A friend who left Japan last winter said the turmoil of the moving process made her relieved to be on the plane, a moment she’d mourned before the actual packing began. Hopping around piles of our stacks of “organized” stuff on Sunday, I finally understood what she meant. I hate moving! I thought as I faced each closet, each drawer, each suitcase still to be packed.
Meanwhile, Tom, who’d recently returned from the carrier, chipperly worked his way through the house. Packing was better than being on the ship, better than being deployed in Afghanistan. Dare I admit that I’m jealous of his new perspective? A perspective that I wrestle with each time our lives have re-merged, as anything that feels overwhelming or even slightly stressful to me is not worth caring about for him.
Well, somebody has to care about what kind of couch (car, detergent, salad dressing, etc) we buy (sell, clean, or eat)!!! I’ve snapped more times than I want to remember. The words sounding lame to me even as I said them. How much do these decisions really matter? Enough to ruin what little time we’ve had together with a tit-for-tat fight?
Marriage is not about keeping score, I know, but whenever we begin living together again I can’t resist tallying, all the while knowing that I too am far from easy to live with.
Can’t you let me finish a single sentence? Tom snapped in the car the other day when I interrupted him again.
I’m just listening interactively! I retorted, instead of apologizing, then pressed, It’s better than not responding at all, like YOU!
As days passed, we remembered again the quirks that came out less in emails and over phone calls. Tom steered clear of our bedroom, sensing a brewing storm as I went through the drawers of my vanity, throwing out make-up I hadn’t touched in two years and bagging up things I would probably not use for the next three in Newport. Over the years he’s learned to give a stewing Bre much-appreciated space.
Amidst this joyless process, a former student emailed to say he’d found kids training hashi (chopsticks), which I’d asked about off-handedly at our sayonara dinner (followed by my sadly belated first-last karaoke experience) and asked when we could meet up. Last minute souvenir: awesome. One last goodbye: great. Random meet-up mid-day while packing: not high on my list.
But of course when I saw him — always smiley, ever thoughtful — the gloom of packing that had been hovering over me, no matter how many lies I told myself about why moving is actually helpful (forced spring cleaning, organizing, purging) and even fun (Tom is actually home and we’re working on a project together!) instantly dissipated. The meet-up was quick, a chat cut short by the building wind and sporadic rain of the forecasted typhoon.
After saying goodbye, I drove to the market at the Navy housing area nearby for the next set of to-dos, feeling recharged and motivated. I threw out some trash. Bought granola bars for the movers. Smiled as I left the parking lot and drove toward the gym, the next box to check off today’s list. It was then I realized the ring finger on my left hand was bare.
Just that morning, over breakfast Tom and I had played with a love languages survey I’d found amid our pre-move mess. I hoped it would be a fun way for us to reconnect. And it worked. We realized our shared preference for words of affirmation and quality time over gifts. I’d looked at my wedding ring and joked that I didn’t like receiving nice things because I didn’t trust myself not to lose them. I’d marveled at my ring then, proud that it was still shining on my finger after ten years.
As I stared at my bare finger now, that moment replayed in my mind, followed by a numbness of disbelief. Maybe I just forgot I took it off while organizing my trinkets and make-up? I thought as I pulled up to the small gym. But I knew I hadn’t. After Tom and I had finished the survey and parted ways to pack, I’d noticed my ring turning sideways on my finger, loose like it is every winter. Strange since everything else on me seems to be swelling.
I parked at the gym, then got out of the car to think. Maybe it fell in the massive bags of trash in the back of my car? Or in the small trashcan by the market? Or as I walked to the market? Or as I talked with my student? My heart began to race. Raindrops again began to fall. I had to get home. I had to check my vanity where I’d spent the last two hours, where I did not find the ring once I ran back inside our house.
Breath escaped me as my eyes raced over the piles of beauty products, the ziplocked bags of feigned organization, our bulging suitcases. I held my belly trying to breathe back to calm, but a sob escaped instead, followed by another, as my lungs fought for oxygen, unsatisfied by the air that wheezed in and out each time my chest heaved.
I had to calm down. For the baby. I had to breathe. It was just a ring.
But what quaked my body now was not just about the ring; this storm of panic was the upwelling of stress and sadness and fear about leaving our life in Japan, about rebuilding our lives in Newport, about having our first child. Would Tom and I lose the new closeness we’ve found? These feelings and questions I’d bottled to deal with later as I fought instead to live day-by-day and enjoy the final moments of our adventure in Japan.
But pile upon pile of our possessions, on all three floors of our house, only reminded me of the more than 150 boxes already waiting for us in storage in Newport. The stress looming ahead, now unbottled, only revved the panic. My inability to focus on one pile muted the possibility of actually finding my ring — if it was even in our house.
Bre? Tom hollered from downstairs when he returned from lunch. I looked down the stairwell and croaked, I can’t find my wedding ring.
Like a child waiting to be scolded, I sobbed into my hands again, to be greeted instead by his soft embrace, his words of reassurance, his plan of attack. After five hours of touching everything we owned, Tom took a break to run while I tackled the office upstairs.
I was so hoping you’d found it! he said, when he returned. A fading look of hope graced his glistening face, drops of sweat and rain ran down his arms and legs. Seeing my eyes well again, he paused me. His hands gently rested on my arms, his eyes locked on mine.
It’s just a thing, Bre. A special thing, but I have you, and the baby, he said and moved his hands to my rounded belly. We have all we need.
My head nodded. Eyes spilled. Heart warmed by these affectionate words. Later we’d both admit kind of enjoying the hunt, the feeling of closeness as we tackled each room on our own. Our freshly learned love languages in action. Cheesy turned true.
Soon the office too was organized on shelves and in piles. I looked over at a bulging basket of office supplies, but dug into my basket of Peace Boat memorabilia instead. I DID NOT want to go through the mess of office supplies. There was no use! The ring was so small. It could be anywhere. This was NOT how we wanted to spend one of our last nights in Japan! My friend was so right. Rather than clinging to my final moments here, all I wanted was to wake up in Newport with our house freshly unpacked.
Breawna! Tom yelled as he stomped upstairs and slid across the floor toward where I was sitting. I’ve always loved you, he said.
His hand held out the ring he’d placed upon my finger ten years ago. And just as I had then, I stared at the ring in disbelief. Back then, I’d stared in wonder, realizing I was actually living out the on-bended-knee moment my awkward teenage self had been so skeptical of – how do two people, so different, actually like each other enough to live the rest of their lives together?
And now, I stared at that ring and felt the weight of our murky future slacken. His promise of love, said so urgently even after a day of tackling life’s stressful surprises, more than the ring assured me that we will find our way, again and again.