As I stand on the cold, saturated sand, foamy waves lap at my toes. I look down and watch as a swell of frigid water rushes toward me, surrounding my ankles, and thoroughly soaking the bottom of my linen pants. I wrap my arms tightly around myself, close my eyes, and lift my face towards the rising sun. I let it warm me and enjoy the sensations of icy tingling on my feet and a slowly spreading warmth along my face and torso.
It is the end of May, but May in South Korea is different than the Tennessee Mays I have grown accustomed to. There is no morning humidity to put unruly waves into my hair and the cool breeze blowing in off the sea makes me thankful I remembered to bring my favorite yellow sweater with me. With my eyes closed, the briny smell of the sea intensifies; a scent that is both new and familiar. The sounds of a bustling seaside city waking up mix with the crashing of each new wave in a unique concerto. I open my eyes and look off over my right shoulder from where we began walking, I notice the foamy surf has erased our footprints in the sand. My husband stands behind me and I reach down to wrap myself in his strong arms. We stand there a while longer, letting the sun warm us both as the tide swells and dances around our legs.
It’s a rare clear day without the usual dusty yellow haze hanging in the air, we can see the dazzling sun-reflecting sea stretch for miles beyond our beach; the sand generously peppered with rocks and shells, shiny and smooth from tumbling around and around in the salty swells. My husband keeps one heavy arm wrapped around my shoulders and holds out his other hand, showing me the ruddy pink shells and blue sea glass he’s collected while we’ve meandered down the coast. As we walk, he points out familiar buildings, the direction on the clear horizon where an island lies just out of sight or tells a funny story about the last time he was here with friends. I turn around to look up at his face, his right arm still holding me close. He smiles down at me, his face lightly tanned from the sun, and the wrinkles he’s earned this past year appear around his deep green eyes. But I can still see the 17-year-old boy I fell in love with all those years ago. We kiss, the sea spray has made our lips salty, and his new mustache tickles my mouth and cheeks.
Just last month we had reached the point in our separation where we had lived so long independently that we didn’t really know how to talk to one another anymore. Facetimes became more empty silence while I unloaded the dishwasher or watched him fold his socks than they were filled with conversation. He couldn’t talk about work, so we talked about his morning workout, the difficult student in my third-period class, what we ate for breakfast, for lunch, and then said ‘See you later.’ When it finally came time for my visit, our bodies collided in a massive embrace at the airport, our first physical contact after more than nine months apart.
“I missed you so much,” I said, my words muffled by his chest as we squeezed one another tightly. In that moment I felt instantly whole again.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” he exhaled, pressing his face into my hair. We separated after a moment more, but I didn’t let go of his hand for another hour. And just like that, we were us again, the words spilling out of our mouths, the stories and questions never-ending and strung together repeatedly by “I love you” and “I missed you.”
As we walk along the beach, hand in hand again, we revisit the conversation we’ve been having over the last few days.
“I’ve spent the last five years trying to balance being a good leader and a good husband. I want to be both, but I think we can both agree I’ve been pretty awful at it.” He looks down at me, hesitantly.
I stop walking and turn to look at him. “You are not awful at either of those things,” I say firmly. His left dimple appears as he gives me a small smile, his deep green eyes slightly crinkle at the edges, but I can tell they don’t believe me.
“This job takes so much of me and takes me away from you, too. I don’t know how this is going to work,” he says quietly. “I’m afraid I’m not going to have any left over. I don’t think I can be a good leader, husband, and dad all at the same time. And I can’t fail at any of those things. I can’t be an absent dad.”
I shake my head firmly and take both of his hands in mine, squeezing tightly. “It’s not going to be easy, but it’s not easy for anybody. It’s going to be hard, and we won’t know what we’re doing all the time, but we are a team, you and me. I am your helper and you are mine, and that will never change,” I say, reaching up and gently tracing my index finger over the creases in his cheeks I love so much.
“I hope our babies have your dimples,” I move my fingers up to the corners of his kind eyes. “And your eyes, I know they’re going to have your eyes.”
More crinkles appear as his smile widens and he takes my hand again, “No, I want them to have your eyes,” he says quietly, kissing me gently on the forehead. The rising sun begins to warm the sand as we continue walking, quiet this time.
We walk in silence for a while, he continues to pick up shells here and there and I try to make a mental list of everything we still want to do before we say goodbye again in a few more days. My husband has always said that I live in the future, always thinking about and planning for what’s to come, while he takes care of us in the here and now. Even now, during our limited time together, all I can think about is what comes next. Today’s to-do list, packing for our next little trip tomorrow, and talking about trying to grow our family. Will it be difficult for us? Will we have to see a doctor? What life will be like as a family of three?
I silently shame myself for not being present and thankful that right now we are just two, on this beautiful beach on a gloriously chilly morning. He murmurs something about breakfast and I laugh when I hear his stomach beg for food, as if on command. We turn around and head down the beach towards town, hand in hand, the sun on our backs. Just the two of us again.
About the Author
Anna Butler is an Air Force Wife and soon-to-be boy mom! She can often be found in her garden, on a hike with her old pup, or working on her novel when she's not traveling the world with her husband. A lover of good food, good people, and a good, strong cup of tea, she'll be your friend forever after a long chat and a London Fog!
You can find Anna on Instagram at @anna.marie.butler
This piece was originally crafted in The Work of Words writing workshop. Within the course, you'll discover how to string words together with creativity and discernment in a creative non-fiction framework.
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