For the second time in my life, I embarked on a road trip all by myself to meet Joe on one of his business trips. He always thinks this is a good idea, and I always agree until I'm right there doing it. Then I remember I'm a princess who is very used to people helping her with everything, that I have absolutely no sense of direction, and I'm afraid of lots of things. Unusually so.
The first road trip was to Cleveland and I'm pretty sure it was before we were married (don't tell my dad). I left straight from work on a Friday feeling empowered and all Independent Woman. I was particularly pleased by myself when I stopped at an exit in Erie to get Burger King and found my way back to the 90. When I hit Cleveland, I was overwhelmed by the highway widening to six lanes and by the bazillion exits. I panicked, got off at the wrong exit, and ended up at the end of a deserted pier in the dark on my cell phone yelling at Joe that I was going to be murdered and it was all his fault. Because I'm really good under pressure.
This past weekend I drove down to Pittsburgh. My mom had the boys (SCORE!) and this time I had my new car complete with OnStar. I really, really liked using OnStar in this case. The friendly operator plugged in the address of the hotel in Pittsburgh, and then sent the directions to my car. A female computer voice (which doesn't really make sense, but there you have it) then assisted me turn-by-turn all the way down to my destination. I named her Stella. GET IT?? (hoot! knee slap!)
Driving into Pittsburgh taught me some new lessons. First of all, I don't like the topography of Pittsburgh. It's too up-and-down and in-between. It freaked me out. It's twisty and turny and wild and all the Pennsylvanians are accustomed to it and fly past you at 100 mph. If I were a cartoon, I'd have been left swirling like a top on the shoulder of the road.
Second, they don't use salt on icy roads in Pennsylvania. A plow chugged by me, and I cringed in wait for the spatters of road salt to attack my windows, and...nothing. No salt. And Pennsylvania is apparently a land of many bridges. Each one is begun with a highway sign that reads something like: Bridge May Be Icy, or: Bridge Becomes Icy Before Road. At one point, I seriously considered posting a sign that said, "Heard Of Salt?" Sorry, but it's pretty terrifying to come careening down the curvy side of a mountain toward a massive bridge with giant signs that really should say: Watch Out, You Might Die.
Last, business trips aren't cool and glamorous. Whenever Joe is away for work these days, I feel annoyed and resentful because I'm at home in Buffalo taking care of the boys without him. Joey, Noah, and I miss our fella fiercely for days while he's off staying in a fancy hotel and eating room service. (I have a real Thing with room service; I totally think it's the greatest.)
But as I entered the hotel room on Friday, I realized Joe had been here all alone. He wasn't sight-seeing, he was working. He was leaving early and coming back late, and there's no Joey giggles or Noah snuggles to greet him. The room seemed empty and sterile and then, I saw Joe's face as he saw me.
When you really, really love someone...love a person the way marriage is SUPPOSED to be, and not like all these wild modern relationships that last thirty seconds and then people just expect their next do-over or try-again...when you love someone in the Forever way, there is so much in just one facial expression. When Joe saw me, his face went from looking tired and a bit sad to...relieved. Awake. Thrilled. And for the first time in days, my heart felt like it was beating in sync again. Like maybe, it had been missing a beat or two every few seconds. I felt relieved, and I let out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding. I think I'd been holding it since the last time I'd said goodbye to Joe.
And he said the same thing he says to me every single time we've been apart, for as long as I can remember. Even in high school. He said, "Hey there, Beautiful."
As much as I hate math, life is a basic math problem. It's not searching for and finding one right thing, or one right person. It's the million things that all add up: the kids, the weather, the DVR, the cooking or the going out, the fights, taking out the garbage, organizing the mail, sharing the inside jokes. They are part of the equation that includes the horrible days, the crazy days, and...the moments like this one. Where my Joe looks at me and...I am myself again.
Merry Christmas, Joe. All we want for Christmas is you.