Against the wind
A little something against the wind
I found myself seeking shelter against the wind
I got into Sarah’s car out the front of the airport, well into the night. I’d left Pete’s around lunchtime but with the time difference a day and a half and three flights had been spun from the afternoon. She had a new car and a new place now. The last time I’d seen her had been a bright morning in June 2011 when she dropped me off at the RV park where I was staying; we’d met in a 6th Street bar a few nights before. I was almost her age now, if she’d have stayed the age I remembered her.
I’d transferred at LAX. Out in the Californian non-weather I wondered where I could have been going. Carried on the breeze was that uniquely American suggestion of a life just waiting to begin, somewhere out beyond the parking garage and the air traffic control tower. All, it whispered, that was necessary was to take the first step off the kerb, as if into a new pair of shoes, sized for the person you were to become, durable enough to last however far you had to run.
Inside the terminal, delayed at immigration or endlessly lapping a juxtaposition of escalators—up, around, down, around, repeat—was whoever I had been. Shuttle buses idled in their designated spots awaiting hotel guests with their luggage sized perfectly to fit in the overhead compartment. I turned, passed through the revolving doors and collected my unattended self for my final flight.
I had pared down my plans for America to two stages: One was visiting a place I’d never been, a place so inaccessible that I would likely never get to it again. The other was a return to a place—Sarah’s Austin—where I’d felt that American possibility before, where I’d been only who I was for that short time and nothing else—somewhere which had guilty appeal when I was struggling with myself in New Zealand.
* * *
We stopped at a gas station on the way to her apartment complex. She explained what it meant to choose one six pack of beer over another; I had to question whether I was at a Busch-drinking point in my life. The guy behind the register checked her ID as we paid.
I was no longer contending with who I could be in America but who she—who the person I’d be spending the next twelve days with—was.
In passing through you take people as presented and don’t stay long enough to be proved otherwise. Something fragile is constructed around them and that’s what you keep. It’s built from memories and maybe it’s reinforced with the odd message or photo but there’s a life inside that’s separate and it’s there while you are not. Everyone I’ve met on my travels has pleasantly surprised me when I’ve had the chance to visit them a second time. What emerges is impossibly fuller than that in which it’s been kept. This was no less true of Sarah. She was the first thing about America that made sense.
It was becoming a fraught situation and that was before she revealed that her circumstances had recently changed. It was not before we’d made things more complicated than needed.
I dealt with it horribly, as is always the way. Something happens inside my head and that’s where I retreat, lying in bed, curtains drawn, quiet and dark. Apparently my sighing could be incessant. She was working most days and I was incapable of finding anything to interest me in Austin. Marooned in this situation it was hard to find perspective; from her perspective it was hard to separate me from the anxiety to which I was no equal.
It wasn’t entirely unbearable. It would brighten when she got home from work. We’d go out for dinner where they’d always serve more food than was sensible to eat or we’d watch a film because network TV was universally terrible and there was comfort in the fulfillment of these most basic American stereotypes. I met some of her friends, her mum took me on a supermarket trip to get charcoal and again I was riding in a car down a strange highway with someone who wanted to help me just because I was there, who wanted to know about me just because I was from somewhere else. Sarah had this life with all these people who wanted to be around her and despite the situation so did I. We spent five nights like this then loaded up the car and slept once more before setting out west…