It’s 9:30 on a Friday night, and I’m dozing into the sweeping panorama of some David Attenborough Planet Earth documentary when my phone sputters to life, vibrating amidst a chorus of chirping by both the device and the leopard seals of Antarctica.
It takes me a second, in my groggy state, to realize that the ringing mobile phone doesn’t belong to a polar explorer, but to me—and I’m instantly worried.
I don’t get a lot of phone calls at 9:30 PM.
At this point, Bix has been in the field for three days. He’s instructing a group of teenagers in the Flat Tops Wilderness, and, having spent enough time traipsing around in the woods with teens myself, I have a long mental list of things I’ve seen and heard of going wrong.
You’d think, given my nature (“neurotic”), that I’d be a wreck every time someone I like goes off the grid for a few days. I wouldn’t say it’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing, but when the only way to reach civilization is with a satellite phone (reliably unreliable), no news is good news.
It’s not an international number on my phone, indicating an emergent sat phone call. It’s just a reminder I set for myself this morning, like I do every morning that Bix is gone: at 9:30 every night, we agreed, we’d spend a minute thinking of each other.
It’s nice to know, when you miss someone, that despite the chaos and excitement and even monotony of both your days, you will, at some point, be looking at the same stars and thinking the same nice thoughts.
It doesn’t seem entirely fair to say here that absence makes the heart grow fonder, because I’m already terribly fond of Bix. But a week apart—and not just apart, in the modern sense; truly incommunicado—does some good, I think.
Normally, I basically update him on my day-to-day events in real time. Not like “I just had a slightly burnt bagel for breakfast,” but definitely “I just got assigned a cool project” and you can pretty much bet on a “What should we have for dinner tonight” somewhere in there.
When he’s gone, I keep a list of the things I’d normally tell him. It trims things down a little—no questions about dinner, for one thing. It’s bigger things, like that my dad is thinking of building some raised garden beds in the backyard when he retires, or that Brendan Dassey’s conviction was overturned by a federal judge, or that I ate something besides pizza while he was gone.
It’s a relief to see that I’m not getting a phone call. I step out onto the porch to peek at the stars, feeling envious of the vantage point Bix and his trip have of the Perseid meteor shower.
I head back inside, fish a notepad out of my backpack, flip to the next page, and write “Need to watch making of Frozen Planet” at the end of the list, then settle in to watch a herd of caribou make its way across the frozen tundra.
I miss Bix when he’s gone, but I don’t wish he didn’t go, just as he doesn’t begrudge me the chance to venture into the great unknown without him. He comes back, always, reinvigorated, inspired to make things happen, which is what makes him the person I married.
In the meantime, no news is good news.