The backstory: I visited Mr. Montana, my old friend and new beau, for the second time this October. The wifi was still spotty-to-nonexistent, but I had darned fine cell phone service. I wrote to my Facebook Friends often and at length while I was away, sharing the best bits of what was happening and the thoughts that came along with them.
For this letter, you’ll want to first read the letter from the day before.
So. He changed his mind.
He invited me back for all of the coming winter, just like I wanted but did not say.
When I voiced my doubts – because he never, ever changes his mind – he said he might have made this final decision first but someone kept nudging him to make a choice when he wasn’t quite ready to, so he erred on the side of caution … as one does.
I apologized and then noted unrepentantly that I nudged him about it only once a day. He made his You’re impossible noise and then hugged me like I’m a treasure. I am both, of course :+)
He would have preferred to miss me first, to feel how it feels to not have me there, to measure his misery and use that dimension to gauge his best next step.
I would have preferred to talk about it before I left. Ideally, 2 days before so we could manage any misunderstandings in person, and so I’d have a requisite day to organize my thoughts, get clarification, and tidy up loose ends before we put 2000 miles between us.
We both got what we wanted.
We talked about the length of my next visit two days before I left, which I told you about yesterday – his decision, my disappointment, the gap between what we wanted that’s no difference at all, except it is.
And he got to measure his missing of me. My flight got bumped back an hour, leaving before lunch the next day instead of after. After I texted him with that update, he texted back I’m starting to miss you already with the world’s most miserable emoji.
And so I made sure I was there when he got home from work. I hadn’t been in a week, yeh? I was always with his mom, working while keeping her company after our daily trip to the hospital to visit his dad.
Even the week before, I liked to give him some solitude when he got home, a precious commodity for introverts like us, and made sure I was taking a walk or a shower when he arrived.
So it was a big deal that I was there when I was. And it was a bigger deal that he was there when he was – way, way early. He bailed out of work without apology, told his boss he wanted to spend as much time with me as he could.
My intention was to be packed before he got home, but I was so overwhelmed by the thought of leaving I spent the early afternoon buried in a long, hard nap instead of prepping to go.
So I was brushing the sleep from my mouth when he walked in the door hollering, “Hey!” I bubble-hollered a Hey back, and then he was there, leaning on the bathroom door saying, “Are we good?” – referring to our discordance the night before.
I spit into the sink with as much grace as I could manage – which was little, to be sure – and answered truthfully, “Of course. It’s good. We’re good.”
He asked, “So you’ll come back?” and, after I rinsed and spit (again), I said (again), “Of course.”
Then he planted an indescribable, atypical whopper of a kiss on me. The kind that makes you forget what day it is, where you are, your own name.
Things right after that are a bit of a blur for me, but I recall recovering and sticking to my guns, telling him I didn’t want to start a fight on my last day, or ever, but one month wasn’t going to work for me.
And he nodded, “I know. It doesn’t work, does it? What about your cat? He can’t stay at your mom’s that long and it’s not long enough to go through bringing him.” My mouth fell open. Total fishface.
I was expecting to explain, now I was thinking I already had and asked, “Did we talk about this? I only thought of that this morning. Have we talked since you went to work?”
And he was like, “No, I figured it out while I was at work. So I’m thinking … how about three months?”
I wish I could say I had a gracious response or even a fishface. I was so shocked I went doe-in-the-headlights, then turned on my heel and walked into another room, continuing to pack.
He was like, “And she says nothing. You’re saying nothing?” When I came back past him he was like, “Is that okay? Is that not okay?” and all I could do was nod. Really, really fast. I couldn’t even drum up a smile I was so busy nodding. And then I kept packing because it was all I could think to do. So unexpected this all was, I got stuck in a rut.
And THEN he says, “Okay, then I have something for you. It’s not chocolate.” A joke because I’d been springing his much-beloved dark chocolate bars on him since I got there. I even hid two for him to find after I left.
So he says he has something for me and turns me around so I’m facing away from him, wraps one arm around my chest and pulls me close, spooning while standing, and when I raise my arms to hug his arm, he puts a wad of cash in my hand. I glance at the roll – they’re fifties.
And he says, “That’s for your ticket back. It may not be enough for a whole ticket, but it should help. Do not spend it all on Oreos and M&Ms … I know how you are.” Still shocked speechless, this time I at least thought to turn around and hug him supersupertight.
Later, I’d remember my secret requirement that he buy the next ticket so I could be assured of his commitment. I’d also remember he doesn’t use ATMs, so to get that cash he had to go to the bank, stand in line, write a check, wait for the teller to cash it, and then watch her count it out – not a process ripe with impulse, yeh?
I still haven’t counted it myself, but I glanced at it in a private moment at the airport – it’s at least a week’s pay. I was looking for a sign of his commitment, and I sure as hell got it.
After the money hug, still packing while he gathered dinner, I asked him why he changed his mind when he never changes his mind. Is he sure? He doesn’t have to do this, is he sure?
He said that before he got my text he’d been thinking that it takes the entire time I’m there to get used to me being there, then an equal amount of time – whether one week or two – to get used to my being gone. So what good was a month? My text about leaving early cleared things up quick.
When I brought up that he had good reason to doubt me, to want to take it slow, that I understood how the way I ended things last time would have an effect on things now, he looked at me like I’d spoken in Mandarin. Like, What the hell were those sounds that just came out of your mouth?
Up to his wrists in dishwater, he looked hard at me and said, “That has nothing to do with it. Why would you think that would have anything to do with anything?”
I said, “Well, it was an awful thing I did to you,” and he said—
“I’m not even thinking about that. I never think about that. Choosing one month is not about anything you did, it’s me trying to step this along slow – one week then two weeks then one month then two and on from there. It’s about me trying to be comfortable. This isn’t about you. This is on me. I’m an old man, change gets harder as you get older, let me tell you, and this is a lot of change. You haven’t done anything wrong here, Sweetie. Besides, I want to meet your cat.”
And so I was very wrong about that the other day. I took the blame on myself – filling a gap of non-understanding with guilt, replacing my ignorance with shame – all for nothing. Now I’m wondering where else and when else I blindly wronged myself in this way. Everywhere, all along and often, I expect.
Throughout the evening, I asked him probably a dozen more times if he was sure, offering him more time to think about it, renegotiation, etc. I asked him so many times that he stopped answering. Even when I called from the airport to see how his mom’s hip check-up went, I asked him. He didn’t answer then, either.
When I asked if he wasn’t answering because he’d already answered, he said, “Yaasss.” When I asked him if he’d rather I not ask him again – like, ever – he said, “That would be nice.” And so I didn’t.
And so the man who never changes his mind changed his mind. Or rather, he felt pressured to offer an answer before his mind was truly made up and then, after he had all the necessary data, he made the choice he won’t budge from, one he doesn’t need or want a backdoor out of.
So this is all amazing and in more ways than you may know.
Right around this time 16 years ago, Danniall Williams — my new fella who would eventually become my husband and later abandon me without a word — was buying a ticket to visit me at Christmas and called to say they’d asked, “Round-trip or one-way?” and he couldn’t think of a reason to come back.
And I said, “Then don’t. I just bought a house, there’s room enough for you and your dog. Why not stay with me and see if you like it out here? Let’s give it three months and see what happens.”
And so he did. He shipped 2 boxes of clothes and 12 of computer equipment, put himself and his dog on a plane, flew 3000 miles, became family, and stayed with me for 14 years. At the beginning, six months passed before we remembered to do that three-month check-in. We got along so well and were having so much fun that we forgot. We simply … forgot.
My visit to Montana was ideally for three months solely because he doesn’t want me there for his shitty season at work, flights are most affordable after the winter holidays, and I wanted to be home for Mother’s Day. Three months is the window in between.
There are more similarities to Dan’s journey than that, though: Moving coast-to-coast, and in winter, bringing a beloved pet – a colossal and wonderful aging greyhound in his case – being in love and becoming family, although, eventually… Well. You know.
Dan was running from something, though, things he couldn’t and didn’t get away from that await him still. With the benefits of my age and his experience, I know that my troubles will follow me wherever I go. But I think I’ll have an easier time working them out the nearer I am to Mr. Montana.
Regardless of the outcome, it’s happening all over again, except this time I’m the traveler, the welcome immigrant. I’ll be the one boxing up and shipping the few things that matter most, the one flying away from my family to become a part of someone else’s.
This time I’m the one about to call the airline and buy a ticket. And it will be one way. Because there’s only one way for me to go now, or ever, and that’s forward.
Crys Wood is the copyeditor + proofreader at Paper Crane Publishing, making a career of her innate pickiness and love of words. She lives not-so-quietly in Big Sky Country with her sweet and cranky old man, a cat who is more of the same, and stacks and stacks of books.