Wednesday, August 19, 2009

To the hermitage, Godspeed!

I have an hour to write a post. Strange how my schedule changed so suddenly. From sedate reverie my life has transformed into demented running around. If only I were more flexible so as to adapt more comfortably to these abrupt shifts. It feels like plunging into cold water, needles and pins and my lungs lapsing into irregular suction. Breathe in, Silvia, the coach says, and he steps on my hands to make me let go and take off. So I do, I flap my flippers into blue cascades. Now let us see if I remember how to write.

Please, wait! the machine instructs me nervously and as the barrier lifts I thump the vehicle in first. I blast off and cut in front of the guy who drives parallel to me because I am a woman and he is a man and this is how things ought to be. For the same reason I park on two parking spaces, outrageously. Each time some karmic purpose brings me to the Atlanta airport I think about Bill. Bill, the perpetual vicarious traveler, always the one who waves to people who disappear along labyrinthine walkways marked “Have passport ready.” He is never the one who leaves. Never the one who arrives. It is always somebody else. Someone who waves back with gratitude and promises postcards. Bill waits until the silhouette is obscured by behemoth guardian figures and daydreams about those postcards. His little pebbles of the world. I want to go to Spain, he tells me. And to France and Sweden and Norway. And Nepal and China. And Romania and Bulgaria! And... Sure, Bill, I say, and I smile indulgently. Let me get my shoes and I’ll come with you.

As I wait, in the wrong place as usual, I build up nervousness. I snap out of it for one brief moment, as long as it takes me to realize that I am waiting in the wrong place. I storm to the South Terminal, the function of my nervousness reaches a maximum and then glides downward as soon as I catch sight of a Starbucks. Finally I am in the right place savoring a ridiculously expensive drink in large gulps and I wait. A little girl ogles me and starts to follow me around. We play hide and seek around the conveyor belt where the parade of luggage unravels. We are at the zoo of suitcases. A set of Barbie’s luggage. A hobo’s bundle. A businessman’s briefcase. All are present. I sit down on the side, next to a flight attendant. She is wearing a red uniform and smells like clean. Her luggage is the first to be spit out by the machine. She takes off to lunch in Atlanta, or maybe to sleep, maybe to another flight. The flight attendant, a perpetual half-traveler who sightsees in microcosm.

I turn my head and there she is zooming towards me, radiant and tempestuous. She is wearing new clothes and I examine them critically, as I always do. Welcome statements. Then, the luggage belt. So, which one is yours? It has a broken handle. Maybe this one? Well, that was quick. Don’t worry, I’ll carry it. Her wrist is thin in my hand, thinner than mine I think. It surprises me and I look at my hand to make sure that it is really her wrist I am holding. You’ve lost weight, I say. You think? No, mother, you are obese. Let’s go already, I don’t want to pay these people for parking. But first, take five for a smoke in front of the airport. The puff-puff corner is trashy. It is true that cigarette smoke always goes toward non-smokers. It tries to entice them, to convert them. As I inhale without intention the life of the smoldering object I think of home, of barrooms and time-wasting artifices. Sure, we can sit here and drink our coffee and make small talk, but the repertoire is not complete without the smoke, now is it? You could not understand, I suppose.

There is a traffic jam, there always is on this godforsaken interstate. In the space between two cars that travel three miles an hour my thoughts lay down on the hot asphalt to be flattened and canceled. I talk, but it is not me who is saying things. It is the trivial creature inside me, the one I am loath to live with and am planning to have killed. So, how did you travel? Was the neighbor annoying? How many times did you get up to go to the bathroom? Do you know that once I flew from Brussels without going to the bathroom once! I step out of myself and marvel at my deftness with platitudes. Finally, we are speeding up. It seems like we traveled to the other side of the planet. Macon – next three exits! she reads out loud. Yes, Mother, we are here. She reads every sign out loud. There will be no time to think this week, I tell myself. I have to write things down. Chick-fil-a! is exclaimed from the passenger seat. What was I thinking. Self-scolding is in order, I suspect. I am already having second thoughts about this. Wal-mart! is proclaimed from next to me, with a German “w” like this, “Vaalmart.” Yes, Mother. That is where we are going later. After you sleep. Aren’t you tired? How can you not be? You are sure that you don’t want to sleep? I race to the third floor to take the elevator down so it can take us up. It’s complicated, Mother, you ask too many questions. As she takes over my space, invades my nest with her cosmetics that stain my sink and the clothes that will invariably become mine, I think, god, it’s great to be alone. To be a hermit in my hermitage, how simple and wonderful. How is it that we don’t know what little things are worth until we lose them?

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