SoSUE editor Knuth spent a few weeks over the summer alone. His wife was gone. An unusual time for a separation. Far too long he finds.
The morning sun fought its way through the bedroom and woke me up. My hand wandered over to the other side of the bed. There it was, cool and empty.
My wife had been away for four weeks. I was afraid of the weekends because then I missed her everywhere.
I missed her.
Now I had more time for myself, but I didn't know what to do with it. If I didn’t try to plan everything. In her absence I wanted to go around the houses with my mates or go to a concert. I did none of it. Instead I sat at my desk on a Sunday and worked. In front of my window the insects danced in the air. Had she been there, she would have convinced me to go with her to the Baltic Sea and spend the day on the beach than write marketing poetry for my clients.
Summer without my wife began in spring, when her doctor certified that she was exhausted. In her job, stress and pressure had increased in recent years. She urgently needed a break. The doctor gave her the advice that she go to a clinic for a psychosomatic rehabilitation. Since that day we have been dealing with this topic. We felt that the next months would be different than planned. Our separation was to last five to six weeks, perhaps even longer. During my civilian service we had been separated for a long time and as an editor I was on the road a lot. We even had a long-distance relationship for a few years. I worked in Munich and she stayed in Hamburg. We only saw each other on weekends. I always call this episode of our marriage “offshore” because I felt like a sailor who was seldom at home. That was no problem for us. But this time everything was different. I was worried about my wife because I had not managed to free her from her exhaustion. And then there was the uncertainty of whether rehabilitation would really help her. If not, what would happen? My only wish was that she would get well again.
I admired her bravery. She stood by it. Many people don't dare to take the step at all because they don't want to be labelled as weaklings or psychos. Sometimes shame also joins in. A soul in need of help often hears that it is not supposed to do this. In the garden of the though people there is no place for the tender. The day of departure was approaching and the helicopter husband who wanted to help her in the clinic grew more and more in me. But I stayed on the ground. It was better this way. She should take care of herself without extra thoughts on my behalf.
A Whatsapp message interrupted my work. She wrote me that she was going swimming. That made me happy because she loves swimming. I remembered the journey to the clinic. On the train ride we had both been very concentrated, as if we were participating in a World Cup final. Arriving at the clinic, I accompanied her for a while. The corridors, the doctors and the patients did not make our mood any better. Then she walked me to the exit. We hugged each other. It was a farewell with many looks and few words. I left her.
When I need comfort I eat chicken soup. It is a soul warmer for me. In the freezer there is always a reserve in case of melancholy. Chicken soup Hong Kong style with rice noodles - that is her favorite food, too. There is only one reason why I cook, because I like to watch my wife eating. There is nothing more beautiful for me. At the table I wondered what she would be eating today. The soup steamed and I listened to jazz. My slurping drowned out John Coltrane's saxophone solos. I was still there and so was she.
The city had fled to cool off. There were no people in the streets.
I dared to go out on the balcony and drink an espresso. Only three hours left, then we would have a rendezvous via video chat. Then I'll show her the flowers. Since she was gone, I’ve become a gardener. Opposite the house sat a man on his balcony. He was a pensioner and always on his balcony no matter the weather. Through the flowers I watched him. He lived alone. His wife had died and his son no longer lived with him. He was once three and now he is only one. My wife and I are two. Maybe we would have been better if we had been three or four. Maybe children would have made things easier for us. Maybe not. I don't know.
I wondered how much loneliness a person can endure? My 28 days of loneliness already felt like an eternity. How would years feel then? I looked at the sky, a cloud dissolved; it had no chance today.
The summer refused to end the day. But I wished for exactly the opposite. The cell phone rang. She called me. I looked forward to her voice and her smile. Every day we talked to each other. She told me about her therapies and about the people in the clinic. Her mood was good, she seemed more relaxed and refreshed. She interrupted our conversation and swung her phone up. Swallows appeared on my display, buzzing through the air. Despite the distance I could hear their chirping. The sound of summer on the country side. We both admired their flight. When I told her about the soup, she got homesick. And I got wifesick. When we talked, time finally passed. When the call was over, I bored my way through Sunday evening to the end and went to bed.
The heat didn't let me fall asleep. The night stared at me and I stared at the night. I had to think of the swallows. I had once read that they could sleep in flight. On their migration, they cross the Sahara, the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps just to breed here. They have a brave heart. I, on the other hand, felt like a wimp. At that moment I would have liked to have been a swallow. I could have flown to her every evening. No continent could have stopped me. But I was not a swallow. I was only a husband who longed for his wife. A few more days, then we we would be together again. “The summer with his wife” would also begin for me. Finally.