Day One: Takeoffs and Landings
The plan, in pre-pandemic life, was to leave SFO at 8:50 a.m., arrive in Toronto at 4:50, and fly from there to London, arriving at 6:35 a.m. UK time. From there, we would make our way to France by plane, train and/or bus.
To make an early morning flight, it would have meant a pre-dawn drive through crazy Monday morning Bay Area traffic or a hotel in South San Francisco the night before, then the craziness of TSA to the international terminal, the pre-flight jitters, a rushed breakfast of overpriced coffee and a plastic-wrapped muffin, the relief of being on the plane, the journey for the moment out of our control.
In real life, I’m sitting at my kitchen table at 5:58 a.m. with the first of several cups of coffee. Baxter, our 15-year-old beagle, is wandering aimlessly around the room, a personality trait that has come with old age. Circle, circle, poke head into corner, circle, nudge my leg, wander outside through the open French doors and come back again. We were up late last night, watching CNN until I couldn’t watch anymore. It seems important to watch, to witness, to pay attention, to understand and grieve. The watching itself is not strenuous or demanding, and yet somehow it is both. I felt that heaviness this morning, waking up, one slippered foot after another making its way down the hall.
Will is going back to work today--work work, as I keep calling his physical office 45 minutes away, although he has been working from home during these long weeks of the pandemic. For a while we were coordinating our schedules to avoid Zoom calls at the same time, in our two spare bedrooms that had become back-to-back offices, our voices sneaking in through the other’s ceiling vents. On my teaching days, I only had time to come out for a bathroom break or a quick snack made in the kitchen and scarfed in front of my laptop, between emails and conference calls. But I’ve been done teaching since May 6, my grades submitted as of May 13.
Also, normally, I’m working on a book—a rambling first draft, a ruthless second draft, a refined third. But the book is out of my hands now, and the waiting has begun. My writing now feels aimless, like word doodles. Like a going-senile beagle circling the room one more time.
I’ve been existing in a weird little bubble: working outside on our large and overgrown backyard to stay out of Will’s way, showering in the early afternoon, laying down on the bed to read a few chapters and waking, dazed, two hours later, hungry but not sure what meal I’m supposed to eat.
It’s not that I have nothing to do—it’s just that with everything else cancelled, the sense of urgency has disappeared. I do want to repaint the front porch, but the summer is stretching out long and empty before me. There is time to paint the porch and repaint it a dozen times, not that I plan to. There is time, too much, to clean out the old shed, to sort the accumulated junk in the hall closet.
Things I would have attacked with gusto, with a plan and a purpose, have fallen into this bubble of nothingness.
I didn’t expect to have this time, and I’ve been alive long enough to know that time is a luxury—priceless and rare. It also feels heavy now, a weight settling on my shoulders.
The pattern of my life for the last nineteen years has followed the semesters—the marathon-like ending of classes, conferences, grading, grades, and then a break. Travel, usually, or some giant, pre-plotted project, like painting the exterior of the house or writing the first draft of a new book.
Travel, for me, is equal parts getting away and going somewhere. Away from the routine I slip into so easily and depend on so heavily, toward a different kind of life, a new possibility.
I keep thinking that there is no takeoff today, so there can be no landing.
But then—pour cup two, add a splash of cream—I remind myself I’m alive, that we’re alive, that in very many ways I’m damn lucky.
I wanted to walk The Camino to quiet all the noise and figure some things out. It might be telling that I thought I needed to go halfway around the world and away from just about everything and everyone to do that.
But instead I’m here, in my kitchen, my feet planted on the ground, and it’s time to see what’s next.
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Paula Treick DeBoard