I find myself in T.F. Green Providence airport dozing off again, wondering if I should pick up a book I haven’t touched since my last connecting flight between Providence and Chicago, if I should get coffee, or if I should do neither thing. I decide on the last option and, between flipping through the pages of a Moleskine, checking my text messages, and reading the back cover of Mrs. Dalloway for the umpteenth time, I fill the last piece in the story of my sophomore year. I realize that my current situation, deranged and in transit as I am, is pretty representative—and is at the very least typical—of the past years of my life since attending college. I have trouble straining my early adult years from the images of airports, as any attune young adult in my position probably does. I admit these things, but I also think that the story of my understanding of airports, the ways in which I have incorporated them into the narration of my life, says something deeply personal about the kind of person and intellectual I am. I am not so obtuse as to only consider terminals, tarmacs, and angry flight attendants as defining symbols of my adulthood, but this is also part of my story. Before the liftoffs between Providence and Chicago, there was driving in Agata’s car—teenaged, feverish, her battered Suzuki taking one too many hits on prairie lanes and trips to Chicago just to see the skyline at night; no reason given, no reason necessary. So, I do wonder why my mind always returns to these airports in order to discern recent meaning when I know there will be meaning unaccounted for. I am beginning to see that between the terminals there is still the driving; still.
So, airplanes are only part of the full story, but the following account is of the most significant and encompassing piece.
My most vivid travelling experience occurred two summers ago: a seven-hour layover in Munich on the way back to Chicago. I was leaving Poland, where I had spent six weeks teaching English to grade school children in the bucolic southern parts of the country, and returning home, to custom and to normalcy. I remember not having slept for over two days and stopping outside the German passport check in a daze. My fingers numbly performed the same ritual mindlessly: passport, wallet, phone, passport, wallet, phone. After having accounted for my items, I walked forward, pitted, and sat myself at the correct gate. I find that physical acts of travelling are never truly lived. The explanation for this is partly visceral: a bodily reaction, a circadian rhythm out of sync. On this final flight it was more of an emotional numbness than anything; both factors conspired to induce a surreal mood that transformed life into a movie being played before me. I spent my time in that terminal replaying the film of my life and wondering how I had been made different from my time teaching; a de-centering and culturally alienating experience the likes of which I had not known before. On the flight home I believed myself ignorant and afraid of the ways in which I would reconstitute these experiences to impose on a cohesive narrative of my life. I was afraid of not liking this narrative. I was afraid of the future.
My memories of Poland from this past summer begin and end in terminals, though they are in no way recounted or recollected linearly for me. I admit that not all moments of travelling (again, I am speaking of those physical acts of transportation) slip off the slide of reality. For me, some moments do feel like they exist, and they help me see these airports for what they symbolically represent. On the connecting flight departing from Krakow to Munich, the penultimate leg in my journey home, I experienced a stretch of lucidity in which I more directly vocalized the anxieties, thoughts, and ideas that would later paralyze me on the final 10-hour flight to Chicago. Waiting at the gate, I found myself writing in my journal out of necessity (I don’t normally write in a notebook except for moments of desperation) and addressing the mental restructurings which I could sense were at work and had been so since the moment I stepped off the first plane 6 weeks ago. I sat at the gate with a hand hovering over an open journal, pen in safe distance, coming eventually to compose the following entries.
I am thinking about the people I can barely hold onto, hold onto only by threads. What of a relationship that is weighted unequally? They are plagued by the same recurring predicament: the sense of balance is absent in them; the moments register weirdly. I have decided to untie these threads, to lay them straightly, to count them. I have decided to stop reading ahead of strings and to exist unwound. I am fine by myself.
I have never before met people that laughed so deeply that their laughter actually grew within them, fortified by its own honesty. I feel reawakened. I danced and I did it honestly. I have already spoken of the problems I have faced negotiating my sexuality with a new culture in previous entries. On one hand, I believe in my own beauty—I can hold it as I dance with Bekah, Hilary, and Marina. Still, it has been a long time since I have felt so abandoned. I have felt and still feel unwanted. I am wanted, but where?
I read my inscriptions now and can more discerningly read the fears, hopes, and presences that spilled their way into my journal, clamoring to be understood, the instant my pen hit paper. I see now that the first passage—concerned as it is with self-sufficiency—and the second passage—my wondering quest for home and for acceptance—are old tropes redressed in new specifics. The new specifics can be explained by telling of the images that existed inside me, lacking coordinates at the moment of composition: the faces of people who I had grown incredibly close to over those six weeks and who I would most likely never see again, my feelings of sexual abandonment in the face of a homophobic culture, the first plane six weeks earlier, and Chicago on the horizon. These are the specifics, but what I am really thinking about, and what these split images orbit elliptically, is addressed in this journal entry from July 17, three weeks before the connecting flight in question.
The core reads as follows:
There are timbres of emotion that contain the past. Which is why a sunny morning can make me unhappy faster than anything*. How does one release the shards, or, better, weld them into a new collage, a new stained glass through which our emotions filter in order to shade our experiences?
Retrospectively, I would like to change the first sentence so that it more closely resembles its intended meaning: there are timbres of life, as they happen to us, which contain the past. What does it mean to be made upset by a sunny morning, even as an adult—what is the aura beheld at dawn? I read my inscriptions from that month and realize that the airplane and the airport terminal existed for me by constituting a liminality between my past and future self. Boarding a plane, we suddenly become weighted with the past, startled by our dislocation, made aware of tropes in response to the prospect of our lives raying indistinguishable and uncontained into the future. The indefiniteness of the future makes us scramble for order. To understand the past, I thought before, was in some sense to control the future and to control the direction of these vectors. So arose the nervous conditions of my ten-hour flight home; an attempt to forge a new stained glass out of inappropriate, faulty material.
It was not until after I had settled back home that I realized what these entries were actually saying; it was not until later that I saw the tropes I initially recognized as being superficially recurring as marks of deeper things. For example, I don’t believe it accidental that I originally substituted the word “emotion” when I logically intended for the word “life” in this July 17 journal entry. In my relationships and within myself, I continually encounter modes of thinking that are defined (in black and white terms, I concede) by differential treatments of logic and emotion. I only wish to convey that I am a kind of person who leans towards emotions, whose experiences and interpretations with the world are initially converted into feelings before they can be logically deconstructed later. My gut reaction is not to rationalize first.
To explore another seed, my emotional understanding of my sexuality is one of real abandonment, and my search for home so happens to exist concomitant with my search for acceptance. If the role of my sexuality in these retellings seems insidious, it is perhaps because the pain and joy of being homosexual is so often experienced insidiously. The power of memory, to borrow an image from Michael Ondaatje, is that memory is viewed as if through a kaleidoscope- continually reinterpreted and differently experienced. As he succinctly puts it, “we live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell.” How we labor to remember and rework our stories is a matter of how we structure our lives and ourselves. In many ways, this essay is my attempt to rework my memories that have recently plagued me through the frame of travel. What I see is not that I can manipulate the past or control the future, but that I must come to terms with myself, to realize what I am feeling and why I am feeling it. This interpretation is the only way to take comfort in the future, the only way to find assurance in my own independence.
I believe that my preoccupation with airports is actually a way of understanding the responsibilities of adulthood. The endless flights between Chicago and Providence and the pit stops in Europe that summer continue to be empowering and beleaguering experiences. Here, I am suddenly beset with the realization that I am now in control, that I am far from the plains of Chicago, and that, most terrifyingly, I am in charge of my own happiness. While these flights underscore my responsibilities, they also point to what is missing: a bastion of security that does not exist in any physically determinant place. I see more clearly that the disjuncture I feel between airplanes and driving and between my adulthood and my teenage years is precisely this ongoing search for home and acceptance. In that red Suzuki, amongst my friends, “out,” and burden free, is where I have the closest feelings of home. To me, it seems that the thing for us all to do is de-center our idea of home, to realize that our understandings of home, whatever they may be, are carried inside us, and to see that these feelings have regenerative and transferable qualities. The most important journey, to borrow a concept from Joan Didion’s essay on self-respect, may be to find the person at home inside us. I realize that there is no disjuncture inside of me, and, as I conclude in one of my final entries from that summer, regardless of where we are, we are never alien to ourselves even when we fear ourselves most lost.
Alas, that summer I found the opportunity to rest my head against Agata’s car, momentarily prairie bound, one more time.
By: David Sanchez-Aguilera, Managing Editor