I dial Dave’s cell number, as I do every morning, push the “speaker” button and set the receiver on the bedside table. As the phone rings, I tug the quilts off the bed to fold them.
As he does every morning, Dave answers, “Yo Baby! How you doin?” His voice is muffled by the murmur of the car radio, the whisper of road traffic, and his unpredictable Bluetooth.
“You’re breaking up,” I say as I pull the sheets tight and tuck them in.
“Just a sec,” says my husband. The radio quiets as he turns it down. The road noise is hushed as he closes his window. “How’s that?”
“Good. So where are you?” I thump the pillows and pull up the coverlet.
“Just passing exit 42.”
“Hm. Slow going, I guess.”
“Yeah. I’m zipping along at 10 miles an hour,” he might say. Then perhaps, “Great view. I’m stuck behind a Hummer next to a particularly beat-up carcass.” Or, “Asshole just cut me off. New York plates - big surprise.” Or, “The sunrise is amazing. Gold and rose on the treetops – too beautiful. Can you see it where you are?”
No, I can’t, because I’m making the bed at home while Dave drives the Merritt Parkway south to work.
When he leaves the house each weekday around 7:00 am, I’m still half-asleep. Since I lost my hair in September, I’ve worn to bed a lacy pink nightcap embroidered with rosebuds and vines. To block any light, it’s pulled low on the bridge of my nose. Dave’s parting view of his alluring wife, therefore, is lips, nostrils and a rosebud cap.
He kisses those lips and we both say, “Love you. Drive carefully.” It’s a ritual we take seriously, for if he doesn’t acknowledge the “drive carefully” part, I rouse myself enough to call down the hall, “Honey? Did you hear me? Drive carefully!” Consigning my dearest Dave to the oft-wacko drivers of the southbound commute demands faith and ritualistic blessings.
Usually, I climb from the covers at 7:14 – the digital age allowing a precise time check. On rare occasions, I make it to the window before Dave’s Volvo pulls out and watch as he walks to the car, his computer in one hand, his travel coffee mug with a piece of toast balanced on top in the other. Sometimes, I knock on the glass pane and wave. When I had two boobs, I’d grant him a quick flash and be rewarded with his wide eyes and broad grin. Generally, I give him about fifteen minutes to get on the parkway, then call around 7:30.
Once the bed’s made, I take the phone with me to Tucker’s old room. I lie on the floor to do my exercises, Dave chatting away from the black receiver leaning against the bookshelf while I stretch, count and breathe. Dave reviews road conditions, we relate any dreams of interest, and report on how we slept. Once we’ve covered the preliminaries, we delve into discussions of school issues and intrigues, our kids’ jobs and their significant others, cancer concerns, retirement plans, and - endlessly – my anxieties. What do people do without a partner so patient?
“Where are you now?” I ask periodically.
For a long time, one of the markers for Dave’s progress down the Merritt was a stunted pine that grew in the median strip. It bent this way then that, like a once graceful woman now twisted with age. It was Dave’s favorite tree. Last July, soon after my mastectomy, the tree was cut down. Dave understands; as a Merritt driver he’s conscious of limbs falling, but still, he misses that tree.
These car chats take place every weekday morning, even though we’ve just passed an evening and night together. But when competing with cooking, side-by-side keyboard tapping, a glimpse on the way out to night meetings, or phone call catch-ups with family and friends, presence is fleeting and taken for granted. During morning calls, despite radio crackle and my abs-work-out count, our connection is strong. We focus on each other and listen.