The Unbearable Sadness of Seeing
(or, What I Wish I Could Tell You)

As I type this I'm watching you sleep in a three-by-three inch square on my screen. You've just rolled over, and I can no longer see your calm restful face, your softly closed eyes, your thin-lipped smile. You've thrown your sheets off, and the dim light from your desk lamp illuminates your slender back and my long-sleeved college dramat t-shirt I gave to you to wear when I left. As it always does, your hair has sprawled out across you pillow--you will be sporting extreme bed-head tomorrow morning, which you would normally attribute to me. If I were there I'd slide into bed behind you and pull the sheets back over your shoulder and dream with you.

You'll be pleased to learn that you don't snore at all. Your stomach and chest move only slightly when you breathe. Although you used to complain that I always hog the sheets and that you get cold easily, in my absence you have thrown the sheets off your own body--your left leg pinning them down over your right leg, your right hand holding them loosely. Either it's a hot night or you only get cold when you can blame me; but, it's autumn in the Netherlands, and Leiden has seen several showers today, and a cool after-rain breeze is blowing in through the vent (which I left open a week ago) in your window, so it must be the latter. I miss how you'd wake me up to sweetly scold me, and I'm not that sorry to say that I also miss stealing your sheets.

If I turn up the volume on my computer, I can hear the faint ticking of your wall clock and the steady buzz of your desk lamp. Occasionally I can hear the floor creak as your Chinese apartment-mate scurries from her room to the kitchen to the bathroom back to her room. (We never quite determined what she did, since she always seemed to do it when we were in your room.) Or I can hear your German apartment-mate opening and shutting her door as she comes home late from "The Duke," a live jazz bar in town. Or I can hear your Greek apartment-mate talking to her boyfriend over Skype--like we do--as her high-pitched voice travels through the thin walls of the former refugee bungalow which is now your dorm. Or I can hear you: if I turn the volume down just enough, I can hear the clock ticking above your computer, I can hear it when you now and then sleep-scratch your head, and I can hear the rustle of your sheets when you change positions. If I minimized the window to read the New York Times or write emails, I immediately restore it when I hear you move.

I get a warm feeling being able to see you sleep, thousands of miles away, not least of all because we may not be together for half a year--I a newly minted submarine officer, you a cognitive psychology graduate student. I can't say that watching you is exciting, but it isn't boring either. In a way, our webcams make our relationship more bearable: it's almost as though you're in the same room, being able to look at you and hear the sounds you make in your slumber. I could even wake you up with my voice if I wanted to.

But at the same time, in a not insignificant way, they make our situation more unbearable. Seeing you sleep reminds me how far away I am: I can see your bed but I can't lie in it; I can see your sheets but I can't adjust them; I can see your hands but I can't hold them; I can see your stomach but I can't rest my head on it; I can see your face but I can't kiss it; I can see your body but I can't embrace it. I can see everything I can't have.

Simultaneously, I am constantly aware of how much I love you and how long it will be till we're reunited. My heart struggles with the feeling that I'm closer to you and the reminder that I'm so far away. And while I wouldn't give up this amazing ability to watch over you while you sleep, an ocean and a continent away, I can't help but wonder if being able to gaze upon your world deepens my sadness at our separation with every little discovery of how much of you I miss.