North America, Travel Stories

Turbulence

“You can pre-board with your leg like that,” a kind, gray haired flight attendant bends down, gesturing to the ungainly boot I’m wearing on my left leg, a brace for a recent fracture. I smile and thank him for the advice.

I, like usual, am sitting in the very last seat in the very last row of the plane. I’m not much of a pre-boarder, I guess. The plane lifts off and I watch the rain hit the windows sideways. We are slanting through the air and I am headed home.

The best goodbyes are temporary. Chattanooga, TN 2017

Home, which has been so many places I have a hard time remembering things like my last address or previous phone number. Home, a perpetually moving target which makes me feel sort of like the ground is never quite settled below my feet. Home, which has been and will be scattered in nooks and crannies all over the globe tucked inside rooms of  other people’s’ hearts and hands and shoulder blades.

“We’ve now reached our cruising altitude,” a smooth voice informs the passengers. “Total flight time is one hour and seventeen minutes. We’ll be arriving in Nashville shortly.”

One hour and seventeen minutes. A short distance -an afternoon nap. I try to stretch my legs underneath the seat and close my eyes. It is not enough time. Not enough time for my body and soul to leave behind the me I’ve become to remember the me I was. Not enough time to forget the places I’ve been, the places I thought I’d go.

There are winters and summers between now and then. Whole seasons of grief and a new blossoming contentment just starting to take root. There are landscapes I recognize and some I’m still getting used to when I look in the mirror. My chin is thinner, the skin around my eyes more crinkly. I’ve lost a few pounds, I’ve lost…

There’s a little more room in my smile, a lessening of fear, a relief or maybe acceptance. I wonder if my friends will notice, if they’ve changed, too.

Couch surfers make the best friends.
Nashville, 2014

The flight attendant passes me again and stops to take my drink order. I’ll have decaf coffee with cream and sugar. It’s cramped in the back of the plane, but I kind of like it this way. Part of me thinks I should be a little uncomfortable, should have to be a little more patient to return so easily to a place I’ve called home. It’s a privilege not granted to everyone.

To be honest, I miss the kind of traveling that takes time, that takes risk and guts and grit. That asks something from you because it has so much more to offer. The kind of travel that confronts the unknown and shakes up your carefully laid plans. The kind of travel where you find yourself unexpectedly camping on a cliff next to the ocean after walking a coastal trail by sunset. The kind that leaves you feverish with malaria and warm gratitude for a woman called Auntie who cooks you fried eggs every morning over an open coal flame.

There is turbulence as we fly through a spring storm. My coffee splashes on my lap. I laugh as I wipe it up with a napkin. I am glad for the turbulence. Glad for the homemade flautas and cold Coca Cola I drank on long bus rides through mountainous Mexico. I am glad for the bruise I got on my forehead from falling asleep on the night bus from Puyo to Cuenca. I am glad for the wrong path I took that led me straight to the bottom of Laguna Quilotola- leaving me with no choice but to walk back up, climbing over 3,000 ft in elevation, gasping for breath.

Laguna Quilotola, Ecuador 2012

The plane begins to descend and I can hear the wheels being released. The pilot comes on the intercom, reminding us to stay in our seat until we come to a full stop next to the terminal. “The skies are clear in Nashville and we’re ready to land,” he says. I look around at everyone straightening their seats and putting away their laptops, ear buds still in. I’m nervous, but excited.

Suddenly, the wheels hit the pavement and we bump along on the ground, engines cooling and slowing us down. We’ve arrived, sooner than I would have liked. The overhead bins open and duffel bags come down from every angle. I wait as everyone files off gradually, pulling my backpack over my shoulders. Limping slightly, I walk slowly toward the gate taking my time and liking it that way.

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