I was at the Sea World in San Diego when I started crying. It was one of the more ridiculous things I have done in my life. I was 36 and crying alone in a children’s amusement park. No one noticed me. I was sitting at the phone charging station, tucked behind some glass where it was easy for me to observe others. If anyone noticed me, it probably looked as though I was just rubbing my eyes from allergies. But I knew better.
I was in the state for a work conference for only a brief few days, stealing a few hours to do something I thought I might never have the opportunity to do again. It was 75 degrees, and while not sunny, much nicer weather than the cold wet of the state I had left. But I didn’t want to be there. More importantly, I didn’t want to be there alone.
I missed my child. It would be the longest I had ever been away from him since he was born. I thought about what a giant baby I was being. It was only going to be three days. I thought about how lucky I was to get to spend so much time with my son normally, even when the days were long and full of frustration. I thought about the parents I knew who didn’t get to spend every day with their child, either because of travel or for other reasons. I thought too about the parents whose children were gone, who would never be able to spend time with them again.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it wasn’t just me being homesick or missing my child. It was that stupid thing called grief, rearing its useless head again.
The last time I flew on an airplane prior to the trip to San Diego was April 2012. I was pregnant with the son I would give birth to in November, and, other than my husband, I hadn’t told anyone. I was afraid to give words to my condition after the previous pregnancy, which ended in miscarriage the same day a relative asked me if I was pregnant and I said yes. The last time I flew, I spent both the flight to California and the one back from it struggling to both remain calm and not throw up. Always a nervous flier, I wasn’t able to take an anti-anxiety pill for the flight due to my condition and was deep in the throes of first trimester nausea.
That conference, like this one, would go fine professionally. But personally, less so. I would come home late at night to an airport where no one was waiting to pick me up. I would call my husband over and over again, but he never answered. Not only did I have no way to get home, but I didn’t even have keys to let myself in should I figure out a ride to get me there. I was at the smaller MN terminal, and the airport was dark. All the other passengers had already been picked up. After more than an hour of standing there, cold, on the curbside, a friend came to pick me up and drove me back to my house. Once there, I spent 20 minutes ringing the doorbell and banging on windows until finally my husband woke up and came to let me in.
He would tell me he fell asleep, but we both knew that meant he was drunk. I didn’t say it then, didn’t say it to anyone in the months leading up to my son’s birth, but I was scared. Not just of becoming a parent, but of what was happening between us, what was happening to him. The more my belly grew and the more the idea of a child became more than an idea and instead a reality, the more he started to disappear.
“Does it ever get easier?” I ask a friend in a message from my hotel room, in regards to traveling away from your children. Though I didn’t say it to my friend, the question to me, however, meant something more. Not just does it ever get easier to be separated from your child but also, does grieving ever become easier? Or, most importantly, did loneliness ever get easier? For whether I was thousands of miles away from my child, a 15 minute drive away from the people I knew, or whether I was still that person, who, four years ago, went to sleep at 1 am in her own bed a floor away from where her husband was sleeping on the couch, lonely was clearly what I was.
Does it ever get easier? Some days, the answer to this seems like it should be yes. I am quick to laugh with my coworkers. I have conversations with them about the mundane things of life like I am a normal person. I go to concerts or plays or bars or movies. In all these places, I genuinely enjoy myself, even though I am usually alone. Other days the sight of a husband and wife with their children looking at some whales or the songs of a recently dead rock star on the radio is enough have me rubbing my eyes furiously while staring into my Starbucks Americano.
Does it ever get easier? I guess I’ll have to let you know.