Sean McHugh: My heart living partly abroad


Like much of the country, I am living partly on Greenwich Meantime. However, I might be the only person in the country who wasn't doing it to see the little prince carried the top of Pride Rock, which I think is in Kensington Gardens.

I've been getting up early so I can Skype across the pond, to merry olde England where my girlfriend is studying for the summer. Flo and I are also trying to write letters as befits young lovers separated by vast distances. There are two difficulties though. The first is that it's sort of hard to write letters to someone to whom you're also writing emails. The contents of every letter I send ends up arriving in electronic format several days before the hard copy.

Also, my letters arrive in Oxford in the order they were sent, each taking about a week. Her letters to me show up in chaotic bursts. Monday morning I received a postcard mailed July 2nd, a package mailed July 10th, and a letter mailed July 18th. I can only speculate that mail arriving in America is cordoned off in a high security containment facility to be x-rayed and sniffed by dogs. Alternatively, mail leaving England is passed from a dapper frog with a motorcar to an orphan schoolboy to a fastidious detective to a gang of chimneysweeps and sent through a wardrobe, eventually popping out of a rabbit hole in upstate New York.

This separation is strange because I have never actually lived alone in my life. I've lived with my parents, my girlfriend, and in dorms at college, but I haven't ever had a place of my own. So while Flo is in England for the summer I'm living alone and experiencing what it would be like to be on my own.

The chief benefit to living alone is that it gives me a chance to self examine a bit. When living as part of a couple it sometimes becomes difficult to see where I end and she begins. I was a bit curious to discover which facets of my personality would change without her there. I knew, for example, that the bed would not get made until the weekend before Flo returns.

Here are some facts I have discovered about myself.

I thought I might be messier without my girlfriend around but it turns out it's about the same. My apartment is messy in the same way that Antarctica is snowy. It doesn't actually snow that often, but the snow that's there doesn't melt. I clean up about once a week or so. But there isn't much to clean because I'm only moving around the same dozen objects.

Also I've discovered that my innate biological schedule is not exactly human. Typically I end up going to sleep between one and two am and then waking up at 8:30. Somehow I have not passed out from sleep deprivation yet though I never end up taking naps or going to bed early to make up for it. I checked my blood pressure at work (if you need to ask why a call center would have a blood pressure self-test in the break room, you've never worked in a call center) and found that even in the middle of a work day my heart beats less than once a second so technically I'm asleep for most of the day. That might also have something to do with my girlfriend being on another continent.

In addition to forgoing sleep, I also don't eat very much when I'm on my own. I usually manage a breakfast by ten, lunch around three at work, and then sometimes I have dinner, usually only on days with a "T" in them. I'm not fasting, I just don't get around to eating. Fortunately the genes that saw my ancestors through the potato famine kick in and I make do.

When living with Flo a meal is an event. It's something we do together and plan our evening around. One of us puts the finishing touches on the food while the other sets the table or cues up a DVD. When I'm on my own a meal is something I freeze three days ahead of time and microwave when I realize that it's 9:30 and I haven't eaten since lunch.

The biggest thing I've discovered is that if you live with someone, they're never really gone. The shared space echoes with their presence. Basically what I'm saying is: Come home, baby. I can't eat, can't sleep without you here.


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