The wheels of my plane hit concrete at 11:43 PM, jarring the plane enough to wake the toddler two rows ahead of me. He began to cry, his mother hushing him and looking around nervously at other passengers. She met my glance, and I flashed a gentle smile. She returned to her baby. I returned to my phone. You may now use your mobile devices, our flight attendant said airily, my thumb rolling through Twitter in the hopes of perusing without hearing about Trump. You may disable Airplane mode. I’d disabled it on the decline, messages leaping from the sky and into my palms. I smiled. Tiny rebellions.
I spent the previous weekend in New Orleans with my father and brothers. The King men. We set out to have a weekend we’d remember forever, and, I thought foggily on an Uber ride back to my apartment in the City, I think we succeeded. Slushies in foam cups, patio conversations about life and politics and how freaking lucky we are to know each other. Tears, laughs, hugs, because now we had time to say what we’d been carrying for each other. Groggy walks in the morning contrasting bombastic nighttime wandering.
I dropped my messenger bag on the floor beside my bed, pulling open my luggage and fishing out my toothbrush, toothpaste, contact solution, lens case. Some clothing tried to come with, sleeves spilling limply onto the floor. Halfhearted reach. I climbed into bed, checked the time: 12:48 AM. I set an alarm for 7, the time to get up, pull on clothes, run, shower, grab coffee, roll into work, the gym. Time is a stalwart companion*; surely we find enough rest in the margins.
*relationship not optional to you, me, or anygoddamnbody else
Flat in bed, then arched slightly, as though looking into a phone for a reason to delay the inevitable. Roll out of bed, reluctantly, feel the soles of your feet reacquaint with wood paneling. On clumsy legs, plod into the bathroom, bend at the waist to lift the toilet seat, and stand tall. Lean forward, and listen to the rinsing of yesterdays. Amble into the living room, space rug tickling your toes, and stand tall in silhouette against the sun-streaked window. Bend forward and reach for your toes, breathe in and out. Just what in the hell is happening in your lower back? 29.
Shifting your weight into your left knee and right knee as the elevator descends. Fingers reach for the ears, pushing headphones in gently. Heartbeats become rhythms. Step out against the concrete, and mindfully turn the head at the neck left, then right. Inhale, exhale, and fall into a run. Notice your breathing; be generous to your lungs. What is your neck doing, what are your arms doing, how are your hips working with your knees with your footsteps? Notice all this. Be present in your body, from busy sidewalks to highway crossings to concrete running paths beside the water. When you return, do you feel it? Your cells applaud you. Victory tingles at the mitochondrial level.
On the elevator, notice the alertness of your mind. Neurons fire with motivation: what to wear to work, what to do about that issue you’ve been puzzling over, a checklist that stands no chance. In the shower, lather the hands and be grateful in the cleansing. Let them appreciate the scalp, symbolizing the mind always at work for you. Let them rub at the shoulders, who carry without asking; the forearms, where you’ve written your reminders; the sternum, guardian of your heartbeat; your stomach, your sides, thighs, calves, feet and toes and soles, and, yes, the parts of you intimately kept. Cleanse and rinse, all this always a process of letting go.
I’ll be in your area, a friend told me via text mid-workday, if you want to hang out some time after 5. Six years into my marriage with my Calendar, I no longer need to spend much time puzzling. I had about two and half hours of wiggle room, time I’d intended for a cleanup of my apartment, but who regrets finding time for friends? I’ll see you just after 6.
I jaunted down the front steps to my gym, too emboldened by my workout to be disheartened by the early night sky. My skin smelled like citrus, my hair Japanese mint and cherry, reminders I’d put in work on my body. I met my friend at a coffeeshop, where we hugged and exchanged updates. We decided to grab dinner, a pay-by-the-gourmet-taco place not too many blocks away. Navigating avenues, I couldn’t help but remember his and my early walks on our college campus ten years ago. Ten years.
We sat, agreed on two tacos each and a shared guacamole app, and gradually unfolded. The talk spanned vastly, topics as grand as love and meaning but also as specific as the day I woke up where I wasn’t supposed to and learned what it is to rip up all of yesterday’s best plans. We held back tears, gave each other words of courage. Friendship is a remarkable fucking thing.
Day 1: I awoke well ahead of my alarm. Body shivering, throat scratchy. Consulted my phone, checked my calendar: only two things would need rescheduling. Decided to sleep a bit more before deciding. Try a run, maybe. Rose from bed, and body trembled its protest. Fell back into blankets and the couch. Pulled open my laptop: Sick Day.
Sleep pulled me under and let me loose. Movements sluggish, limbs desperate for warmth. I rested in the hands of God, flat over the ocean, dipped just beneath and lifted just above, again and again and again. Lunchtime: glass of water, two Advil gelcaps. Episode after episode of Friends. Joey introduced Phoebe to Mike and Rachel kissed Gavin on the balcony. Shuddering beneath a blanket, studio laughter. Soon the apartment was dark, 5:15 PM, and I wondered if I had the energy to reach the lamp. Three naps later, the courageous journey: let there be light.
Day 2: Morning came reluctantly, bedtime only a continuation of short brushes with sleep. I rose, studied the sky, tried to swallow and felt stabs. Body alternatingly hot and cold. Sick Day. Journeyed outside the apartment and toward the doctor. The outside world looks different when I walk on such fragile legs. The doctor is kind, asks questions a second time when I am hard to understand. I step on a scale for the first time in six years. Sit delicately on tissue paper, hands beneath my legs for warmth. Swab of my throat, and it’s confirmed: strep throat. Drugs are ordered, farewells given.
Pill one, and couchbound. Today’s meal: fruit popsicle and yogurt. Two episodes of Friends, a nap, and the last two stars of Super Mario RPG. Long nap with the hope of miracle medicine, only to awaken and find patience. Blankets and reflection, reliving all the times I wasn’t trapped within these walls. Texts from friends and family sending a good word bring light. Mom sends money for soup. Soon, pill two, and bedtime. The longest night: a short sleep, and a few restless hours. Forcing down glasses of water that feel like they are laced with barbed wire. Losing track of time.
Day 3: I’m still contagious until after noon. Sick Day. Pill three, and I suppose I am beginning to feel better, but I still cannot talk. A friend is coming into the City and this cannot be the apartment I welcome him to. I bundle the infected –– clothing, blankets, towels –– blend them into the laundry basket. Sweat as I ride the elevator to the basement laundry room, try to sing as I place belongings back in their place. Venture into the City for soup and for Lysol spray. Now I am sure I am feeling better.
Not long after, my friend arrives, and I am running around with a duty phone. He tells me he has arrived, and we see each other from far away. We approach one another, then pretend to be strangers and pass one another. We are chuckling at ourselves, a secret and stupid game, but soon we hug. The light arrives.
The visit lasts from that first night through two days and a morning trip to Starbucks near his airport. In pictures, the journey is varied: laughter lying on the floor, return to the bookstore, a long-awaited show together, walks through the city in the rain and sun, coffee and talking our hearts out, discovering a new bookstore, meeting other friends and laughing in Brooklyn bars with them, traveling to a game night with more friends still. We have missed this, missed each other. In a short span, I laugh my honest laugh more than I have in months. The love is imperfect, but unflinching –– for forever.
Sunday at noon, after coffee and breakfast with a friend in Astoria, I am just beginning to understand. Slow down, slow down, slow down. Your back demands rest, heart must grieve the small, inevitable losses. There will always be more beckoning you into motion; devote some time and space to stillness. Believe in the magic of having nowhere to be.