The first year of our marriage, we fought about vacuuming. Ren would often come home from work around midnight and jump straight into his cleaning routine. It didn't matter that his daughter and mother were sound asleep in the other room or that I had the futon spread out and was snuggled deep under the covers trying to catch up on one American TV program or another. He had to clean. I'm pretty sure I was the only newlywed in the history of the universe to complain about her spouse doing too much housework. But it annoyed me, and I hadn't yet come to appreciate how having a kid with asthma and allergies alters your cleaning habits.
I don't remember a lot from that first year other than the arguments about vacuuming, trying to figure out how to parent a less-than-willing Japanese tween, and struggling to make sense of what Ren's 75 year-old mother was telling me to do. I also distinctly remember wanting to give up on the marriage. Lying awake each night on that mat on the floor, wrapped in the warm smell of the tatami, with the lullabies of the cicadas in my ears, I felt alien...uncomfortable in my new skin.
At the time, a good friend of mine said, "It took you two years to decide to marry him. You need to give it at least that long to figure out if you want to separate." Looking back now, her advice seems pretty arbitrary. Useless, perhaps. But at the time, it made perfect sense. So, I stayed, and we figured out how to communicate over and beyond, below and enmeshed.
When you are from two entirely different countries, speak two very different languages, and are the products of two completely different generations, you learn you have to work hard to meet in the middle. You also learn that life together comes with its fair share of of missed connections. Those early years, married to Ren and living in Japan, I discovered that, a lot of the time, marriage is just about pulling yourself up out of the futon each morning and trying again.
Last weekend, we spent the night in Chicago. By the second day, Ren's back hurt so bad, he didn't want to walk. So we decided that he would drop me with the older kids at Water Tower Place while he and the baby found a quieter, more peaceful (and cheaper) place to park. Since we only have one cell phone, the plan was to meet on the side street next to Water Tower in an hour.
Or, at least, that was my plan as I thought I'd conveyed it to Ren before we parted. Ren, apparently, had a different plan.
Our meeting time came and went. Pink P (6) and Sky (9) found the cutting, cold wind difficult to bear, so we walked back and forth between our meeting place and a space just inside the door overlooking the spot where I expected Ren to appear at any moment. Over and over again, I ventured out into the cold with two miserable kids only to find the street empty and to feel the uneasy knot in my stomach getting bigger and bigger.
Where was he?
Having a kid with Aspergers means you can never let on that you are worried. Or scared. Or upset. Thing is, keeping your cool gets harder when you have a 9 year-old standing next to you outlining in great detail all of the possible ways things might have gone wrong. Sky was sure Ren had forgotten us. Pink was too tired to take another step. Both kids were hungry and tired of carrying their stuff.
When Ren didn't show up on the side of the building, we checked the back and then the other side. We walked three blocks away from Michigan Avenue, toward the lake, thinking he was most likely to have parked somewhere over there. Round and round we went. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. Forty minutes.
Where WAS he?
Just as I was about to give up and try to find a hotel for the night, just as I made one last sweep around the back of the building, Ren pulled up.
And he was mad.
"Where were you?!" he asked. "Why weren't you where you said you'd be?!!"
Thing is, I was exactly where I said I'd be. (I mean, really, what sense would it make for me to go anywhere else, especially when it's 30 degrees outside?). But I could tell that didn't matter. He hadn't heard me. He'd been too distracted by the city traffic and his thoughts about places to wait for us. The whole time I was searching for him on the sides and back of the building, he was just around the corner in front. For forty minutes, we completely missed each other. And the whole time we were only about 100 feet apart.