I have been in an astounding number of places in the last week: four countries on three continents; five airports in five time zones — before returning to NYC on the eighth day.
I tried explaining this to someone but it was met with blank stares.
Are you a spy? he asked me.
No. (And if I were, why would I tell him?)
What do you do for a living, then?
I’m..uhh…I’m the tour manager for an Allman Brothers cover band. We’ve taken off since Gregg Allman did those Heptatis-C drug commercials in the States. Bookings like you wouldn’t believe. Apparently the babyboomer set feels its mortality and connects with bands that cover classic acts.
No, really. What do you do for a living?
I work in…international affairs.
It wasn’t a lie, per se, but it wasn’t the truth either. Jetlag had made me coy.
It all sounds very sexy: the people, the places; passport control. It’s less attractive than you might think. The constant motion is exhilarating, but the time changes are dizzying; smelling like an airport gets old. Buying/packing all of your toiletries in miniature is expensive, tedious. Conning the dark-haired salesgirl at BlueMercury (who you thought looked better as a blonde) into giving you yet another stack of sample Bumble & Bumble packets proves to be a challenge.
You lose things. You never have the right plugs. You stop using cash because that you are now carrying dollars, pounds, Australian dollars (accidentally) and Euros at once carries high potential for you to come off as an asshole.
You fail to connect.
So, in my disconnected Monday state — nearly deaf from the roar of too many long-haul flights and loud music over bad headphones — I was to meet some friends for drinks in London.
Between another European city, the airport, and the bar, I’d stopped in the office. On my way out, I snagged a fortune cookie that had been saved for me:
(The London fortune cookie prophet struck again, albeit in a rather banal manner.)
At the appointed time, I crumpled myself into a banquette in the back of my hotel’s lobby bar. My black sheath dress shrouded my shredded stockings; my Very Serious Spectacles shaded the lines on my tired eyes.
Is this my life? Will it always be? Is life so black and white that I will have to make a choice between loving this and loving someone?
My thoughts were interrupted by The Englishman joining me. We were to be accompanied shortly by R and PG. As the story goes, the day I met The Englishman, I was startled by his familiar looks – it was as if I knew him without knowing him at all. My turning away in shock at our first meeting hadn’t gone unobserved. Time had passed; we’d laughed about it; but our every connection was still jolted by that burst of strange recognition: fancy meeting you here.
We caught up briefly over the things we both knew but hadn’t ever said. This happened; here’s where this now stands.
Are you okay?
The rest of the party arrived, and we sought to obtain food and more drink. I struggled to follow, to separate the English words from the other language I’d been speaking all day, from the thump of the music that was playing too loud.
What are we going to order to eat?
Order one of everything. I’m American, I like things…big? I laughed.
The food came and it was delicious; the company and conversation were better. Our chat crackled under a too-low table, in the din of a nearly-empty bar blasting bass-heavy music.
Close to midnight, we embraced and scattered, having plowed our way through cocktails and onion rings. I retired to a familiar hotel room. There, I thought through the different shades of hotels and lobbies and bars I’d frequented over the many months. How I thought I knew what I wanted when I had checked out of this same place in August, but upon my return in January, I realised the intervening months had disabused me of All That.
We had talked, over our drinks, about love and loss; connection and disconnects; the ways in which we answer to the people we love. It had been a variation on Levi-Strauss, just as I’d been pondering for some time now: is it true that sometimes you have to find the right distance to really get to know one another?
But what is that distance, and how far? Is it measured in nautical miles? Can it be calculated by the things that last and things that don’t; separations that are permanent; ones that are merely fleeting.
And does distance mean choosing? Or does one choose the distance?
Is this my life? Will it always be?
The next day, from my seat on the plane, I exchanged a few messages with friends; Sad to go, be back soon. And I was; would be. But in the leaving, and disconnecting, there was perhaps a bit of relief, too: no one to answer to; no obligations; no committments.
Between the Summer and the New Year, I had been leading an extraordinary life. But there had been moments, too, that made me acutely aware of the magical mundane. I leaned back in my rear-facing seat and wondered when I had started to find taxes interesting; when, in totaling the sum of the scattered parts, the check-ins and the goodnights and the early morning hellos were more dear to me than my Life in Absentia.
But even holding those things dear, I was nothing if not born a ramblin’ woman.