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Marking Time

alec vanderboom

Eight years ago, I flew to Sydney to visit an Aussie friend whom I met in college. My August trip celebrated the end of the Bar Exam and the start of my first real job in September. An ocean crossing as the last hurrah of student travel before real life and real responsibility began.

I toured the Olympic Park in Sydney a few weeks before the Summer 2000 games began. I checked out the impressive architecture and took fake photographs as an athlete. I remember the famous Opera House, the kangaroos who lounged on golf courses, and the kolas who seemed to drip from the trees.

That trip also marked the time I had this strange feeling of loneliness for a certain non-serious boyfriend named Jon.

We were in the middle this swimming pool at crazy STA student resort in Queensland, Australia, off the Great Barrier Reef. My friend wanted to know if I'd gotten an email from Jon.

"Yeah, he sends me sweet notes saying that he misses me. I'd forgotten to sign the check for the rental deposit in my new apartment. Jon sent me four emails trying to track me down and tried to call my parents. Then he just left this sweet note saying that he was sorry for all the frantic emails, he decided to just pay the $300 deposit for me to make sure the apartment stays open until I come back."

My friend hopped off her lawn chair and looked me in the eyes. "This is serious. Paying your security deposit. This could be the one."

I remember changing the conversation pretty quickly. Some thoughts are too personal to speak out loud.

That trip to Australia was so meaningful not because of the emails I found in internet cafes, but because of how often I missed Jon. No one traveled as well as him. No one could appreciate art museums and new fangled palm trees. No one listened to my stories in the same way. No one was him.

I called him to picked me up in the airport. Jon sounded a little unsure about coming to pick me up. "Should I just take a cab?" I asked. When I saw him, I felt a little silly. I kissed him with reserve, just in case all those "serious" signs during my trip were only in my imagination.

Jon said that our shy, awkward greeting was not the "camera spins around kiss" that he'd expected. He picked up my heavy backpack. We walked out of the airport without holding hands.

I didn't know that a homemade engagement ring sat in Jon's pocket.

He proposed to me two weeks later.

I watched the Olympics 2004 with my husband, my one year old, and a giant belly which contained Alex. We had just moved to Madison, Wisconsin. We had one TV propped up on a milk crate in our bedroom. We watched the whole two weeks together as a family while Hannah chased our two dogs around our bed.

We could watch the whole event because Jon and I had just quit our jobs. The future we'd carefully charted back when we were single got all smashed up when we converted to Catholicism. The law degree. The adjunct teaching job. All those high career aspirations formed during a painful time in graduate school, none of it seemed to matter when a sweet baby girl with blue eyes entered our lives. If Alex appeared a little unexpectedly nine months later, we were doubly blessed. We got shoved out of our old roles by necessity.

I remember rubbing my belly with great hope.

In February 2006, my husband and I watched the Winter Games on an even older TV set in my grandfather's basement. The business venture which seemed so brilliant in Madison had failed. We'd been living with various relatives for 4 months while Jon searched for work. Jon finally landed a decent job in January.

Yet February was such a bleak time. We owed money to everyone. I couldn't see us moving into our own place until the bills were repaid. That meant months longer of living with a 2 year old and 1 year old in the decaying basement of someone else's house. (Alex ended up getting a minor case lead poisoning from the old, peeling paint.) My husband disliked his new job. Jon missed working from home. He disliked the two hour commute. He disliked being so far away from us each day.

We went from a family which spent every hour together for two years to a family who "lost" their Dad for up to 15 hours a day. I used to get so lonely that I'd wake up at 5:00 AM to walk Jon to the bus station. Standing in the dark with him at the bus stop was the only time we ever got to talk.

In the middle of this miserable feeling of living a life I didn't want, the Olympics were a bright light. Each night we could at least catch some ice-skating and ski jumping together. On a little TV, with the bad lighting and peeling lead paint, the Olympics were a gift. Something to focus on far bigger than ourselves.

In a few days, the 2008 Olympics begin in China. I'll be watching on another old TV set, with rabbit ears, that is currently perched on top of the sweater rack in my kids' closet. I'll be watching the track and field events with three kids, one dog, and one husband.

Today I got to explain to Alex "you've never seen these Summer Games. The last time there were held, you were still in my tummy."

"And you, Miss Maria. You were not even a twinkle in your Daddy's eye!"

I don't know where we'll be in another 4 years. I know I'll no longer be able to watch the games on old TVs with rabbit ears! I hope to be able to share the couch with a few more Benjamin bodies. Even if that doesn't happened, I've been greatly blessed. I didn't know the treat I had in store for me back when I was first missing my "could be serious boyfriend" in Sydney's Olympic Park.