ben and meI think I need a new word. Ever since Ben started to travel about a week out of the month, I’ve started to have a new and strange feeling when he’s gone. It’s like missing someone without the sadness because I know he’ll be home in a few days. It’s not anticipation, exactly, because I kind of revel in the feeling of missing him. And it’s not a yearning or longing or craving – those words are too active or aggressive or melodramatic for this feeling.

It might be like when you’re driving long distances alone and you get hungry but keep passing exits and then you pass a few more exits after that, instantly regretting it when the turnoffs zoom past. At the same time, it feels like you’re finally getting somewhere and you have that nice feeling of knowing you want something.

No, it’s not quite like that at all. One of my non-fiction writing teachers, Danzy Senna, once told us that detail and precise description can travel much farther and go much deeper than metaphor ever could. She said, “Every night before bed my grandmother would apply red lipstick and then turn off the light. No metaphor can capture the feeling in that.”

So – let me try again:

First I notice the things that only he uses and how still they are. I’m used to these things shifting and transporting themselves throughout the day, propelled through the apartment by his everyday tasks and habits: his desk chair pushed in and then pushed out, his shoes disappearing and reappearing their way through our rooms, the red tablespoon he stirs his coffee with jumping from the cutting board to the drying rack and back to the cutting board again.

Then I notice the empty places hovering around the still things and I try to fill them up. I use his towel instead of mine. I drink water out of his coffee cup. I sleep on his side of the bed and drape my arm across the covers to where I’m newly missing. Do I miss me instead now?

I do all the things he doesn’t like and revel in them. I embrace his pet peeves – I eat one forth of a donut and put the rest back in the box. At the same time, I avoid doing things that both of us like. No Jeopardy, no reading in bed, no darts or videogames, no diner food. It’s not that these things are sadder to do alone or that I think Ben would be sad if I did them without him, it’s more that I want to cleanse my system of our pretty content life together. I want to fast from it.

The only thing that bothers me is the silence. The city noises leak in louder than usual and the sounds of my own small fidgeting bother me – fingernails scratching skin. About six months ago I figured out that the Food Network turned down low is about the best white noise you can get (I learned how to braise things and I barely noticed) and I often leave it on over night. I leave the lights on, too, which I think is silly even when I’m doing it.

Ben calls in the middle of the night from bars. He’s just gone to the weigh-in, the fight, the promotion, the radio show, the interview, the photo shoot. The noise in the background vibrates through the ear piece loud enough to fill my empty room.

I know he’s not missing me in the same way that I miss him because he’s on a whole different planet while I’m still in the midst of our normal life and apartment. But I know he probably misses me in a whole different way, from his week filled with strangers and strange humming hotel rooms, the adrenaline of late nights and early mornings. That muted loneliness that comes from business, too many beers and a room full of milling people. He might even need a whole new word for it.

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