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.