My partner is a merchant marine. And, he returned to work today.
Stephen has been sailing ever since he graduated from college. Originally interested in a career in the military, he attended Maine Maritime and became a civilian sailor. Overall, he has done very well in his career. He has visited countless corners of the world, and he has sailed on a wide vareity of ships (car carriers, grain ships, ships with military supplies, etc.). Over the course of his career, he has also managed to move up in the ranks of officers, beginning as a third mate and, now, sailing as chief mate.
When I met him over six years ago, I had no idea what a merchant marine was or what a sailor really did. Most of all, I didn’t understand the rotation schedule on which a sailor works. I remember meeting him for the first time in June, but, with the relationship off to a promising start, he had to return to work abroad only two months later, and he would be away for a 120-day rotation. After the mandatory consultation with my mother on whether or not I should “wait around for him,” I decided to wait and see what happened. Stephen really came through–he almost immediately began to e-mail me, and, because other types of communication on ships are limited, he purchased a cell phone and frequently called either from the ship, when there was a signal, or from land, when he was able to travel there for a day or the evening. The rest, of course, is history.
For the last two years, Stephen worked on a job that required three- to four-week rotations throughout the year. Doing the math, Stephen was away for more days of the year. He wasn’t able to control when he returned to work, for example, which, in some cases, he could manage on other jobs. However, he was home more frequently. When I dropped him off at the airport, always the worst day of the month, I could assure myself that, three weeks hence, I would be back there to pick him up again. And, I knew I would hear from him by phone every night–his ship was equipped with phones in every room. By the end of his time there, we were actually using the wifi signals at home and on the ship to video chat.
Stephen recently decided to return to his original line of work, known as “deep sea.” This means that he will once again be traveling to the far sides of the world, usually parts of Asia. And, his absences will lengthen accordingly. Typically, rotations in “deep sea” work average between 90 and 120 days, sometimes longer. The ships he will travel on will have limited means of communication–e-mail will be available, but we’ll likely be limited where other forms of communication are concerned.
Today was what I call “The Most Difficult Day.” After a wondeful “date night” last night, I drove Stephen to the airport. The moment of separation came, standing just outside of the security checkpoint outside of the airline gates. It was impossible to completely choke back tears. Stephen hugged me hard, deeply affected by my distress. He knew, however, that nothing would completely alleviate it. I stood behind the barrier, and I watched him disappear behind the security perimeter. And, I walked away, conscious with every step that I won’t see him again until November.
It has been a long time since I’ve had to make an adjustment like this. For the first four years of this relationship, I moved from rotation to rotation–it wasn’t easy, but maybe it was simply easier from practice. Now, I have to try and recapture that lost experience, and, as hard as today has been, the most difficult day is always the first step.