02 October 2016

Seat 6F.

"The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions - the little, soon-forgotten charities of a kiss or smile, a kind look, a heart-felt compliment, and the countless infinitesimals of pleasurable and genial feeling” --Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"Home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in." --Robert Frost

Seat 6F was a window seat in the first class cabin on American Airlines flight 333 going from LaGuardia to O'Hare on Thanksgiving Day of 2010. The food is complimentary in first class, as is the wine, and of a slightly better grade than that sold in coach. There are little comforts on an airplane, so when I am able, I take what I can get. There are fewer comforts on an airplane when you're hung over after a night of too much gin at too many bars--the Ritz, the Oak Room, Sky Bar--and too many cigarettes smoked with bored-looking models. It's not glamorous. It's painful. It's boring. It's all bullshit that I pretend is more entertaining than it is because I will improve upon all of it when I write about it. 6F is just another place 30,000 feet above the Earth where I am trying to get over the pain of simply being alive. As far as places go, it's certainly better than the alternative: a tiny seat tucked away in the back of the plane amidst coughing Chicagoans and screaming babies.

I have been traveling so long that you might think the pain of coming home has been abated by repetition.

It hasn't.

I rehearse it. The plane will touch down after a 30 minute descent. I will turn my phone back on. There will be no messages, no missed calls. I'll pull my backpack from under the seat in front of me and my duffle from the overhead and walk down the jetway into concourse C at BNA. Because it is Thanksgiving, the airport will be empty. I'll walk through concourse C, down the stairs to baggage claim, and then down another set of stairs to the taxi stand. It will be raining. I'll get in a cab and sit quietly as the driver takes me to my suburb.

And all the while I will be pierced with the loneliness of someone who has no real place; of someone who travels because he doesn't feel at home anywhere, who moves because home is long gone: neither in front of him nor behind him. And when I walk through the concourse or up the stairs to my apartment, I'll imagine for a moment that I have someone else's life, which someone will be waiting for me in the terminal, that someone will have waited up for me at home. I can see her clearly for a minute. I imagine her standing there near baggage claim and smiling when she sees me tired, exhausted, walking toward her.

But there is no she.

It's what we want when we travel. We want to be able to come home. We want to hear someone say I miss you and be careful and please come home safely. We want someone to call when we land. We want someone to care if we come home. We want someone to wake up to.

But I do not live someone else's life. I live my life. And my journeys never bring me home. They bring me up the stairs, in the rain, to a half-packed apartment and laundry that needs to be done, emails that need to be attended to, TV dinners. Coffee that has sat in the pot for too many days. They bring me back to a life full of regret and things that I stupidly let slip away. Every move I make leads me right back to that life. You cannot outrun yourself.

I try to find home when I travel. And sometimes I succeed in finding it, but only for a moment. Long kisses from a beautiful girl on a sidewalk are glimpses of home. Lingering cups of coffee are a window to the life that is not mine. The first time you feel a new body in your arms feels like home. Every cliché is, I think, a sort of longing for home. Her sea-glass eyes. Her hair like fine-spun strands of gold. The way she makes you tremble. Silly. Yes. Poignant, also.

Imagine, though. Imagine.

So when it's 3am and I am in some hotel room in Midtown or on the Magnificent Mile or in San Francisco and I'm drunk and feeling the homesickness that defines me, shapes me, breaks me in the night, all I can do is think back on tender kisses and caresses from some other life and try to remember what home feels like; what feels safe and calms the storm. All I can do is long for home and imagine another life, not my own.

And this is what I think about in seat 6F as I choose between the chicken fajita salad and the burger and enjoy the warm chocolate chip cookie and hot towel.

I am sitting in first class and longing for home. The memory of it makes it possible to get back on a plane and come back to a place that holds nothing for me so that I can leave it for another place, that I hold out hope--stupid, painful, broken hope--will, like Robert Frost has written, have to take me in.