In early December 2007, Chris and I went to Hawaii for five days. At the end of our trip, Chris flew back to Victoria, where we lived at the time, and I made a side-trip to Los Angeles, where I spent several days at Disneyland. On the way home, I flew back to Vancouver, then on to Victoria, where I arrived just after midnight. Because Chris had that day off, he offered to drive out to the airport to pick me up. I appreciated that, since taking the airport shuttle isn't the most efficient way to get home at the end of a long travel day.
When I arrived in Vancouver on my return, I had several hours to kill before my thirty-five minute flight to Victoria. I ate a sandwich from Subway, then called Chris at home. It was great to hear his voice again, even though we'd only been away from each other for about four days. Among other subjects we discussed, I confirmed my flight from Vancouver was on schedule, which meant I'd arrive back in Victoria at a quarter past midnight. Chris said he'd be at the airport waiting for me. I couldn't wait to see him.
As expected, my flight arrived in Victoria on time. I was exhausted. Earlier that day, I'd spent a number of hours at Disneyland, getting in that last bit of magic. Then, around 2:00 p.m., I started the trek home. I caught the airport bus to Los Angeles International, where I waited four hours before the flight to Vancouver. Once there, I waited another three hours to fly to Victoria. All told, my entire travel time, including all buses and flights, was about ten hours. I couldn't wait to be home, in my own bed.
When I walked into the airport terminal at Victoria International, I smiled to myself, excited to see Chris's face for the first time in days. I walked through the departures and arrivals area through a large door into the terminal, where relatives and friends awaited passengers. I scanned the crowd of faces for Chris's but didn't see it. I thought that was odd but guessed he might have gotten caught in traffic (although, at that time of the night, in Victoria, there was no traffic). I walked to the baggage carousel and waited for my suitcase.
Suitcase in hand, I watched as everyone filed out of the terminal. The long hallways and public areas were nearly empty. The airport shuttle, parked outside the arrivals door, departed. I knew from previous trips that was the final shuttle of the night. Suitcase in tow, I walked outside into the freezing marine air and scanned the public parking area. Still no sign of Chris. I couldn't imagine what had happened to him. I hoped for the best but expected the worst. Could he have been in an accident? I prayed he hadn't.
Soon thereafter, I searched for a public phone in the deserted terminal (Chris and I don't have cell phones because we don't like them). I found a quarter, placed it in the phone, and dialled our home number. After a few rings, Chris answered. I don't remember the first words that came out of my mouth, I was so stunned, but I'm sure they went something like, "What the hell are you still doing at home? Didn't you remember you were supposed to pick me up at the airport?"
He hadn't. He asked me what time it was. I told him. I said my flight had arrived at Victoria International on schedule, and I'd been waiting for him to pick me up for at least twenty minutes. He explained he'd been on his computer, had gotten distracted, lost track of time. I tried to stay calm. I told him the last airport shuttle had left. I said I could take a taxi home (although we didn't need the additional expense). He said, no, he'd get in the car right away and come get me. I knew he wouldn't arrive for another forty-five minutes.
Those were among the longest forty-five minutes of my life. For some of them, I sat in the terminal, watched the janitors buff the enormous expanse of floor, and shook my head. For others, I stood outside, my bags on the ground beside me, wondering what the hell had happened. He'd forgotten to pick me up? After I'd called him just a few hours earlier to remind him when my flight would arrive and by what time he should be at the airport to get me? I couldn't believe it. Alternately, I was stunned and furious.
Some time after 1:00 a.m., Chris arrived. Adding insult to injury, instead of pulling up to the curb outside the arrivals area, he paid for a half hour of parking. For the second time that morning, I wondered where his head was. "You forgot me?" I asked when we met up. I felt out of my body, I was so angry. He mumbled something. I didn't ask him to repeat it. He offered to wheel my bags the rest of the way to the car, but I kept a firm grasp on the handle. He opened the trunk, I put my bags in, and we left.
Chris and I didn't exchange one word while he spent the next forty minutes or so driving us back into the city. Not a single word. I couldn't even look at him. Instead, I peered through the passenger side window into the darkness along the highway, broken here and there by the odd street lamp or neon sign. My body was drained from the long day, but my mind was reeling. In it, I called him every name I could think of. I hated him. I hated him for what he'd done, for making me feel worthless.
As soon as we got inside the house and closed the door, I let him have it. I'd stewed so long at the airport waiting for him and on the ride home, I needed to release it, to let it pour out of me in a great flood. And release it I did, before we even made it past our front door, in one long explosive attack. Judging by the look on his face, he had no idea who I was. He'd never seen me so livid before. I didn't pause long enough for him to say anything. He needed to know how I felt. I didn't want to hear a word out of him.
But my anger masked how I really felt. Yes, my day had been long. Yes, I'd been inconvenienced. Yes, I was exhausted. Yes, all I could think about was being home and crawling into my own bed. But, more than that, I was hurt. I felt subordinated to a computer. Whatever Chris had been doing on it felt like it was more important than me, more important than ensuring he was at the airport on time to pick me up, more important than having me back.
Toward the end of the scalding words that rolled uncensored from my mouth, I said, "I'd never do that to you. I'd go out of my way to make sure I was at the airport before you arrived, so you knew how important you are to me. I've always put you first. From day one, you've been the priority in my life." To which Chris uttered the unfortunate words, "Bullshit. Who's waiting till all hours of the evening for you to get home from work?" That stung. He knew my job made demands on me I had little control over.
We survived this incident, of course. I don't recall how it was resolved, but I doubt we went to bed angry, because we never have. Once I'd used up all the venom that had accumulated inside me, I'm sure I felt relief enough to calm down, to talk civilly again (who knows what damage I'd done?). But the sting of what had happened was with me for a long time. Call it insecurity, even though Chris and I had been together about fifteen years by then, but I still felt sometimes like I came second to him. And I hated that.
In retrospect, I learned two valuable lessons that night. First, I learned that even those people we cherish the most can screw up, big time. Despite perhaps holding them to a higher standard, because of the emotional connection we share, the truth is they're still human and capable of greatly disappointing us. And the second lesson I learned was not to take everything personally. In the end, I wasn't at all in competition with Chris's computer, or anything else in his life. It took me a little while to understand that.