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The Dwindling Winter Woodpile
Notes from the far side of February
The short days are getting longer, but they are not yet long enough.
I have always dreaded long winter nights, the extra hours of darkness pressing against the windows and weighing me down. It’s felt especially oppressive this season, specifically these last six or seven weeks.
I have no doubt that living out where you can see the stars plays its role in the feeling of isolation. There is no rattle of motorbikes on cobblestones outside, no distraction of city lights or comforting background hum of other people’s lives.
It’s just us; two snoring dogs; the crackle of the wood fire; the occasional cat-like call of a little owl; and the wind.
It’s peaceful. I love it.
But also, I’m lonely.
This loneliness is multi-faceted. It has to do with missing other versions of myself. With missing old friends and all the ways our lives twined about each other.
It has to do with the way decisions about Filha’s future didn’t used to involve so much angst. With the way time flashes forward so quickly — one moment it’s morning and the sunlight finds the space between curtains; the next the sky goes dark and the day is already done.
It has to do with the season and the graying weather, too. But most of all it is this: I am lonely because Marido has been gone for more than five weeks.
He was in the States (five different ones, to be exact) for work. Last week he touched down at home for five days, and now he’s gone again. But he’s just over in Spain this time, and just for a few days — he’ll be home very soon.
It’s so different here when he’s gone.
I’m accustomed to his work trips, or I was, before COVID. This is the first year since the pandemic hit that his travel has hit these heights. Pre-2020, he traveled a lot and I traveled a lot and we wove our trips in, out, and around each other and it was fine.
Of course, that was in a previous version of life where we knew how everything worked and knew all the neighbors and, more importantly, we knew all the words. I would miss him when he was gone, sure, and he would miss me. But we had our whole small world of interlocking support systems. Also, sometimes it was nice to watch Netflix alone. To dork out in the dark once the kid was asleep and I was left with no one to please but myself.
Now here we sit, Filha and I, with the little owls and the swiftly dwindling wood pile.
Today I remembered when Marido was leaving for his first work trip just a couple of weeks after Filha was born. I was fairly gasping with anxiety when he rolled his suitcase to the door.
“I don’t know if I can do this!” I told him.
“All you have to do,” he said, only half joking, “is keep the baby alive.”
“I know!” I said, and the tears came then. “That’s what I’m worried about!”
Of course I kept the baby alive. She thrived, even. I figured it out. I got better and better at it, and when it was his turn, so did he.
I remind myself of that reality now when I worry about the second propane tank running out of fuel in the middle of a shower. Or when I try to gauge whether I have to call the homens da lenha for one more ton of logs before the weather warms for good. Or when I drop one of those logs dead center and shatter the heat-treated glass fireplace door. (I did that the second week Marido was gone. Luckily Claudio, our Portuguese contractor friend, was on WhatsApp speed dial.)
Things are just easier when you have a partner on hand, someone who can share the load, take the call, talk it through.
42 days apart is nothing to sneeze at. Being lonely would be normal even if I didn’t live in a country where the list of things I don’t know is longer than the list of things I do.
I’m figuring it out, though. And I know I’ll get better and better at it.
And maybe someday, all of this will be well-worn and comfortable. Once more a life that fits.
Copyright © 2023 LaDonna Witmer