Second Cities and True Loves

Sorry for the shameful gap in posting. I am really going to try to work on that. I do have a reasonably good excuse for the past few months, which is what this post is about.

As many of you know, I’ve been working and living part time in Chicago since mid-April. The working part started first, but by June I was here a few days a week on average and it made sense to escape the horrors of hotels; I now have a place to leave some clothes, my favorite breakfast cereal, a few books and (perhaps most importantly in the Age of the Quart Size Plastic Bag) duplicates of a few indispensable toiletries.

The work has been hard – taking over the leadership of a team that needed some – but also extremely rewarding. I’m working with fantastic people, and it’s worth the effort because they have so much potential. It has been a bit like getting a rusted out classic Mercedes from your rich uncle… lots of work is required but you know it will be magnificent when it’s up and running. For a while I still had all of my Seattle responsibilities to manage too, but that has been rationalized a bit and I’m concentrating on fewer things to greater effect. My team back home, the new one here and all the managers scattered around have been really wonderful and I’ve really never felt out on a limb – I have known every step of the way that lots of people are backing me up.

But as is often the case with my work, the less said about it the better. The real challenge of being here is about where I’m not: home. Looming somewhere below the glimmering trite whiteness of clichés like “there’s no place like home” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” there’s this great iceberg of longing and loneliness that I had only ever imagined in the most childish of ways. It’s one thing – wrenching at the time to be sure – to be a homesick child, and I did have my share of that. But to willingly put myself away from family and friends, for work, realizing from 1,720 miles away exactly how much I love the life David and I are blessed to have built together… it’s crushing really. My father spent a lot of time on the road and living away for business, but for him it was necessity – literally how he kept our family fed – and he managed it without complaint. There’s a bit of vainglory in my assignment, given the queasy knowledge that I could say “enough” if I couldn’t stand it and go home with career and reputation largely intact. On a bad day, that lends the impression of a self-imposed exile.

I’ve had a couple of those. For only the second or third time since I claimed a Second City, it hasn’t made sense to go back to Seattle over a weekend. Work days here are invariably 12 or 14 hour affairs, and even when I’m back at the “Chi pad” I’m catching up on email, reviewing documents and generally able to anesthetize myself with the small details of a small life alone – laundry, perhaps a jaunt to Whole Foods, the occasional TV show watched in Tivo-less real time. In the context of that, a short call to David cheers me up more than it makes me miserable. Weekends, though, yawn like an abyss. It’s nice, in a sad way, to have 48 hours to collapse into and recover. There’s always a bit of work to do, more errands and in theory one of the world’s great cities at my doorstep to explore. And I have done a bit of that – and enjoy Chicago much more than I ever expected. (More, to be sure, on that happy topic later.)

But this weekend, as with all the time away, has revealed itself a terrible joy. What passes as our quiet domestic life in Seattle is, from this perspective, so clearly a miracle. David – surpassing in his wonders, surprise and above all patience – is simply so much better a match than my wildest dreams ever hoped for. The life we have built together, the friends whose love and companionship we enjoy together, our home (currently under rather ridiculous renovation!) and even the silly dogs are… perfection. When I’m home, time with our best friends is such a blessing too; when I’m away, it means so much to know that they love David almost as much as I do and take such good care of him. I’d like to think I have always appreciated these things as much as I do now, but it is simply not true.

In the day to day passing of “ordinary time,” it is easy to get caught in the trap of wanting more, of hoping for different, of pushing for the next thing. Distance has lent me perspective, and every time I’m home – which, really, is wherever David and I are together – the smallest, most common moments just knock me over. A Sunday sleeping in with the dogs snoring at our feet is heaven; if it happens to be one of those sun-kissed Seattle summer Sundays, I lie in bed awake smiling broadly, trying not to move and jar any part of it out of place. Against all the odds of place and time and the vagaries of attraction, we found each other… and I can’t keep from feeling like an ass each time the plane door closes to take me away.

I also can’t truly fathom how hard it has been for David, too – extra work to keep everything together, responsible for all the inscrutable needs of the dogs, and left with a big empty house when he comes home from his own long, hard days of the office grind. Though in my mind I imagine him enjoying a break from my chatter and ceaseless motion, I can hear in his voice how much he misses me too. We parted ways last Monday morning after a fantastic week and a half vacation – first in Houston for my cousin Clay’s wedding, then in Cancun with absolutely nothing planned or required of us. The margaritas were fine, but it was the time together that left me drunk. Saturday, the one day we were back in Seattle together, must have been the hangover — I was in a fuzz to about-to-be-gone-ness.

It’s just a few more days now until I’ll be home again through Labor Day, with a couple of weekends away together to look forward to. And I do. I suppose the end of all this rambling is simply how grateful I am to have someone I miss so much, who is patient and understanding enough to put up with this temporary arrangement, someone so manifestly good to come home to.

I should cut short this ramble and save something up for another post before too long, but I’ve been radio silent for too long. Thanks to everyone who has been putting up with my travels and travails lately. Most of all, darling David. I’m counting the hours until I see you again, at which point I’ll shift to savoring every simplest moment that passes.

One thought on “Second Cities and True Loves”

  1. Jay, you have moved me to tears. It’s been a while since I’ve checked the site, let alone added my own contributions, and I came here this morning intending to write about something that’s been brewing in my heart for a while. I hope it complements your beautiful post.

    We miss you terribly, too, and cannot wait until we have our Seattle Jay full time again. In the meantime, we comfort ourselves with enjoyable times with David and the anticipation of upcoming trips with the both of you.

    I said this at your wedding, and I think it’s been proven over the last several years, that you and David are each remarkable people, but together you are exponentially more wonderful.

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