When my husband suggested that we both check out of our family life for a weekend away after a work conference he would be attending in San Francisco, I was thrilled.
California? I thought. Hallelujah. I work from home in a small town near Boston and do the lion’s share of caretaking for our three children—I’m always angling for a way to break the glass and flee the scene of my little snow globe life, at least temporarily.
At first, the idea was divine: for the weekend, my husband and I would meet up in a distant city and Uber our way toward marital nirvana. At the very least, we’d emerge after three days from a sort of bardo, reincarnated as a better “we.”
Still, my husband was used to traveling away from the family—what if I got to California and discovered I could no longer hang in the blissed-out hipster fringe—the kid-free world, as I saw it—or worse, that I didn’t like the person I’d become in that world? I imagined giving up and returning to my narrow life, my hopes of renewal dashed, perhaps right after my husband had ordered crispy tempura goat’s tongue from a chalkboard menu scrawled in Latin.
What is it that we expect to accomplish during a sanctioned break from our real lives, anyway? Certainly not a clean, easy return to the pre-child self or the marriage that once was, nor a fruitless preservation of the status quo. We want progress. But is it worth all the effort to strike the ordinary set and advance into a new scene even if all we manage to achieve is some pea-sized evolution of character?
For myself and my marriage, it was. I forged on, scouting dinner options for people like us, who wanted to eat well but didn’t want to spend gobs of money, like sewer rats. I emailed friends and family, looking for restaurant recommendations.
“This place was made for you!” one of my brothers replied with a link. I found an offering toward the bottom of that menu for a “fish head under a brick.” Perhaps this was a man-versus-nature battle reenactment, or the plated prize from a scavenger hunt between alleyway restaurant dumpsters—I don’t know. In my mind, it was settled: I would not simply stay in Boston and order the pasta primavera, even if it meant requesting the chef’s table at the place that was made for me, where I imagined they’d pull out a side compartment on one of those gigantic newfangled range ovens so I could jump in and steam my private parts like Gwenyth Paltrow.
My bags were packed for an early departure the next day, and my three year old woke me at 2:30am to remind me that I’d better enjoy my time off. He waltzed into my room and slammed the door as if to say, “Look, this is final, I’m in here for good.” I carried him back to bed sideways, tucked under my arm as one might carry a pocket book, with his legs flailing behind like tassels.
In the morning when my parents arrived to take my place, my mother looked at me.
“I’m afraid you didn’t sleep well at all,” she frowned.
“It’s okay, I get to board a six-hour flight without my kids today. Who cares how I slept?” I sassed, swirling coffee around in my cup.
“I put your name on the hotel reservation,” my husband said over the phone, explaining that he’d be in meetings for a few hours after I arrived. This fact only furthered the salacious fantasy I’d slipped into that morning, in which I was not actually his wife but some nomadic lover, all agog and set to join him.
“You’re really turning this into something else in your head,” my husband laughed as I scanned my boarding pass, holding his voice to my ear.
“That’s what adults do,” I explained. “Besides,” I went on, “You don’t wear a wedding ring anymore, so people don’t think you’re married.”
I had given my husband a ring on our wedding day, but two years later, it slipped off his finger while he was river rafting in Maine. As far as I know, that ring let gravity have its way and burrowed into the muddy Atlantic seabed like some hardy quahog; I gave up wondering years ago.
When I arrived in San Francisco, I visited one of my brothers at work. I sipped on a coffee, enjoying my first hour on the ground and away from my slow-cooker home life. The weekend went swimmingly: we drank wine before noon, jogged through the parched California hills, visited friends we hadn’t seen in years. We took our time, reveling in things we would never have done at home, on schedule.
On our last night, we arrived early at the restaurant my brother had promised was made for me. I hadn’t been able to secure a reservation, but to our delight, we slipped in the door among the savvy few for whom a handful of coveted walk-in tables are set aside each night. A server with a wax-tipped handlebar moustache poured cocktails over ice cubes the size of boulders and then suggested we share six or seven smaller plates. We picked and scooped and licked our fingers, goggling over the spices, the flavors, and the idea that we don’t usually share meals so intimately.
It was a garden-variety shift in perspective I’d been longing for, an elfish progression, not some cracking change. The mere recognition of this settled the score.
On our way back to Boston together, my husband and I passed through security and wandered into a catch-all airport depot that sold things like shot glasses and candy bars. A rotating kiosk stocked with silver rings sat next to the register.
“Honey!” I called to my husband, who was picking out t-shirts for our sons.
“Do you like this one?” I held up a black and silver band, edgier than the band I had chosen for him before we married. He shrugged, sure.
Until then, I’d never seen the point in replacing his ring—you can’t confer all of that blessed juju onto something that didn’t even exist when we exchanged vows. But it felt right to buy him a new ring there, off the rack for $14.99, a simple souvenir of reconnection.
I swiped my credit card while he slipped the ring over his knuckle.
“Hey!” I goaded, “Now we actually look like we’re hitched!”
At the boarding gate, I looked at my husband spinning the ring with his thumb, seasoning it like he had with his first ring during our honeymoon twelve years earlier. I recognized within me a zip of the same excitement I’d felt back then, but this time, there was more to it—this time, the future we’d once only imagined was already made, waiting for us to return.