Sometimes we have to be flexible even if we don’t feel quite up to it. Our lives are altered despite out attempts to keep control, an elastic experience based on the one constancy of change. I didn’t expect to be flying out so soon again but events continue on a surprising trajectory. One adapts; humans excel at this, I remind myself.
In this case, we are soon to attend a memorial gathering for my recently deceased sister-in-law in Michigan. (My deceased musician brother has one, too, the end of July but that consists of driving to an area pub in Portland to enjoy great tunes and good words.) Of course, I had expected this MI. travel at some point, just not coupled with an immediate business trip that Marc deemed necessary. And it was cheapest for me to use reward miles to get anywhere and just go with him. So within a day we were booked on flights spanning the country’s width to North Carolina. By end of this week, we will be driving a very long day to be with family in MI., then back again for more days for his business agenda.
After sleeping maybe three hours the night before, we headed to the airport–wasn’t it still dark out?– for tedious hours in air and during a beastly layover in one airport. I shortly entered that state wherein the mind turns to grainy putty and the body moves into a mild but critical endurance mode. As I steadied myself during the 9 hour layover it came to me that this is why I don’t adore airplane travel. In fact, I am not very good at it which is surprising since as a youth and young woman I loved flying about. But that was a different time, a safer and simpler time. And I was an adventuress with a lingering naiveté about striding off toward a blurry but glorious horizon. And in search of my soul mate at every stop, on every plane. Ah, well.
In airports I bring forth adequate patience. I roam about, read; we converse, munch sandwiches and sweet or salty snacks and sip lukewarm coffee or water to slake our thirsts. Make up life stories about complete strangers slyly observed. I may talk to them sometimes; Marc hides in phone or computer. I felt for the guy who has moved from Newark, NJ to Jacksonville, FL (and was headed back there) because housing is no longer affordable in NJ but worse, government is, he says, crooked and who the heck even cares? Nobody, not even him, anymore. But he has hope for Florida, still. Or at least his neighborhood and new friends. He is impatient to get out of Newark again, yet he smiles back and offers me his chair. I decline. I preferred to stand and stretch after far too much sitting, something that makes me a little mad after an hour or so.
It’s the “puddle jumper” we next board that gives me the most pause. I watch many passengers duck their heads to get inside–it is that tight in there. Required for the hour ride to the final stop, we taxi down the runway. It creaks and sways from nose to wing tips to tail. It shimmies and cracks. I find myself quite unashamedly clutching Marc’s arm, trying to blot out sensory input as we lift into the air. All those squelched thoughts–just what holds us up? why do we pay to get on these? what about just hitch hiking next time?–assail me, then I give up and doze, exhaustion slackening my mouth. Until I begin to sneeze. That’s right, when the air cooling and circulating system is activated to loosen and offer its hidden dust, mildew and old air, I begin to sneeze and blow as if a gigantic cold has arrived. I can see people turning away from our seats, sinking into their books and computers. I always feel I should stand and shout, “Really, no virus here, it’s dust and mold allergies and you can’t catch those!” There are rarely enough tissues to get through these bouts. It’s embarrassing. It’s necessary to manage the situation but hold onto a shred of decorum so I try to blow discreetly, softly.
By the time we arrive I am too tired to appreciate the attractive rental car. I want to stay alert but it is after midnight. Even though our point of departure’s time zone is three hours earlier so my body theoretically should be okay, it feels as if I have migrated into a surreal time zone. Landscape is black-blue-yawning grey. My husband, even more sleep deprived, seems immune to this state, but I know better from trying experiences. I have to keep him between those faded white lines on the freeway for at least an hour. We make it safely and tumble into bed.
Well, “tumble” is far too generous a verb. This is the cranky nighttime part though I well know these are a fortunate person’s complaints. But there are temperature and fan settings to fuss with, a hard bed with a vast amount of pillows and I forgot to bring chamomile tea for pre-bedtime. Traffic noise. At 3 am I re-stuff the ear plugs and take a small amount of drugged-sleep-inducing OTC sleep medicine. It takes a day or two for this body to re-calibrate. I also have some chronic health matters that require attention anywhere I am; decent rest is necessary. Marc of course has to adjust but with less discomfort by far. He operates on fumes, almost believes sleep is optional–he maintains out of necessity and habit, of course, but I sometimes suspect he may be from another planet. Then I think of pilots’ travel and regenerative habits. Not so reassuring as I try to relax. Finally consciousness gives over to sleep’s powerful pull.
The next day we move to a quieter room with a balcony. But we’ve had freeloaders there as the photos indicate.
It is a weird lifestyle, travel and living in a hotel, and I wonder over how Marc can cope with it since he loves familiarity and his set ways. He has always had to travel often for work. Since we arrived I have determined to make do: no car and no access to anything but a small fitness room and outdoor pool, my computer, a TV, a hotel restaurant of sorts. I have not yet gone swimming. Each day I have slept in too late, eaten my bagel, drunk my Decaf Chai. When out on the balcony it feels as if I have stepped into a sauna. My hair droops even as it frizzes. But I can hear and see pretty rusty-orange-with-blue birds as they trill and flit about. And there are gently waltzing treetops. I have been watching wasps create a hive underneath the metal railing, and they are so meticulous and focused they have so far ignored my camera and me. Fascinating labor to see up rather close but I may not go out, anymore. I have been bitten before; they’re not easy bites as they grab a small chunk of flesh. Best are the singing/buzzing katydids at night; they remind me of soft Missouri nights, where I was born and my family often visited.
After sweating in the exercise room, I visit with friendly staff with their lilting southern speech patterns and later report the wasp nest which will be dealt with tomorrow (which makes me a bit sad but I can’t imagine outmaneuvering wasps trapped in a hotel room). Now as I write I keep one eye on the weather report re: possible thunderstorms today, maybe tomorrow. Well, I have trusty Netflix. And my bright floral swimsuit is at the ready as soon as the sun shines hot and clear of dense clouds for at least an hour.
And in two days what will the trip to Michigan bring? Funerals and weddings and other such reunions are often fraught with complex emotional eruptions–like beautiful, well designed pinatas that are poked and prodded until surprise innards explode forth and, thus, provoked upwellings of excitement, appreciation and/or dismay. So I don’t know what is next. I am doing all this travel out of respect for Sherril’s memory and love for her bereft husband and his brother, Marc my husband. But I do know relationships and the known order of things change, like it or not, when someone passes on. A human life is that deeply meaningful–that when it is no more on earth its essence hangs here while the absence is yet keenly felt. Yet his or her disappearance creates a real vacuum, too, and we scramble to find our way about it, and not be tossed into the dark well of grief. To not flail about, at odds with the remnants of memory or this breathing, beating life for which we yet need to be present.
So I am travelling unexpectedly in many ways, as we all do. In fiction I can orchestrate things, flesh out skimpy parts and design a new scene and even as characters whisk me along it is an exhilarating thing, a finely tuned way of perceiving, envisioning and being. I know we–yes, the characters, the story and myself– are in concert on some level. In real life it is harder to track the slippery truths and the end is not always nearly heroic. It just comes, and I had better embrace it and live with it in all its mystery or revamp my attitude. As I noted, it may yet storm tonight but tomorrow my swimsuit will remain optional attire. And I feel excellent–strong, happy– as I splash and slice through cool, calm turquoise water, as I float with face to the sky. In fact, I feel pretty good now as sun dips below trees– so when all is said and done, I am thankful once more, God-Who-is-ever-with-us.
(I will not be able to post this Friday. Next week, I plan to post after the US holiday of Fourth of July. Be well, wherever you roam or gather!)