Departures and Arrivals

black suitcase

To describe it as an emptiness would perhaps be a little dramatic after all these years. Off kilter? Out of whack? G was away and although the morning was just like any other morning, it was different. It’s always different when we’re in separate countries. Same bed, same house, same children, same breakfast table – but the empty chair is somehow unnerving.

As we walked outside to jump in the car I watched one of the travellers glance towards G’s car and stop dead in her tracks, “Wait, how come Dad’s car… oh yeah, he caught a cab to the airport”. It’s something that happens constantly while he’s gone. We’ll drive into our street and one of the little travellers will notice his car out the front of the house and scream “Dad’s home!” before realizing he’s not – it’s just his car.

The fourth little traveller really didn’t want him to go this time. I stood at the door and watched him sob while he hugged G goodbye. “I don’t want you to go.”

I was on my way home from Milwalkee a few years ago, a conference for work. As I stood in O’Hare International in Chicago on a Friday night I marveled at the amount of business travellers. A sea of suits bobbed up and down in the crowd. As each suit pulled a small black suitcase on wheels behind them a matching clickety clack  sounded to the rhythm of their steps. For an Australian it’s times like these that Australia suddenly feels very small. Sure there’s a lot of shuttling between our major cities, but if you’ve ever had to run to catch a connecting flight from Terminal 5 to Terminal 1, or get from gate 2 to gate 73 in 10 minutes, you can’t doubt the difference in size of our countries. I sat with my coffee watching men and women speak into the mobile device corporate America had allotted them.

“Did you honey? That’s fantastic! Well, Mummy will be home soon. I’ll be there when you wake up.” A call to a colleague would follow a call from a child. “No, I spoke to him and it’s good, they’re not going to change suppliers at this stage of the game.”

I’d made my own calls. Little voices told me all about Aunty Suzie and her visit, what Daddy had said that was funny. I’d worried so much about leaving them, how would they cope without me, they were so little. It felt like between G and I we were perpetually saying goodbye. I travelled once a week for work back then. I’d leave before the children woke up and arrive home after they’d gone to bed. One day a week, every week, gone. There were nights where I agonized about whether someone was going to need to get to the doctor while I was out of town. The missed school trips. The co-ordination of dance lessons with pickups and dinner and homework.

And now as I watched the fourth little traveller grip his arms tightly around G’s back I heard G say “you know I used to travel a lot more than this, I was away all the time, can you remember?”

He couldn’t.

“Sometimes I’d go for weeks.”

He looked at G with a blank face.

“I’ll be home in two sleeps and I won’t be that far away, and it’s Geneva, Switzerland. So they’ll definitely be chocolate, I promise.”

The fourth traveller returned to bed.

In the morning I found him adjusting his quilt. He’d made his bed and was lining up the stuffed toys in their usual places. “It’s going to be a great day today Mum.”

There was no sign of the little boy whose father had wiped away his tears the night before.

“Why’s that? How do you know?” I asked.

“Because look at my hair. I’ve woken up with perfect hair! It’s going to be a great day.”

I thought about my travel guilt. The twinge of sadness as I’d listened to stories be retold over the phone that then disappeared within moments of walking through the front door. I thought about G, son of Colin and Joyce from Rockhampton, sitting at the United Nations in Geneva. I wondered about the things I held back from doing, the things my children hadn’t seen me do yet. The times I’d told myself I shouldn’t go when really in hindsight I should have. There is an emptiness with one of us missing that can only be filled with their stories upon return.

With every goodbye hug there’s a more enthusiastic welcome home embrace. Don’t hold back.

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