The Unbearable State of Knowing

September 7th. Our last call. The day school starts in NJ.

“She still receives mail at her sister’s house, so she was able to claim residency,” you had explained to me months prior, about the NJ school enrollment for your kids.

But then, to your surprise, they showed up in Singapore in August, to visit friends for the last time. “Her sister and the kids were on vacation, so that’s another reason why they came to Singapore,” you explained.

Our lives built up to this for months, for the past year. Talks with her. Talks with your boss. You start your new role working directly for him on special projects. You proposed it; he presented it to the board. It’s done. He’s waiting on you. You’ll stay in a company apartment in New York.

We rejoice at the prospect of finally being in the same country, finally together. Is that a yes? I ask. It’s a yes, you reply. Martian – oh my god, I’m overjoyed!

Your flight back to NJ changes several times. First Thursday. Then Friday. Finally Saturday. You’re going through hell; the kids don’t want to leave their friends. You and she don’t speak to each other. You haven’t really in years – cold, silent, sexless years.

You explain the flight change to Saturday for the business class seats. Just trying to make it easier, you say. You’ve explained with disdain how she always books business class flights. You never have. A 2 am flight via Doha – your favorite route back to the US.

The phone rings and awakens me. “Martian, are you ok?”

“I just need to hear your voice,” you say quietly, “I just need strength.”

It’s 4.30 am on Saturday in Illinois. Evening in Singapore, the evening before your flight.

I wish I could hug you. “It’s for happiness,” I say. It’s the greatest reason, something to fight for. We owe it to ourselves and our kids to be happy in this life.

“Yes. I AM doing this,” you say resoundingly. “This for me. I will not spend this life knowing that I was not with my true love….”

I fall back to sleep, then awaken at 9 and lay in bed thinking about you. The cold, hostile environment you face at home. Life is so short, so precious, we cannot waste it being unhappy. I want to help you get through this. So I send you a text – “I’m still holding your hand.”

You never get on the plane, although I don’t learn this for several days. I only know this: “She read your text.” Finally you send an email from a secret new account, but you don’t say where you are. I learn later: You are under house arrest. Your phone is being controlled. You don’t go to work.

Days pass until we communicate. I wait endless minutes, hours, days… for a call, a text, another email. I send several to your new address, but no reply. I’m sick for you, for your children, for us.

On Wednesday, in desperation, I call your office in Singapore. “Rob’s in a meeting.”

What? You’re there? I text you. And you call me. But you’re at work, can’t really talk. You’ll explain everything later.

So now it is September 7th. The first day of school in NJ and you are still in Singapore.

Finally, we talk.

“I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love you.” You say it slowly, your voice choking with emotion.

I sit in the sunroom, holding the phone, staring at the floor. The situation is crazy, but we will get through this. Our love will get us through this.

“Martian, it’s the same for me.” Nothing has ever been more true.

You explain how you both met for a session with your old therapist. “She doesn’t know what she wants,” you tell me. “Maybe I should just tell her the truth…”

“Why don’t you? It’s time. This is crazy. Just be honest.”

“But I don’t want to ruin things for our future, with the kids….”

I agree. But I tell you that the roller coaster turmoil is overwhelming for me. I was sick with worry all week, unable to eat, just waiting for news from you. I need to work, I need to care for my son, my mom and her constant medical problems… now a heart condition… now other strange maladies that incapacitate her.

I tell you this, that I’m overwhelmed. You should contact me once you are in the US. When there is no further risk.

“It will be very soon,” you tell me.

“What about your new job?” I ask. Aren’t they waiting for you in New York?

“Yes, they are.” You explain how your boss went through a divorce, so he understands… but you need to get there by next week.

“I love you, Martian.”

”I love you, SM.”

We hang up.

It’s only a week, I think. One week and this will be over. All will be right.

Your email comes over the weekend. It is melancholy. You are still so sorry for hurting me with your silence, for making me worry. You say it sucks that we aren’t talking, but you understand my reasons. You’ll be here very soon.

And at the bottom is the email from your dad – for “full transparency” as you say – proving your trip to NJ was planned – is still planned.

The Martian’s dad – the adorable, elfin music man who taught you how to fix things around the house, to save money, to collect copper wire. The My Favorite Martian t-shirt wearing dad.

I read his email, about his heart condition, news shared with his beloved, far away son. His son who is soon expected at home, bringing with him his children.

And at the end of his letter, there it is. That line. “How long is the flight to NJ?”

I have a photo of him that you sent me. He’s grinning at a table in a restaurant in Singapore, next to your mom. He’s wearing the favorite martian t-shirt. There’s a selfie of you from the same restaurant, taken surreptitiously from below the table.

Your dad would never ask such a question… He knows how long that flight is. I’ve never met him, but I feel sure he is not a man who asks silly questions.

I imagine talking to him. Asking him about winterizing his house… or whether he puts straw on the vegetable garden. What are his favorite Cole Porter tunes? We would laugh about the duplicate martian t-shirts… how I insisted that the store lost the first one, so they sent another. And I’d tell him how much I love his son. He probably already knows.

You told me that he knew about me, during the years you pretended to live in Sudbury. I realize now this is probably not true. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what is. So when I call, I must be no one. A one-time work colleague. A forgotten former college roommate. No one special calling to speak to his only son who is moving back home from Singapore. The martian’s dad, so very happy, yet so worried by your delay. As am I.

I will it to be true. I will it to be true. I will it to be true.

“Oh, you’re looking for my son Rob? Why he’s in Singapore,” he states matter of fact.

I will it to be true…

“Oh, but I heard he is moving back to the US…”

“No, no. He’s living in Singapore, with his family. No, he’s not moving back, not that I know of. But that certainly would be nice…”

“Oh. OK. I guess… I must somehow be mistaken…”

I hang up. Knowing. The heartbreaking knowledge of devastating truth.