06 Feb Good-bye

Ron Tanner, chair of the Writing Department at Loyola College-Maryland, won a grant from the National Parks Service to help Marshallese college students preserve the oral culture of the Marshall Islands. He’s spending the 2008 spring semester on Majuro to direct this pilot program, called the Marshall Islands Story Project. To get the full story, be sure to check the archives to your left.

Jill took me to the airport this morning. It was rush hour, so she used her special route, driving the deserted streets of West Baltimore. “No traffic here,” she said, “because nobody’s working.” It’s hard to say if these row-house neighborhoods will ever see better days. Some blocks are all but abandoned, the doors and windows of houses boarded over. This is Jill’s route for getting fast to the freeway. She uses it in her commute to D.C., where she’s going to graduate school. One day the police pulled her over in this neighborhood and asked her what she was doing. “Going to school,” she replied. She had woken up late and was looking worse for wear. Four times they asked her where she lives. They thought she’d come for her daily fix. Heroin or crack. Where do you live, ma’am?

When I laid my hand on Jill’s knee as she drove, she said, “Don’t. I’m gonna weep. Can you just be bossy instead?” So I told her to be sure to check the dehumidifier in the basement. And clean the spam from my email every other day. And please vacuum once in a while (she hates to vacuum, so it’s one of my jobs). When I laid my hand on her knee again, she reminded me that she had an appointment with her graduate advisor later. “I can’t be bawling about my husband going away for five months,” she explained. “Her husband’s dying of cancer!” “Oh, god, that’s sad,” I said. We both fell silent.

PJ & Frieda The longest Jill and I have been separated has been 6 weeks. And that felt long. Last night, we tried out our computer-phone account last night, she talking into her computer on the second floor, I talking into mine on the third. Her microphone kept cutting out. “I couldn’t do this if I didn’t have the pets,” she said this morning. Two dogs, two cats. As I wake every morning, I hear her talking to them in the kitchen. She sings to the dogs. When I come home every evening, I find her reading on the couch, cats perched on the couch-back, dogs sprawled at her feet. I often tell her it’s time to bathe Frieda, our incredibly odorous Bassett hound. “Why?” Jill responds. “It’s who she is.”

Since Jill’s in grad school full time, she’s not working. She asked me if she should quit for the semester and get a job. She has 27 cents in her checking account. For those of you just joining this story, I advanced the Project about $15,000 (mostly on credit cards) for computers, cameras, tape recorders, and lots of expensive software. I shipped this to Majuro in expectation of being reimbursed soon. But now, a month later, I haven.t seen any grant money. Jill and I are flat broke. It.s kind of scary and kind of funny. I mean, it’s not like we’ll go bankrupt. One way or another we’ll stay afloat until the money thing gets straight. Jill reminded me that our BGE bill, due in 12 days, is at a winter high: $567. So, yesterday I returned some shoes I’d bought for my trip and gave Jill the cash. Then I wrote a check for her that will surely bounce if she has to use it sooner rather than later.

I’ve just heard from Ruth, one of my subs at CMI: she tells me that Henry — my interlocutor/translator/assistant– hasn’t shown himself since the first day of class three weeks ago. I don’t know why she waited so long to reveal this. It seems everybody on Majuro is loathe to say much on email. I get snippets like this: “The students have pink eye. Pink eye out here makes your eyes swell badly. So students wear sunglasses to hide it.” Some students aren’t showing up for class, Ruth tells me. Nobody knows where they are. I’ve heard nothing from my sub in the website-building class. I guess it’s going okay.

Jill got a final laugh this morning because I stepped in dog crap. Our dogs do their business in the back yard. No matter how little there may be and no matter how I strive to avoid it, I step in their crap every other time I walk to the garage. My feet must be dog crap magnets. “There can’t be more than one pile out there right now,” Jill exclaimed, ‘and yet you managed to find it.’ She was kind enough to clean my soiled shoe while I finished packing.

daisies from our garden I’ve never been away from home for half a year. It’s possible I don’t wholly understand how this may affect me and Jill. One of my friends has theorized that couples can sustain their relationship only if they the same bed, where they can steep in each other’s smell. It’s an animal thing, she explains. That’s why she shares a bed with her husband even though his snoring shakes the rafters. If she’s away from their shared bed for any length of time, she begins to feel strange. Or the thought of him begins to seem strange. It occurs to me that Jill and I may be in for considerable strangeness. Yesterday, when we were shopping for groceries (with yet another credit card), Jill got some dried spices, then asked if we needed any basil. “It’ll start coming up in April,” she said casually. She meant that the basil in our garden will sprout then. Jill loves working in the garden. I pictured her tending the flowers and herbs and pausing now and then to gaze at the goldfish that have grown fat in our little backyard pond and then calling to our two dopey dogs sprawled in the sun nearby. February, March, April, May and June without Jill. How am I going to manage that?