We talked on the phone for an hour or more every night, and I loved every minute of it. I've since learned that Bill doesn't even like to talk on the phone!
After about four months, we had our first monthly visit. Bill flew to Chicago, where I was once again getting some training, and we had our first date. We had a steak dinner at some mediocre restaurant. What I remember about that dinner is that we were so enthralled in our conversation that we didn't hear the hostess announce our table. After about an hour, we finally thought to check on it, and they were able to seat us. I was so excited to be sitting across the table from Bill that I could scarcely eat.
The next day, we spent the day at my favorite museum in the world: The Museum of Science and Industry. They had the Titanic exhibit, which was incredible. I think we must have been the most obnoxious couple; we stopped and smooched every few feet, and we laughed uproariously over nothing.
It was the most amazing weekend of my life. I had never realized I was capable of such emotions. I felt like the Queen of the World (to paraphrase Leonardo DiCaprio in The Titanic).
Coming Down Hard
Bill's flight was heading out on Monday afternoon, but I had to stay another week. He met me for lunch, and we said goodbye in his rental car. Nothing could have prepared me for the sorrow of that parting, which I was destined to repeat about 12 more times. I returned to my class with swollen, red eyes and blotchy cheeks, but I really didn't care what anyone thought.
As Bill put it in his letter after that first visit, "I am back in my home with all my stuff and the familiar surroundings, but my heart is with you in Chicago.... Where you are is where I belong and my home is by your side."
Bill Comes to Texas - August, 2000
Bill flew down to see me and meet my family the next month. Three-year-old Ethan climbed right into his lap, and they've been buddies ever since. The rest of my family loved Bill as well. The highlights of his visit were:
- Washing dishes together at Mom and Dad's house, our hands brushing in the warm, soapy water
- Going to church together
- Bill's first taste of homemade ice cream, my mom's specialty
- Lying on my living room floor watching a Winnie the Pooh video with Bill, Ethan, my sister Emily, and my two nieces
Bill happened to be there for one of the hottest days on record, when it was 111 degrees! I was stunned to learn that he was enjoying the heat. In Vancouver, it rains a lot, even in the summer, and he was really relishing the dry heat. I told him to try living with 100+ temperatures for over 50 days and then tell me whether he liked it!
When I dropped Bill at the airport the next day, both of us cried when we heard "Last call for Vancouver!"
The Roller Coaster
Over the next 13 months, we alternated flying back and forth to Vancouver and Texas, with an occasional rendezvous in Chicago. Our emotions followed the same crazy but predictable cycle each month. After a visit, we'd be depressed for several days, then we'd resign ourselves to being apart. I'd receive Bill's pictures after a week or so, almost always accompanied by a romantic letter on cologne-scented notebook paper. This would lift my spirits immensely.
By the middle of the month, we'd start counting down the days, and anticipation would build to a fever pitch. On the last day, usually a Friday, we'd email back and forth the number of hours left.
At last, one of us would be on the four-hour flight and the other would be preparing. For me, that meant shaving my legs for the first time in a month (seriously!), removing my toenail polish from the last visit, and applying a fresh coat of paint to fingernails and toenails. For Bill, it usually meant making the two-hour drive to Seattle (because it was cheaper to fly to and from there than Vancouver).
The most delicious moment of all was watching the passengers emerge from the jetway, straining to spot Bill. (This was before September 11th.) Our eyes would meet, and our faces would light up with a huge smile. We would hold each other so tightly that we could barely breathe, and we would sway back and forth. Then we would cover each other's faces in soft kisses.
We savored our walk to baggage claim, our fingers entwined, hands swinging, walking so close that we bumped each other and had to regain our balance.
Of course, the three days--or even the ten days at Christmas--always passed with dizzying speed, and then we were back to the agony of separation. This pattern never got easier. It seemed that the lows got lower and lower. In the end, we were running out of money and vacation time, and we didn't know what would happen if Bill's L-1 Visa didn't get approved. But that's another story.
Although I would never want to go back to that year of long-distance love, it definitely had its advantages.
- It was wildly romantic.
- I felt like a princess whenever we were together.
- There were stacks of love letters and love songs on CDs.
- I got to enjoy some really beautiful terrain: mountains and rain forest and lush flowers.
Eight Years Later It's funny how fondly I look back on those days even though I was so desperate for the separation to end. Little did I know how hard the adjustment would be when we became just an everyday, ordinary couple. This is so much better, though, ordinariness and all. We know each other so much more deeply now, and we have grown together through life's changes. The love letters have all but stopped, but we still write romantic notes in each other's greeting cards. And Bill did make "Sarah Songs 8" not so long ago!