Haunted travels

The window seat gave me a little privacy as I turned away from my seating companion to cry. I was painfully hunched over and my shoulders bounced involuntarily with each sob, but I tried to keep it quiet. It was a small airplane and I didn’t want to alarm the other passengers. At nearly 11:00 PM we were finally on our way home from Seattle to Portland, after we’d been forced off of one plane and onto another due to mechanical problems. The flight attendants sounded weary as they apologized for the hour-long delay.

My day had started in Minneapolis at 4:30 AM Pacific Time. I had drunk too much caffeine, eaten bad food, and spent the whole day in meetings with my boss and our state-government clients. After the workday was done and I had killed a few hours at the airport, I grew increasingly irritated. The pain in my head intensified. By the time I got to Seattle for my connecting flight home, I felt terrible. My stomach ached along with everything else physical and spiritual, but I didn’t have enough time before boarding to sit down for a decent meal. Making things worse, I knew that by the time I got home I would only be permitted six hours of sleep before heading back to the airport for another eastbound flight—adding up to four consecutive days of business travel.

As much I enjoy visiting new places and getting a chance to interact with clients whom I don’t normally see face-to-face, travel has a way of wearing me down. It is partly a physical tiredness brought on by the very act of traveling: arriving at the airport too early (as I am wont to do), having no place to nap in said airport, and feeling horrendously bored and uncomfortable on the airplane. I can sleep on a plane, but not for long. Upon waking up I always find that not as much time has passed as I’d hoped, and that makes the remaining flight time even less bearable. Getting my brain to concentrate on a book is kind of like herding cats. My metaphorical cats are pretty well-behaved, but they do get restless.

On this trip, it wasn’t just physical stress; the desolation of generic hotel rooms also crept into my psyche to cause trouble. My hotel in Minnesota was actually a few miles northeast of Minneapolis, and there was absolutely nothing to see outside. The cabbie had managed to bypass the city altogether when taking me to the hotel. I arrived there alone, since my boss was to arrive from a different city later that night. The sun was preparing to set as I dropped my bags on the floor and turned on the TV. I suddenly remembered that the last time I’d stayed in a proper hotel, I’d been with my ex in Seattle. There was no similarity between that hotel and this one, or between the two cities as far as I knew, but the memory was enough to kick off a difficult night of despair and insomnia.

Perhaps my physical environment makes more of a difference than I’d realized. Being in unfamiliar territory stripped away my comforts and hobbled my defenses, letting the pain in my heart get bigger and stronger. Everything, somehow, reminded me of him. Generally it was the idea that he was the one I had hoped to be traveling with: not on business trips, of course, but on other trips both planned and yet-to-be conceived. When I flew over Chicago, I thought about the invitation I’d had to go there with him this spring. When my delayed flight ascended from Seattle, I recalled the weekend we’d spent there together last fall. When I drove through the gently beautiful landscapes of northern Kentucky, I thought about other Southern states that might be worth seeing, and wished I could explore them with somebody. That somebody should have been him.

I took eight separate flights in four days and cried during about three of them. It wasn’t really because I was alone, or because I was stressed by work and travel. It was the unexpected, unnerving fact that my longing for home led directly to a longing for him. In my heart, he is still a part of Home. I wonder when I will stop being haunted by that.

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