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Here is where the here is

Here is where the here is

Hilo International Airport shares the international distinction with diminutive airports on the Texas and Canadian border with “international” in the name. The word is bigger than the place.

The long looping one-way boulevard to the gates is ridiculous, as if the Champs-Élysées led to a Sears storage shed. Parking is meager and modest: you can park and walk across the street to the terminal. There is one terminal building and one security check line. It has an old-fashioned plain metal detector, which I set off with my knee brace. It feels like the line to get a library card.

Seven gates seldom have planes at the end. A large foyer area allows you to lounge on Pier One style wicker-and-cushion furniture with standard Hawaiian style.

You've arrived

You've arrived

I know I am going and I feel good about going. I was too eager to leave sooner, and to stay longer would have bored me. Now is the perfect time to go, but it feels strange, being here already. The robot voices tell me not to smoke but do not tell me where I am, where to go, what to do.

My oldest friend and I talked the night before. He has always been my oldest friend, and I have always been on the phone with him listening from five time zones away. The sun is always setting behind me and the waves expend their endless languid energy on the breakwater in the bay. I have always been in the heat that is now kind and humidity that is now comfortable, have always felt this gently expectant clarity, have always been in possession of dim memories of standing at the top of breathless mountains and even dimmer ones about waves and water and falling. I have never owned a car but rented them weeks at a time, always had a mostly empty refrigerator, always listened to local news with a strange round accent with perfect edges when NPR, streamed from another planet, breaks away. I cannot have changed because everything has always been exactly this, but my friend is proof of a past and encourages about the future, and I suppose that is what he means when he asks how I feel about going home.

You sound so much better. You don’t say therapist all the time.

My greatest worry is for the art. I bought several medium-sized prints from an artist co-op, which the son working the desk wrapped and wrapped in light grey newsprint paper. He got fifteen percent of the sale, he volunteered, which explained his care. I am hoping nonchalance with this extra blank flat thing will get it on the plane even with two carry-ons. I was worried about a banana my landlady had given me and which I realized can’t be transported, but the USDA guys at the airport entrance weren’t bothered. Just eat it before you get to Honolulu, and I eat it there in the lounge in the air conditioning.

The art and the banana are quiet rustling in the wide night forest of my mind in no place.

Honolulu is a big airport and reminds me of the Phoenix airport: big walkways, crowded terminals and throngs of bare-legged, flipflopped people. My interisland flight gets in at gate 53. My mainland flight leaves from gate 16. The wait and walk are jarring: so many people wandering in idle purpose, high ceilings and straight lines, broad asphalt plains.

It is at some distance, unreal, not connected to me. I remember the busyness and industry like I remember a textbook for a test. Everything comes from somewhere and I have grey, staticy memories of what that place is like.

The mainland plane is big and full, but all my things fit. Back in the tail with me are every stripe of person: native Hawaiian, white, Euro, Japanese, some Russians. A young boy flying alone sits next to me, playing his iPod. He refuses the pretzels I offer him, startled or horrified I can’t tell which. The flight seems smoother, unjarring, surreal: it feels like waiting for something mundane I have experienced before.

I took a stack of Harper’s magazines with me, having fallen behind from November. Only in the past few weeks have I worked forward to 2011, and only February. Planes are great for reading, but there is too much, and I am rushing. I doze a while and the false fantasy of high school comes: you aren’t any good. No one likes you, for you are impossible to like. You have already failed.

Worlds are here at forty thousand feet over the blank and staring ocean, none solid, each one transparent and wispy, floating by and presenting a case for instantiation. The facets of each turn and show flaws, the cylinders turned smooth, the plains that can be walked in light. It must be true that thought makes reality because I am not thinking and the realities I have been using float disembodied and uncomfortable, shuffling.

I do not know what I have found or realized or let go of or taken hold of, but I can sense that things are different. The different is the thing to hold and know–it doesn’t need a name. It is fragile and needs tending. I realize the task is to tend to it, protect it and let it grow. It will protect and grow me back.

The engines push their noise through turbulence and then we are smooth again. Everything is unreal but that is okay, and I realize I am more curious about the art getting smashed than worried about it. Landing is a hard jolt–the most frightened instant I’ve had since the wave came–but in a second the plane levels out and the thrust reverses. When we are stopped, a tall Hawaiian guy hands me my art.

At night, SeaTac is even larger and more imperial, more New York: steel and glass and kinetic sculptures. Crowds of people walk in the fluorescent night, and sodium lights glow steady outside, where the ceaseless motion is. It is a place I feel I should know but is a little farther than I can touch.

I do not tell myself that I am okay, that there is nothing to fear, that it will all be normal soon enough. I trust that it is okay even if it feels like something I cannot name, and I do not fear it. Whatever normal was needs to transform itself. There is no going back.

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2 comments on “Back

  1. (Hyperbole alert.)

    My biggest fear is that, once back in the nurturing biosphere known as Washington state, these entries will go away.

    Thanks for taking all of us on your journey.

  2. I have enjoyed, with different emotions, every post.

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