, but that is a long way off and tentative at best.
Be patient, I tell myself. This is very new to him, and there’s a lot of distance – a lot of miles – between us both.
My father nods his approval of Mr. Faraway: He was sent to teach you patience, he tells me.
I know that is what I should do, and that I should be enjoying our chats and savoring our stolen glances, but suddenly I don’t anymore. I feel like a substitute for the real thing: I fill in the time when he’d otherwise be alone, and keep him company through a keyboard. I think I am being unfair, like I have to overlook all his good points to feel that way, but it still nags and gnaws at me.
One morning, not long after that second event, I receive a barrage of emails from him. They are coming from his phone, but short and clipped, often incomplete – a puzzle of text messages to assemble. He’s trying to find a date to get together again, but that isn’t what the messages say.
What they say is: On these dates, I have board meetings and a scholarship auction. On those dates, those are my kid weekend. When is your vacation? Oh, then that won’t work.
He goes through the whole month, one message at a time, telling me all the things he is busy with – a list of prior commitments. Every bit of his time is booked, all of it for his children, his job, his community, his church.
It’s a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle, with all the pieces in place: finished.
Except there is one piece, and it’s sitting on the side, wondering if he can find a way to work it in, or whether it will be put back to the box or maybe even the trash. An extra piece, the one there was no place to put.
I stop answering his messages, and focus my attention back at work.
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