A marriage in transit

By Cristina DC Pastor

We paid the haulers then locked up the house for good. My neighbor Mike, who was washing his car by his driveway, waved. We met halfway to hug.

“You guys have been great neighbors,” he said with a wry smile like he was really sad to see us go. He waved at my husband who was loading in the car an old lampshade I re-painted and trimmed with an old filet lace which I decided I wanted to keep. There was a lump in my throat when I replied, “Come on, we gave you some sleepless nights,” reminding him of the occasional rowdy sleepovers my daughter hosted for her friends. He smiled back.

I was trying to make light of an awkward goodbye. We were finally leaving our old neighborhood where families owned at least two cars and backyards gave way to swimming pools or scattered lawn chairs. My family lived here for seven years. My husband and I downsized into an apartment/condo building with a gym and a receptionist, where living is simpler, more convenient and did not require frequent calls to the handyman.

My husband came up to Mike for a final handshake. Then we drove off, no turning our backs.

That was three months ago. Last month, Rene signed a lease to an apartment in Hong Kong. I was there to help him choose a flat and pick out some curtains and bed sheets. He would be working in this city for the next few years as a business editor. I would return to the U.S. to resume my life as a writer/blogger.

It did not present itself as a possibility that after more than two decades of marriage, Rene and I would be living apart. What we thought was likely to happen would be a separation on account of natural causes or that one would work in another state. Never that one would live in America and the other in Asia.

“Why do you have to live separately?” was a question family and friends invariably asked when we announced Rene has accepted a job offer in Hong Kong. It was not the first question. Our nice friends did not want to appear judgmental, but it was up there right after the profuse expressions of excitement.

We counted a couple of professional commitments that would require me to stay behind in the U.S.: an agricultural newsletter awaiting a big marketing push and a start-up TV talk show. Not to mention my online magazine on the cusp of becoming something, not quite sure what, and my work with a youth-oriented nonprofit organization.

The idea of living apart has been on our minds from the time the job offer was made. We talked about it endlessly, both in earnest dialogue and in hilarity, imagining how life would be without the other as supportive spouse and crotchety partner. How Rene would have to live on ‘dimsum’ and how I would have to go behind the wheel again. More urgently was how I dreaded having to face the tax preparer alone and how Rene would have to go see a doctor all by himself. We brushed those thoughts aside, bracing ourselves to test the Baby Boomer’s much-vaunted resilience. While many couples in our age population are choosing to stay close together and do things as a pair, we took a different path, which is to live separately in two continents while still sharing one loving heart.

I liked the idea of reclaiming personal space. The idea that after many years of making decisions together and sometimes sounding like your spouse you relearn to find yourself seemed like a good argument for taking a break from being a couple. I can be out, for example, without having to worry someone won’t be getting his sleep until I walk through the door of our apartment. I can choose to have just tea and crackers instead of dining at expensive restaurants. I argued how a moment apart would allow us to find our inner core all over again.

“It would appear to test ‘us’, but will not define us.” I said. I believe most marriages go through unseen turns and bends in the road. Only the couples who walk them truly understand how to navigate them.

Rene shrugged off my attempt at rationalizing what’s inevitable and said that at his age, he’s done with all types of tests.

One evening, one of our friends asked the same question. I overheard Rene’s reply on the phone: “Throughout our married life, my wife has followed me wherever my job took me. I will not ask her to do the same again.”

I was taken aback; I didn’t know he felt that way. I never complained about the moving and the adjusting to unfamiliar cultures, but he must have seen how his professional career has flourished while mine has remained in slow simmer. He was always the well-paid breadwinner working for a top company and I the parent who always worked for a kindly, benevolent employer who allowed me days off to attend our daughter’s marching band practice because one parent had to be there.

Who knows, I might decide to move to Hong Kong after a year or two. Rene shrugged, not exactly holding me to that statement. But he knows that when that happens, it is a decision I, alone, will make.

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