Emily May recently moved to Portland from Burlington, Vermont to make magnetic poetry and the West Coast branch of her environmental non-profit. She blogs at mtremix.blogspot.com and is available for hire.
“That the world is not one, that the world is not whole, that perhaps I must decide to get away from all this, that if I want to make something of myself, then at the same time I must leave all that is mine behind me, all I can do and all that I know; leave these people sitting on the doorsteps outside the house where I live, drinking coffee and talking about all that they know, say goodbye to them forever. And if that is what I must do to develop myself, as they say, then what is the point of it all?”
This is leaving, being in an airport, left, there is no place or time in here but it is supposed to be California, but is a nation, a day, a life away from Home. Leaving is being alone at Yankee Pier, a classy restaurant for an airport, drinking pinot grigio next to a round-faced blonde man who recommends the clam chowder. “Some of the best I’ve had,” he says shyly, turning from his newspaper. I am immediately overcome with sadness for him and us and the airport and his rumpled news, but in the middle of my glass of wine, we talk at length about college (his daughter just graduated, an English major at the University of Portland), and Burlington, Vermont, whose young, wet green mornings I’ve just ripped myself from (it’s nice), wind power (a good idea, a growing industry), and Isreal in the summer of 1969 (he returned right before Woodstock). He is returning from Hawaii on a business trip, wishes his wife was with him, bought pineapples encased in brightly decorated cardboard and plastic handles. He is inquisitive and congenial and interested, mistakes me for an adult, thanks me for the conversation. I mourn his absence when he leaves to catch his plane home; I always become attached to the ever increasing mass of fleeting former strangers who reveal humanity and kindness and daughters who are English majors.
People who dine alone and drink alone usually have sharp jaw-lines and agendas, tailored pants and chic but comfortable shoes. They have an air of glamour about them, fashionable distraction, as they pore over their files or barely creased bestseller. They have places to be tomorrow and people waiting for them there. I feel like a fifth-grader, wide-eyed and nervous, accidentally dressed, in someone else’s old clothes. (No one is waiting for me where I am going).
I agree with the waiter when he suggests another glass of wine, then wonder if this moment of presumed celebration– I am a human, an adult, have made the choice to hurtle 30,000 feet above sea level toward a place 3,000 miles from where I was, to drink seven-dollar-a-glass Oregon wine served by a dapper waiter who says please when he places the glass squarely on the square napkin on the square table for one– is actually one of sad submission to this airport lifestyle that confuses me, tempts me, and I want to–do– loathe in its impermanence, uprootedness, embodiment of our fossil-fueled, self-indulged instant gratification that will soon bring this country, the world, down with it.
I call my sister, my twin, whom I’d deserted twenty-four hours earlier in a fit of poorly concealed regret and fat tears– no super-ego, all id. She is now three time zones away, probably eating dinner alone, while I am attempting to fulfill some outdated Romantic notion of finding something like oneself very far from where one comes from. The phone rings until her canned voice prompts a message. I hang up, choking, wondering how people all over the world continually complete tasks like leaving still in one piece. In the world now, children leave their mothers. Suddenly the world that we can travel, must travel, seems cruel and horrible, a twisted and monstrous negative magnetic force that pulls humans from one another, in airports people separate and cannot say what they have prepared to say.
People at other tables engage in miniscule talk with strangers seated far from themselves. All of these people have homes, people they love, but I imagine them perpetually awaiting their planes, always speaking to new strangers, running from the people and places they love, listening to songs that were on VH1 ten years ago in airport restaurants, the singers they can’t quite place.
Soon, the plane will ascend, souls floating untethered through space, bodies searching for a place to lay. In the air, the wings of the plane will reach back toward the earth, toward the smooth curves where the land and water fit into one another. The clouds stretch out before us, under us, like a field; the wings bounce and we’re at the mercy of gravity.
I think I might split in two.