In mid-June, Abby and I enjoyed a two-week trip (with roughly 40 other high school students and a few adult chaperones/guides) through portions of France, Spain, and Italy. As discussed in the last Virtue & Mischief column, it was a magical fortnight of exploration, inspiration, and discovery. We confronted unfamiliar cultures, foreign languages, and dozens of new and wonderful human beings. We learned much, and experienced considerable joy.
Predictably, we also encountered a hiccup or two. I’ll return to that topic in a future column.
As our journey approached, my stomach began to churn as I considered my biggest concern for the two weeks. My mind raced at the various dour possibilities. I lost sleep. Once we landed in Paris, my worries persisted. What, you ask, was keeping me up at night?
The fear of getting lost or separated from my group? Pshaw!
Terrorism in the streets of Paris, Nice, or Milan? Non, monsier!
Misplacing my passport, necessitating a tedious process to acquire a new one, including a visit to the nearest consulate? Please.
Accidentally using Abby’s tooth brush in one of our cramped and dark European bathrooms? Well, yes, that was a mild misgiving. But it’s not what gave me night sweats.
No, dear readers, what furrowed my forehead and caused chronic temple rubbing was the following train of thought and series of questions: What’s transpiring back on the home front? How will Krista fare without me? What manner of carnage will await my return? Do hospital or prison visits (or both??!!??) loom in my future? Not to brag, but I don’t think Krista or Luke can survive without me. Daniel will probably be okay, though….
And so forth and so on.
After the first full day abroad I sent Krista an email. Having a great time here in Paris! Saw the Opera, the Tuileries Gardens, and the Louvre! Exhausted. How’s it going over there? When I awoke the next morning, I opened Krista’s reply with trepidation. Great! So glad you and Abby are safe. Luke had baseball game. Did well. Went 2 for 3 and pitched fine. I did laundry earlier and Daniel and I had nice walk. Miss you!
Huh? What? I had been gone for over 24 hours and hell had not been unleashed yet on my beautiful bride and two sons. This made no sense. It had to be a mistake. Someone had hacked into her email account and was gaslighting me.
The next evening I sent this: Hi Hon: Miss you guys so much, but having wonderful time with Abby. She’s a joy and so are the others. Went to the Sacre Coer and Montmarte and a choclatier run by [name omitted]’s uncle. Got high on his concoction called the Kokomo, a Mounds bar x 1 billion. I love Abby, but I would have traded her for a couple of those things…but I don’t think he was interested in such a trade. How are you guys doing?
Surely by day 2 she would have to admit things were falling apart and that I needed to rush back to save her from insanity or homicidal fantasies. Luke’s life surely depended on it.
The next morning I received the following: Doing fine! Loved your FB pics. You and Abby look so cute together. Is the food good? Is Abby speaking any French? Are you walking a lot? [Editor’s note: Oh, my. By this point my ankles and feet were already beginning to swell, and by the time we arrived in Italy 10 days later I looked deformed]. We’re doing great! Luke and I are really bonding and he’s been so helpful. Gotta run, but love you guys! Tell Abby ‘hi’! Have a great time and keep posting stuff. Love to see your smiling faces!
Wow. They weren’t just getting by. They were flourishing. They didn’t need me at all. Alrighty, then. But did she really have to rub my nose in it with all the happiness-emphasizing exclamation points?!? How deflating. How unkind.
On the other hand, this did free me to fully enjoy the sights and sounds and tastes of each destination, unencumbered by the (obviously unwarranted) worries of what was going down at the Swensen abode in Greenville, OH. I exhaled and enjoyed — finally — the sweet air of paternal tranquility, and continued to do so for the next 11 days, through our trek to Biarritz and San Sebastian, to Carcassonne and Avignon, to points along the French Riviera and finally to Milan.
When we returned in the wee hours of a Sunday morning to Greenville, bleary-eyed from our lengthy trip, Krista and the boys were still awake. I gave Krista a kiss and an especially enthusiastic hug. I did the same to Daniel, who returned my hug somewhat indifferently. At that moment, Luke entered the room where the rest of us had congregated.
“Hi Luke!” I said. “I hear you did great while we were away. How you doin’, buddy? Tell me everything that happened the past couple of weeks!”
“You were away?” he replied.
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.