Friday, April 16, 2010
In July I will have been married to the same man for nearly 7 years. From the first month of our marriage at the all too young ages of 21 and 23 we were assaulted with the question, "when are you having a baby?" For six years, 9 months, and 11 days, I have cringed at that question.
Last year, when this topic became valid enough in our lives to begin talking about talking about starting a family, (by the way, I dislike this euphemism. Isn't that we did in 2003 when we decided to get married? Isn't that we did in 2004 when we adopted Marble our first puppy, and again in 2004 when Harley, our second Aussie, came home? Isn't that what I do every time I am with my friends who love and support me and who in turn I love and support?), last year, when I was at the end of my 27th year and Phil turned 30, it was "time" for the talk. My fear, I expressed, was that I never wanted to feel like a baby is what I needed to make me happy or to complete me.
I'm not trying to cast judgment or criticize women who truly and honestly feel that they are called to be mothers first and foremost. I am often envious of these women who live with such certainty. How many times have I looked deeply within myself to see if I had what it took to be a mother. Do I have the generosity, the patience, the kindness, the wisdom, the courage? What I'm saying is, although I've never doubted that I would be a mother someday, I do not ever want one role in my life to define who I am. And, let's face it, I've seen it happen more often than not that a woman with children comes to a point in her life when her children are adults and she's left with a void. What then? When her children are grown, who is she? A grand-mother in waiting?
And then there are the children I see everyday. The 16 and 17 year olds whose closest definition of family they have is the one we create in my classroom. The children whose parents, for whatever reason or combination of circumstances, can't or won't parent. When I bring them home with me in my heart every night what room do I have left to preserve myself and another person? I watch 16 year old girls become mothers; most of them have mothers who had them at the same age. You can't tell me that age doesn't matter. And you can't tell me that 28 is getting "up there."
American women in the 21st century are already placing enormous expectations on themselves to be innovative, sexy, intelligent, successful, clever, popular, warm, generous, assertive, competitive, funny, etc. I must be the consummate housekeeper, cook, dog-walker, teacher, student, friend, sister, aunt, daughter, wife, philosopher, reader, writer, advocate, WOMAN. Fulfilling these statutes that I set for myself is all-consuming. We are inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on ourselves when we set ourselves up to be Superwoman and then chastise ourselves for falling short by a centimeter.
When we do fall short, when one shoe drops and then another, our "happiness" drops, too. And what's worst of all, our self-worth plummets. I'm speaking from experience here. After a few years of a regimented house cleaning routine every Saturday of every month that ate away 6-7 hours of my weekend, one day I sat down and cried out my frustration and exhaustion. I told myself that twice a month would suffice, and the week in between cleaning would be full of fur-bunnies hidden in corners and trails of cat litter peeking out of the utility room. So what?
This is one reason I am not a mother in the technical sense of the word, not yet. I am still plagued by the self-inflicted inflated expectations I long ago chiseled for myself. If I were to have a child and then fall short of my own ideal, not only would I be disappointed, but so would another human being much closer than anyone else ever could be.
I've made the mistake of thinking that one path will constitute utter and complete happiness, only to discover several years later that no one path can do such a thing. A baby will not make me happy.
What am I waiting for then? To experience the moment when I can say, unequivocally, that come what may....I will still be me. I'm waiting for those ghosts to stop rattling their bones in my metaphorical closet. I'm waiting for parts of my past to fade away like the mist dissipates over warm water on the first cool Autumn morning. I'm waiting to be comfortable with stillness. I'm waiting to feel confident about my body. To feel healthy and strong and ready for the gargantuan changes that will happen to me, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
I'm closer than I've ever been before. So, in 5 months and 4 days when I turn 29 you can tease me all you want. I don't mind.
As Elizabeth Gilbert so candidly put it, "Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it's what you want before you commit."
I have tattoos, but when I got them I put them somewhere I don't have to see them all of the time. Once I have a child, I will never look any where else. This is as it should be. And so it will be, when I'm done waiting.
Friday, March 5, 2010
The months in between that first kiss in October and the hot evening I said goodbye in the cul-de-sac where his house sat were filled with friendship, laughter, passion, and sorrow. He walked me to my car parked under the familiar lamp that illuminated a circle of yellow light. Our sweaty fingers gripped each other tightly, gently kissing my lips, then the tip of my nose, he opened my door and then shut it behind me. As I turned the key waiting for the engine to turn over, he stepped back into the halo on the pavement. With the best “Tyler smile” he could summon, his hand raised to the level of his heart and he waved with an insignificant motion.
With the dark road in front of me, I glanced into the rearview mirror to see him standing and staring after me, black curls lit in yellow light, his eyes cast in the shadow from the curtain of his hair. From deep within, a white-hot flame rose through my lungs and wrapped its fingers around my heart, engulfing it until I thought I should stop breathing altogether. The car seemed to roll down the hill of its own volition, my foot heavy on the break, delaying the moment when his reflection would diminish.
We had spent that last evening together lying on his creamy leather couch with our arms and legs wrapped around one another, sharing a chocolate chip cappuccino coke float and watching a Chaplin favorite in black and white and silence. Earlier as I had helped him to pack up the remainder of his brushes and sketchpads, I cleverly performed the disappearing girlfriend trick, stuffing my long legs into his over-sized duffel bag.
When Tyler came back into the room after putting another load at the base of the stairs, he found me with the zipper up around my neck and my wavy, mousy brown hair draping down the khaki canvas.
“I had an idea.” I chuckled, completely thrilled by the fact that I was able to fold my 5’10” frame into such a configuration.
“I can see that,” learning on the door frame he pulled his camera up to snap a quick memento of his “girlfriend-to-go.”
“Why don’t I just go with you? You could secretly hide me underneath your desk in the dorm and take me out for walks after dark.”
“Right, and then smuggle scraps of cafeteria food up to my room at night. You’d be like the creature that lived under my bed.”
“Or the super-sexy-secret-lover that lives under your bed.” My right eyebrow arched as I gave him my best “I’ve got you now” look. He shook his head, laughing in his careless way, as he unzipped the bag and lifted my arms around his neck. Gingerly, he lifted me out of duffle bag and set me back down again on his bed. The waterbed had been replaced several months ago for a standard mattress complete with springs and foam-- a new hazard for us as this new arrangement posed a possible problem; it was far noisier than the gentle sloshing of the water bed to prying ears below.
My arms locked around his neck; my fingers twirled the tightest curls at the base of his neck. “I wish you could come with me.” He whispered into my ear. Then, as he softly bit my ear lobe, running his tongue along the contours of my neck, I allowed myself to pretend.
“What if I could come with you?” We hadn’t taken this road, refusing to discuss what might happen next year and rather choosing to be happy in the present.
“What are you saying?” His eyes locked on mine, furrowing his brows intensely.
“I just thought… what if I decided I wanted to go to school out of state, too? After a year, of course.” I wasn’t sure how this new illumination of our possible future life together post-high school would fair. Did he want me still? Was I worth more to him than some passing amusement designed to keep his mind off of the anticipation of this day when he’d be released of the ties that bound him?
“You would consider that?” He genuinely looked hopeful and I began to feel it, too. This wasn’t the end for us. “I mean, of course, I’d love for you to come to Pittsburgh, maybe find a college that you love, and we could be there together.”
This jump into our possible future was very uncharacteristic for Tyler. As a rule of thumb, he never used the phrase, “what if,” always focusing on here and now.
“I think I would love that.” Daring now to give myself a small consolation that I had chosen the right path back in the fall, to follow him wherever it would take us. I allowed him to make me feel wanted, needed. “I love you, Tyler.”
Tyler stood up, shut the door to his bedroom—all the way for this last time—and turned up the cd player as Morrison sang, “I can feel her heart beat from a thousand miles away…” ...And he sang softly in my ear, “She gives me love, love, love, love, crazy love,”.....
Later as we shared our last low-fat floats, our bodies forming an “S” in afterglow of Chaplin’s wavering lights, the fear and panic began to silently rise within me. Singed from the recent affirmation. The rawness of my emotions did not pause to gather in my throat or lips even, closing my eyes I relaxed the muscles of the lids and silently and with all of the stillness I could muster, released the tears as the ran down my cheeks over my chin and into the bowl. I wouldn’t allow myself to leave Tyler with this last memory of a shaken, weak girl. Who was I to try to hide it from him? He removed the salty, soggy ice cream from my fingers, cupped my face in his hands and kissed the sluggish trail of my tears.
“Kate, I love you,” punctuating his words as he kissed first the freckle on my left cheekbone, then the cluster of freckles on the bridge of my nose, “always and forever.”
Perhaps it was his need to attach himself to something permanent as he wandered off into this new adventure. Perhaps it was his guilt at pulling me along the rapid ride of our relationship when he knew he’d be leaving. Perhaps he was afraid of walking this path alone. It’s hard for me, now, to look back and believe that he meant what he said. I wonder how was it that I was so naïve to believe his unspeakable promises.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Sometimes we have to tell the story. We have to weave together a narrative of events, significant and insignificant, that equate to the summation of your life thus far. Stories force us to reflect. Stories ask us to put aside our ego and say, “So what?” So what are we when we are evaluated against our choices? Who are we when the fork in the road is presented to us in retrospect?
With a rush I flung myself, backpack and all, across the span of our shadowed silhouettes and found that place in the hollow of his neck that every inch of me had been craving.
He braced himself for the impact and after a few struggled moments when we both were tottering dangerously over the concrete, he pulled me close and tucked his nose behind my right ear, buried in the sunned tresses tied in a bun at the base of my neck. He exhaled and the tension left his body.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The September morning was as beautiful as one can hope for in Pittsburgh. No cloud in sight…no oppressive heat. The air was clear and cool as it wafted through the vent in the window near the shower. I stood watery-eyed, still dazed from the reading marathon the night before and watched as the cool, dry air from the other side of the wall mixed and swirled with the steam rising above my head. The heat of the water on my face and breath of fresh air boosted my energy and I clamored, a little late, from the shower. The morning show lit up my television, but I failed to pay attention to it in my grog. I reappeared from the bathroom in time to see something on the screen I could not wrap my mind around…a plane….a collision….a stunned anchor….a question: What’s going on?
Over and over it played, as if the television itself was trying to decide if this was real. The image of the plane gliding into the first tower reminded me of a corny B-movie when the animators would “fly” a plastic toy plane around in battle scenes-strings showing and all. But as hard as I tried, I could not make out the faintest sliver of strings, nor could I convince my mind that this was a miniature model on some sound stage in Hollywood.
The anchor returned and announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, it seems that a plane has just crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York.” Instinctively I reached for my cell, called mom who reassured me that the attack must have been an accident—to go ahead and go to class. Heart and head pounding, I quickly dressed for class, layered in a black full length sweater jacket, my “I (heart) NYC” tee and cd player in hand.
The bus to downtown Pittsburgh was surprisingly empty. The normal hustle and bustle of business men and women, blue-collar workers, students, and visitors that board the 71C Shadyside Express was limited to an elderly woman laden with shopping bags and myself. The bus driver, listening to her radio, glances in the overhead mirror and announced to us “There was another plane.” Another plane? I stepped off the curb darting buses leaving the island-city known as “The Burg” and sprinted the two flights of stairs up to my Natural Science classroom. A T.V. monitor in the student lounge flashesdfootage of a smoldering skyscraper as a small black winged figure disappeared behind the billows of smoke shortly followed by another red and orange blast. The announcer, pale with wide-eyes, informed us that it seems an orchestrated attack has been launched involving hijacked commercial flights.
9:30 and class began with a noticeable amount of empty seats. The professor briefly praised us for honoring our commitment to academia and assured us that “it” was over then begins the lecture on super novas.
9:55-- a rustling sound outside the door and it swung open. Another professor walked deliberately to the startled man at the lectern. What feels like an hour later the visitor leaves and I heard “A third plane has just crashed into the Pentagon. Let’s finish this topic and dismiss for the day. I suggest that you return home as soon as possible.” We sat quietly, ram-rod straight in our chairs, and watched the clock as another twenty minutes slowly passed.
10:15-- a woman in her fifties, silvery-white shoulder length hair, and lose Bohemian clothing sprinted to the lecturer, a look of shock and dismay on his face. “His wife” one student leaned over and whispered. Turning to us, he pronounced, “Downtown is being evacuated. The FBI building is on lockdown. Go home now. If you live in the dorms, go to the street level floor and wait in the common room. If you live outside the city, good luck.” Good Luck? Good Luck!
The train of students filing down the emergency stair well moved like a herd of cattle trying to file through a single doorway. No one pushes, no one says a word. What will be waiting for us outside? Will we see smoldering and burning like on the television? Will parts of buildings be collapsing on top of us? Will there be people-white ghosts in ash and suits- struggling down the street in a cloud of debris? Where will I go? Home? Home is a thousand miles away…I want to go home…please, let me go home…
I am astonished to see above me the same sea of blue, the same clear early morning sky free from cloud and jet stream. The buildings hover over me tall and erect…still intact. The people rushing around me are injury-free, no blob of white and gray. The bus. I ran the three blocks to my bus stop praying I won’t have to wait long. Standing on top of the bench to see over the crowd of people waiting before me, I could barely make out the 71C glowing in yellow on a field of black just two blocks away. Thank God.
The doors fold opened with a smack, but there were no seats. “Everybody on. We’ve been told to evacuate the streets…we can’t go in ‘til everyone is out of the city” the driver relays to me as I catch her eye, half filled with fear, half with courage.
Was she thinking of her home? Was she thinking of when she would see her children again? Was she thinking of the refuge, the hope she provided the dozens of people now crowded in her bus who she was delivering from an island where only bridges can deliver you from isolation, desertion?
The doors slammed shut a few people behind me. Desperate, sweaty palms slapped on the glass… “There will be another one shortly” she shouted cheerily to the anxious faces in the street outside.
We inched along for a moment then came to a dead stop. Those of us standing bent our heads down to peer through the windows, craning our necks to get a view of the tops of the buildings, to the sky overhead. Next to me stood a family, a mother with an infant in her arms and a toddler by her side. The toddler began to cry reaching up to be in her mother’s arms. I noticed how impossible it would be for her to cradle both children, so I gently knelt down and introduced myself to the girl.
“My name’s Kate…are your feet tired?” She nodded warily. “Would you like me to hold you?” I ask more to the mother than child. Both nodded gratefully. I tok the girl in my arms…she weighed nothing compared to the bag of anthologies and textbooks I dropped to the floor of the bus. Her tiny fingers clutched at the rim of my sweater as she stared into my eyes. A man on the bench in front of me stood up and presented his seat to me. I gladly accepted. He understood that my burden was greater than his.
She sat on my lap twirling the tie of my jacket around her tiny fingers. Her braids sprouted all over her head like daisies in a flower bed with barrettes of pink, yellow, orange, and red clamping her fine hair at the ends and weighing them down. When she laughed they clinked together like plastic bells.
A scream in front of the bus caught our attention. The bus swayed to the curb side as people crammed to see out the window. There lying on the curb, was a woman in a skirt-suit, pumps, and hose. A gash traced her hairline above the right temple to just between her eyes. One eye was already blacked by the blood collecting in her eyebrow and lashes. In the rush of evacuees darting from bus to bus she had been shoved off the curb, head colliding with the pavement. The girl’s eyes grew from their regular almond shape to an O out of horror. I turned her to me and staredt telling her about my cat, Tigger, who used to climb up my legs to get on my shoulders. She smiled and even let a little laugh escape when I told her about the flying-kitty trick.
As people ran to the woman who half consciously lied in the street, a haunting melody teased my ear. A silvery-sweet line of a melody I could barely recall….Could this be real? How, in the middle of this chaos could someone be playing a flute?
The crowd in front of me shifted; people took their seats; all grew quiet.
Leaning against the red brick wall of the Rite Aid was a woman, dressed in gray, hair unkempt, clogs on her feet, eyes closed, playing a flute. The bus stopped its shuttering as all eyes and ears gazed upon the woman. The notes were so clear and true that they ceased the pounding of our hearts long enough for us to discern “America the Beautiful” streaming from the pipe. The phrases were built with subtle crescendos through pensive, soulful phrases that seemed to be emanating from the city itself.
Time froze; tragedy was overtaken with the common bond of humanity for a split second. My eyes stung, and before I realized it a tear struck the little girl on her head. She looked up at me, smiled, and said “Don’t be sad” as she wiped away the tear drop from her brow.
With a lurch, the bus started again, rolling with determination through the stop light and weaving through traffic on search of the bridge which would take us safely across the Allegheny. The flute kept playing but was soon interrupted with the wail of the ambulance sirens. Relief escaped our chests and we settled more into our seats, looking ahead for home, for safety.
I stepped off the bus in Shadyside, the girl waving at me through the window as the driver pulls away. Turning toward the street, which would take me to my apartment I marveled at how peaceful and uninterrupted the maple lined streets were…as if nothing ever happened.
Had I imagined the whole thing? Climbing the marble steps up to my third floor apartment, I caught bits of a news broadcast through the door on the second story. “A day of tragedy…” the sad voice utters. I flicked on my own television and aw the devastation. I called mom, who by now has convinced herself that Pittsburgh has been struck, and I was dead after she assured me it was safe to go to class. Grief, ultimate fear, pain, and relief filled her tear-choked voice.
Once I felt reassured that my own fears were assuaged and my mother was convinced I was alive, I scrolled through the list of missed calls on my cell. Where was Tyler? Surely, when events began to unfold he wondered where I was, was I safe.
I found him. He was sitting at his table, hunched over, the television on mute behind him as the station continuously looped a reel of footage from the streets as one by one, each plan found its target.
“Hm?” He didn’t turn. I walked to him, placed the palms of my hand on his shoulders and then sunk down onto his back, wrapping my arms around his chest, forcing him to stop the motion of his pencil.
In an attempt for him to tell me it was all a mistake, I whispered, “I can’t believe it. I…”
“I know,” cutting me off gently, “but we have to keep going.”
And that was it. I didn’t tell him about the little girl with the braids or the flute, or my fears that I would never leave that island. I didn’t tell him how much I suddenly missed home and felt the pang of loneliness. I didn’t tell him I had started to doubt what I was doing, what was it all for?
Curling up on his couch, I said nothing and waited while the sun began to set, the newsreel began to roll again, and addicted to the carnage and tragedy, I relieved the morning’s events over and over…alone.
I spent the next week in front of that television running through the gamut of emotions every human was feeling who witnessed the horror unfold that September morning. I thought of home….a thousand miles away from burning buildings, demolished blocks, evacuated cities….and yearned . Yearned for home…yearned to feel safe. The clamp around my heart tightened, my pulse raced, and grief seared a place in my soul never touched before. Such a deep sense of loss and mourning engulfed me; I knew I would be lost.
But, then it dawned on me. This was humanity. This was the phenomenon when a million souls felt the same overwhelming pain at the same time…this was the bond we all share, the depth we all belong to. This was what made us human. This was what makes us divine. And the one human I was most connected to in the world, was now farther away from me than he had been when I was a thousand miles away. A deep void settled in.
I succumbed to the gulf and let myself drift down into the indigo, floating through an endless swirling sky. I felt my neighbor. I felt the man below me whom I had never met. I felt my family on the other side of the nation. I felt my grandmother gone years before. I felt crowds on the other side of the world gathered in front of the American Embassies-communities of grief and mourning. I felt my pain and deep frustration. Reaching out to feel Tyler’s pain, to touch on that sense of connection I so desperately needed to establish, I felt nothing.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
To say there are many types of love in one lifetime is like saying there are many stars in the sky. All stars burn. They burn with varying degrees of intensity and heat. One type of love is like an igniting a match. A spark ignites a burning, intense flame upon contact with the rough surface. The match-tip, primed and ready to ignite, makes contact on a coarse surface and “snap.” Fire.
This love burns with all of the intensity it can muster, quickly sucking in the surrounding oxygen, burning down through the quick and into the stem. Rapidly, it progresses until the heat becomes too unbearable for the fingers that desperately grasp it. Either the hand gives up, shaking out the flame or releasing it. Every now and then, beyond our control a sudden gust extinguishes the flame; sometimes even the brightest flames can be extinguished by the subtlest drafts. If our flame resists, we even allow it to reach the tip of our fingertips where it runs out of the timber it needs to burn, forever singing and damaging the nerve endings, so that next time we won’t feel the heat as intensely.
The other type of love burns more steadily, with less heat but with more constancy. Perhaps the violent explosion of a match ignited a set of coals set deep into white sand or a coniferous forest floor. Nonetheless, the coals are lit and begin to glow in soft amber, dull orange and traces of crimson. Flames might dance, teasingly, across the surface, like ice-skaters on a pond, never staying for too long. Sometimes you might observe the coals to be deeply black and cool, but you extend your hand to rest on top of them and the warmth enlivens even the numbest nerves in your fingers.
A solid gust of wind or breath can stir the fire sleeping sullenly within the coals themselves. Ironically, it is sometimes this same gust of wind that extinguished the match, which becomes the breath of life to light the coals. One flame vanishes as quickly as it appeared; another, softer, gentler source of warmth takes hold, waiting to be energized, to be fed and fueled.
A single lump of coal, course, gritty, and black, will burn steadily for as long as there is the slightest bit of fuel to sustain it. The match, however gloriously bright and passionate, is quick to devour its own fuel source and unreliable in the softest breezes.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Mainly it wasn't fair to me. In trying to write the truth from a detached "this is my creation" point of view I became sulky. My writing was sulky. I can't write the truth and pretend it is anything other than what it is. This, unfortunately, does not a novel make. James Frey so publicly demonstrated this with the backlash from his "memoir" piece Oprah whipped him with on national T.V. I understand a little bit of his possible reasoning--who doesn't want to be the epic version of herself?
But, it did give me a place to start....an outline of a story with the sketches of characters I had dreamt of on a night train from Barcelona to Paris with a good friend. Based on reality, based on my own experiences, but not me. This is much safer. This is fiction. I can write about her and not have to relive my own painful moments. I can give her choices I didn't have as my own little experiment in storytelling but remain true to the character and not bend her to reflect my own preferences.
So, Chapter 1 that is posted here is that little flash of an opening scene that Jenn Morgan and I giggled over excitedly on a night train over three years ago.
The "Prologue" piece was my attempt to salvage some of the pieces I have that are utterly and 100% me as well as the "Bedouin Nights" piece. Those will not make fiction, it would be unfair. So, I'm holding on to them, but those cute little suburban teenagers falling in love at a party will not make an appearance in this novel. Not in any recognizable form at least.
The jolt of the landing gear as it made contact with the pavement below alerted my senses once again. So gently lulled out of my Dramamine reverie, gripping the tips of the armrests, I gulped in my breath. Will he be there? Did he get the message? My God, Kate, this is a lunatic plan.
The slight pop when the seal of the cabin door is released sent me to my feet, grasping for the one bag I carried onto the flight, and I bolted up the aisle and down the plank way to the terminal. Shit. Damn baggage…which one did they say again? I forgot about the backpack I’d been lugging around Europe the last two weeks. I couldn’t just leave it. So I ran to the first attendant I saw, “Excuse me…Excuse me??!!” But she just turned, waved me aside and pointed me in the direction of the now mass of people that I had trampled during my hasty flight down the cramped aisle of the aircraft. I took a deep breath, sighed, and stepped in line to follow the entourage down to baggage claim.
Staring down the marquis announcing incoming flights with all the will power and consternation I could muster did not make the seconds and minutes on the rotary clock pass by any more quickly. Either he’ll be there or he won’t. One way or another, standing here another few moments—patiently—will not change what is waiting for you.
Nothing will change? Then, why the hell did I just spend a full credit card limit and half of another on booking a last minute transatlantic flight? Why did he leave the note? Why did I follow him? Why was I now struck with more fear than I had been in these last few, darkest months? Everything will change. What’s waiting for me right outside the terminal doors—or what is not—will change who I decide I will be. It will change what I see as the whole purpose to this disastrous and most lucky of all the perfectly planned moments in my life.
I must have been lost in my own rhetorical questioning when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a baggage attendant for the airline lift my dusty struggling backpack off of the carousel and place it in the “nobody claimed me” roped-off corner of the baggage claim office.
Oh-My-God, how long was I standing here? “Wait, wait it’s mine!” I pushed through the tiny group of Japanese tourists huddled around their multilingual guide and approached the stocky man holding my backpack filled with napkins from Angelina’s in Paris, a rock from the beach in Banyuls and the stuffed Penguin I brought back from the Barcelona aquarium for Bleu. Through the most innocent an gracious smile I could gather I chirped, “I’m sorry I wasn’t paying attention, but I’m here, I’ll take it now.”
Lifting one eye brow the attendant held steadfast to his duty to protect the international unclaimed baggage of the world and requested to see my boarding pass and passport as proof that I was not some tourist bent on stealing some poor American girl’s baggage with full of prized possessions. We made our quick exchange: my boarding pass and passport for the backpack—“Crap!” My passport. In my rush to see which direction fate, Kharma, Jesus, Bacchus, Buddha, and Bono had chosen for me I had jumped onto the escalator without retrieving my passport from the dutiful attendant holding my baggage hostage, which was my ticket through customs.
I stopped. Let the escalator take me to the top and back down again, all while fighting the urge to be that girl who runs haphazardly down the wrong way on an escalator and let it instead carry me at its own pace. After recovering from my absent- minded blunder, I proceeded again to the escalator, even pausing to let the entire group of Japanese internationals, who had multiplied exponentially while I was losing my mind, all board the moving stairway together and ahead of me.
Just stop and slow down. I took a deep breath and held it, listening to my ears buzz as the oxygen was rapidly consumed through the blood stream. As I swayed slightly to the lull and hum of the fluorescent lights in the stairway to my future, things started to feel not so terrifying. I even started to relax my shoulders and allow the weight of my backpack to straighten out my spine. I was becoming so relaxed I could almost close my eyes. This is nice, really nice, maybe I’ll just stay on this escalator and ride it up and down a few times…what would it hurt…what else do I have to do….why are my lips tingling? What’s that popping sound??? Why is my chest burn—BREATHE, Kate! With a gasp of breath and lurching motion that sent my hands grasping for the rubber handrails I opened my eyes in time to step off on the customs level of the terminal
Okay, no more funny breathing techniques! Finding myself in the appropriate permanent citizen/ resident line, I waited as patiently as I could manage, until I heard the “Welcome home” and slap, slap of the arrival stamp on the blue pages of my passport.
Rounding the corner to the exit I felt the sudden urge to hold my breath again. You are going to have to talk yourself through this one Kate! Move one foot and then the other. I obeyed and the automatic doors opened, revealing a strip of sunlight and wafting in the fresh air I’d been craving for the past ten hours of my journey.
The automatic doors shut again, cutting off the fresh supply of oxygen to my hammering heart. You can do better than that, sweetheart, now do it again. This time I did not step forward, I did not walk, I leapt. On the other side of the door I froze. Should I look around, where do I go now? Fellow passengers passed by me to embrace loved ones coming to great them, climb in taxis, and stand in line for the shuttle.
My head swirled where I stood, and I experienced one of those moments where my mind’s eye rose out of my body to take a better look around. While it spun two feet above my head, adding to the growing disorientation and jet lag, I couldn’t help but doubt. The fears and explanations ran through my mind like a grocery list I had memorized on my way to the store: He didn’t get the message. He got it but is running late. He got it and is going to punish me for dragging him through all of this nonsense, making me sweat it out. He didn’t get it. His own flight was late. He got it and he changed his mind. “No,” the word escaped my lips like a breath that had been held in for too long.
That was it, that was Occam’s Razor-- the simplest explanation as to why my arms are not wrapped around him right now, running the tips of my fingers across the jagged hairline of his neck. My mind returned to its body and, lowering my head to shield my face from the warmth of the streaming light on the platform, I felt myself sag under this heavy realization. This was a consequence I had not allowed myself to contemplate on that motion-sickness-medication-haze-induced journey across the Atlantic. I wondered, had I made the right decision? Would I be able to love him and only him? Would the last few months and years dissipate like the fog of a cool November morning as the sun climbs its heights. Would I lose any semblance of the relationship I felt compelled to follow and pursue earlier this summer? Which one would I lose? It didn’t occur to me that I would lose both.
I shook my head in disbelief as the dark curtain of my hair momentarily lifted from my downcast eyes. Out of the corner of one eye I saw the tip of a shadow. An outline of black on cement that managed to cast a halo around the surrounding surface. The top of a head, then wide shoulders, a torso, and legs that stretched to meet a pair of leather hiking boots. This is cruel, Kate. What a terrible time to start daydreaming.
I wasn’t, though. This wasn’t my daydream; this platform was real. And I was being pulled back to reality by the recognition of a leap of faith and the consequence it incurred.
“Kate?” The hiking boots inquired, like an old man who by chance runs into the love of his life one day in the grocery store—sure of and yet afraid to acknowledge the well of emotions the long absence had failed to quell.
“Kate…I got your message. I’m here, Kate…Kate are you okay?” taking a step toward me, he watched as I pulled away, allowing my glance to travel from the laces of his boots to his torn jeans an fitted white t-shirt, finally up to the face I had willed to appear in the sky and sea I had fixed my eyes on from the airplane.
Suddenly hurt, and full of doubt, his face contorted and his eyes caught the same square inch of pavement mine had been trained on. “It’s okay, you made a mistake. I…get it…Kate…I….” He turned to walk back in the direction he came from leaving me behind, a gaping, pathetic girl of a woman standing alone on the concrete platform.
What am I doing? This wasn’t what I expected it to be. Why am I here? The outline of his silhouette stretched thinner and longer as the distance between him grew and I watched as he walked back out of my life.