My Life in Transit – Thoughts From the Air
For many years, the moments leading up to a flight, a train ride or even a long road trip have been moments of grief. Of fear. Of trauma. Of loss. Of panic. Nearly seven years ago I lost my aunt. She had cancer for almost a decade. She was diagnosed terminal. She lived for a decade after. I boarded a flight to California a little more than two weeks after she was laid to rest. Less than two years ago I said goodbye to her husband, my uncle. I saw him a few days before he passed in the hospital. I remember his son, my cousin, pointing to me saying, “Look Dad, it’s Rachie-Roo.” That’s what he called me, Rachie-Roo. The day after his funeral I boarded another plane to California. This past summer, on the morning of my train to Baltimore, the person I loved left me. I was on my way to Johns Hopkins for a conference celebrating the scholars of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Their award is what took me to London. I didn’t feel much like celebrating. A week later I went to San Francisco. I cried in the airport all morning. I could see everyone staring at my bleary eyes and red face. They probably thought someone had died. Something did. Then, there was the day of my flight to London. You guys remember that one, right?
So I rush to the terminals. To the platforms. The gas station. To Target to pick up last minute items. To CVS for Nyquil and chewing gum. Then I arrive. I have my passport. My cell phone. My ticket. Wallet. Keys. Camera. Chargers. Toothbrush. Check. I wait in lines. So many lines. Different people want different documents. I fumble through my over-stuffed purse and find what they need. Once I’ve passed security or a surly-looking conductor, after I’ve been searched by TSA , I’ve put my shoes back on. I wait.
I thumb through my copy of Vanity Fair and munch on a bag of Chex Mix paired with a diet pepsi and gummi bears. Those are my standards. I try to get to my gate, my platform or wherever early. Gotta snag a good seat by the entrance. It’s also handy to use the loo before settling into a sustained period of waiting. It’s a pain to keep rolling that carry-on in and out of crowded stalls.
By the time I’ve boarded whatever mode of transportation I’m riding and I find my seat (I prefer the aisle), I sit. I breathe and relax. For the next 2 or possibly 9 hours all I have to do is sit, eat a bad meal that will probably give me uncomfortable gas and watch a movie or two. I love traveling alone for that reason. It’s wonderful to just be by myself in that way. And someone regularly offers me beverages. I switch off. I’m in airplane mode. I like being out of reach, floating above the world for a little while. I have to. It’s been too much.
This time around, however, nothing bad really happened before the airport. No fights. No one got hurt. I didn’t lose anything. I left London on a pretty high note – happy about the people I’ve met thus far and excited for what awaits in 2012. I got to the airport on time. My bag was within the weight restrictions. Security was a breeze. I had a nice phone call with my mom before I boarded. Easy. I settled in, and even looked out of the window during take-off. (I used to hate flying. I suffer from anxiety and have panic attacks from time to time. Flying used to be one of those things that did it for me. Especially take-off).
I decided to watch Crazy, Stupid Love. Bravo to US Airways for having such choice on-flight selections. I plan on watching Midnight in Paris next. Anyway, the point being – that movie triggered something. It was the scene where Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are lying in bed, decidedly not having sex and talking. Without noticing, I began to cry. It’s a beautifully shot scene and Gosling is beyond endearing. It made me sad because I’ve been there. The night you know this one is different. Suddenly I felt this rush. This rush of not knowing when that’ll happen again. It’s rare, you know? The game-changers. Being the game-changer. And we all look for it. The hopeless romantics and the cynics. And when you’ve had it and lost it, you miss it.
And so all of this is poking its way into my subconscious as I travel home. I’ve wondered what it’ll be like to be back. To be in the house I grew up in. To see all of the people I’ve missed in ways I can’t express. To hug them. I wonder if I’ll seem different. If anything about me has changed. Do I seem happier? Do I look tired? Older? All of this knowing that I have to leave again, soon.
The beauty of travel is you’re going somewhere. No matter what you’ve just gone through, you don’t have to stay. Something new is waiting on the other end. The other terminal. The other platform. It doesn’t mean everything has to change. Or that you’ve gone through something really hard and this trip has to serve as some metaphor for transformation. It doesn’t have to be that at all. But there is something on the other end of this. And when you’re 37,000 miles above the Atlantic, all you can do is sit. And wait.