For Jessie and I, writing while at airports / in the air has almost become a tradition, not to be skipped. We are similar in many ways, and one of the ways is that we become really in our feelings while in transit, particularly at airports. We both mutter “night flight to San Francisco, chase the moon across America” (holy words from Angels in America) under our breaths as we walk the jetway and board the plane, it comes out of our mouths without it meaning to. I’m always uncomfortable at the airport, always scanning, wondering, noticing myself and everything around me. So much to see. Everyone’s a guest and going somewhere. Everyone is clutching their belongings, double checking things, eating dubious foods, running or walking very slowly so as to pass the time. Everyone’s always trying to find the best place to sit.
I’m on a flight to Chicago reading The Handmaid’s Tale which is probably entirely the wrong thing to read when I’m anxious to be traveling farther and farther from my husband with every passing minute in the air. Empty paper cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. I’m listening to Tom Rosenthal, always my plane music of choice. The older I get, the more I dislike flying. It was thrilling when I was a kid. It felt *special* to be at the airport. I always assembled so many activities for the plane, and got to work on them almost immediately when the plane took off. Game boy games and chapter books and coloring pages. Little crafts. Friendship bracelets. Now I sit down on the plane and there is nothing I want. My mind is now so much more accustomed to empty space. In fact, I relish it. I was noticing that shift in my brain as I was waiting in the long line of people to take my seat, 12D. As a child that line would have felt annoying, like it was genuinely taking forever. Now, to stand in a line is vaguely comforting. The time passes easily, like water running over my feet. There is nothing else required of me, I need only stand here. My brain floats in some sort of warmth. The thinking either ceases or accelerates comfortably. I have thoughts or I don’t either way. I notice things about other people. The woman listening to a Lauren Conrad podcast diagonal from me. She selects it in Spotify then picks her manicured nail. She has a floral water bottle and ballet flats. Possibly the same age as me. We are different. The woman to my right is fussing with her large paper cup of tea. She opens a book in an ebook app on her phone. I’m reminded that I could do that too. I’m reminded that I should want to do something.
I have begun counting. The phone fixation got so bad that I would count to 100 without looking at it. Look at a tree while counting. It felt so good to do this. I’d hardly noticed how little my brain could handle quiet. In a line, even the phone does little good to placate the mind. All the better. Adulthood maybe means finding rest in waiting in line. My brain has now fully developed. I’m 26. It’s almost like I noticed the change, a perceivable shift. All the roads have been connected, all the superhighways constructed, the workers sitting down to take a break, take off their yellow vests. There’s a new rest in my brain. I know who I am. Nothing new is being built, only repairs here and there. Only the parts that were broken all along and may never be fixed.
As soon as I checked my big yellow suitcase, I regretted not giving it a very thorough check, making sure everything was VERY safely zipped, adding multiple name and address labels, seeing that the woman behind the counter affixed the checked bag sticker securely so it wouldn’t fall off in transit. It all happened so quickly, before I could blink she whisked it away and I couldn’t ask for it back. I spent my whole time in the security line very worried, sick to my stomach, that my bag wouldn’t make it to Rapid City with me. Considering walking back up the escalator to double check something, who knows what, with the check-in agent. What would she say to me? I stay in line. Transfer in Chicago. O’Hare, one of the biggest airports in America. More room for error. Right before leaving home I wrote my name and phone number in sharpie on masking tape and stuck it to the bag, an afterthought. As Isaiah pulled it out of the back seat for me, the edge of the masking tape was curling up, not secure. I pushed it back down, rubbed it with my thumb as hard as I could. All I can think about is that curling edge, my precious handmade clothes being lost forever in the recesses of some airport. My bag will probably make it but I can’t unthink the fear. That’s how OCD works. Once it’s there, it doesn’t leave. More factual than anxiety, the heart takes it less personally. I didn’t check all the things to check, I didn’t do all the steps. It’s irrational, but only marginally. OCD begs the mind to be superhuman, to remember every thing, make every provision. To not do so is to fail. I feel like I’ve failed. Though it will probably be fine. That’s the refrain. It’s really always fine. My life is very safe. The Handmaid’s Tale reminds me of that but also reminds me of everything I’m afraid of. Makes me notice the strangeness of being on an airplane, the sort-of-luxury mixed with extreme hassle. The strangeness of having freedom to move about as I wish. My whiteness. My intelligence. My female-ness. All of them are apparent to me. Here I am up in the air, an adult in a crumbling world. What is required of me?
And now I really have to pee.
Off the plane, found a bathroom, found my way to my second gate. I’m briefly in Chicago which makes me emotional, vaguely. Such places and people I’ve loved, a whole other life that was mine! I consider my snack choices for a while, feeling like I definitely needed a snack, but worried, as always, about food poisoning. I forgo the beautiful but expensive tortas from Frontera because they’re expensive and more food than I want (though probably well-handled and therefore low risk). I end up with a toasted bagel with butter (relatively safe choice) from a sort of chaotic/dusty bagel stand (unsafe choice) so after eating it I feel mostly worried but also satisfied. Nothing too bad can happen to a bagel, right? As soon as I walked away from the shop and went to the other concourse I found a tidier looking shop with bagels, a nice motherly woman tenderly shuttling them from case to toaster to bag with lovely tongs, and I considered throwing away my stress-bagel and eating one from her instead, but I’m trying to not do so many things like that anymore. I’m trying to fight the OCD in little ways, give up little bits of control, within reason. Not too much at once. I wash my hands well, I touch nothing, I eat the bagel. My stomach hurts a little after, probably from the butter and the stress. It will be okay.
I’m amazed at the mental gymnastics my mind does to try to conceive of and then avoid any possible danger. I’m brilliant at it. So much negotiation, mostly around food and eating. What used to be thoughtless and worry free ( I washed my hands SO LITTLE as a child) now takes up a lot of my mind. I grieve that, I really do. But it’s real, it’s a part of my life right now. I’m realizing that I haven’t written about it before — I have OCD. It’s been diagnosed for about a year now but it’s been a lifelong thing just with different expressions. It’s good to know what it is so I can resist. It’s really hard.
I’m relieved by the fact that now that I’ve eaten I don’t have to eat anymore for a while. My flight to Rapid City starts boarding in about 7 minutes, though I’m in the very last group. Of course. I sort of want more coffee, though that’s what made me want to pee so bad I wanted to die before. (Truly it was maybe the worst ever? And THEN there was a line at the bathroom. I was literally crossing my legs.) When I get to Rapid City, one of the dearest mentors of my life will pick me up at the airport (which I can hardly believe) and take me to a camp with many of my other dearest people and we will all spend time together for two weeks like a dream family reunion. I haven’t really thought about that very much. It’s hard to think about. I have few expectations, which I think means it will be really wonderful. I’m calm and excited. I miss Isaiah. I miss my dog. My stomach hurts. There’s so much I fear. I’m a writer in an airport and for the moment all is well.