Airport Duty

SeaTac Baggage Claim #10

I confess, I love being on airport duty.  I’ll happily drop you off or pick you up. I’ll park and wait at the luggage claim, I’ll drop you off at a crazy hour in the morning—I will be there for you.

I used to say that I’ll do it because I’ve been there too—the girl without a car, trying to get from Riverside to LA, willing to take an 8 hour bus ride but grateful for the passenger seat of a friend’s car.  This is still true, but it also boils down to selfishness.  I like taking people on the first leg of an adventure, I like welcoming my loved ones home.  I like the anticipation, the slight fear that I won’t recognize someone as they come out of the gate, and the relief when I see the shape of a shoulder and know immediately—there. That is who I’m waiting for.

Airports are a great equalizer.  The travelers are sleep dazed and weary, the friends are eager and bright.  I’ve been the exhausted traveler, I’ve been the friend at home, sobbing in my car after a tight hug goodbye and an uncertain time apart.  I’ve been the eager person, embarking on something unknown.  I’ve been the sorrowful traveler, leaving loved ones.  I’ve worn sneakers that slip off easily and an oversized sweatshirt that still smells of a lover and I’ve worn heels that click satisfyingly against the linoleum and turn heads as I pass gate after gate, just because I could.  My flights have been nondescript, turbulent, creepy.  I’ve had seatmates that are chatty and ones that ignore me.

I can remember the flight home when my father died, but I can’t remember if my sister or my best friend picked me up. I remember crying on the plane, quietly.  I remember flying home thinking I should feel different somehow.  I remember landing in Mexico still surprised to see my friend walk up to find me, even though he said he’d be there. I remember the first time T came being sure we would never know each other, and I remember how we rushed each other, arms open, the same people we’ve always been. I remember waiting to go through security in Texas, feeling the certainty of leaving.

Today Mt Rainier loomed above the horizon and, before I realized it, I was in the lot, I was waiting at the empty baggage claim.  Slowly, people joined me and before long I saw K and her boyfriend on the escalator. A hand waves. A hug, some laughter. Bags found, elevator, car, highway.  The city stretches before us and we are all home again, on solid ground before our next adventures. Do you need a ride? I’ll be waiting.

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Because, sunrise

There are certain mornings I deeply miss riding the bus.  It may be warmer in my car, but there’s a wakefulness to the cold walk and steaming air that isn’t entirely unpleasant.  It isn’t the foot-stomping huddle of people that I miss though, it’s the ability to keep my eyes fixed on the horizon rather than the road in front of me.

Seattle seems to have finally shouldered her winter coat. The temperature is dropping and snow keeps falling at higher elevations.  A thin sheet of ice coats the leaf debris clinging to the curb and that pesky warning light on my dashboard keeps flashing back on. (It’s something to do with the cold, not a lack of safety—when she starts warm there’s no light. In the cold, there is. I’m not good with cars, even my beloved Greta.) Today pinks and purples hung low in the sky, and as soon as I took the curve down 46th to Leary I gasped.  It’s the mountains. The mountains. Shimmering with the deep blue of distance and white of new snow, they caught the colors of sunrise as the sun crept up for one of the last days of 2014.

It’s been a year. I’m not ending it where I thought I would be and last night I spent most of the evening falling off of climbs instead of getting up anything.  Still, there’s a certain grace to falling, and I think I’m getting better at it. Or at least, more comfortable with the idea of it. I’m talking literally, but I mean it in more ways than crashing onto a bouldering mat. Though I mean that, too. After a little over a year, my apartment is finally feeling like a home that belongs to me.  I have too many scented candles and a record player and radio that are finally hooked up.  I’m starting to get nice wine glasses. I have a dog bowl for my house guests and spare bedding for friends.  My cast iron collection is growing and continues to be well seasoned. My books are organized by subject then alphabetical order. My game collection keeps growing. These are all objects, yes, but they are important ones. It is home, not just a place I’m staying until real life starts.

Alone, in my car, I talk to the sky. It hurts sometimes, in its beauty.  I’ve always thought of beauty as something edged and sharp. Pretty is softness but beauty has an element of danger to it.  Another body was found on Rainer this morning.  The clouds, as they turn colors, are not just swatches of paint.  My body aches from last night’s gym session, I feel clunky, my fingers are cold on Greta’s wheel.  Hello, beautiful city, ringed in mountains. The ship canal as I cross the bridge is still but shimmering, cut with reflections of boat hulls and rigging.  The sun is up a little higher, a bright blaze.  By the time I write this everything has dulled into daylight and the pale winter sky.  Did you see the sunrise this morning? If I can show you the right glimpse, you’ll see why I love this place, you’ll fall in love too.

[I have no photographs to share with this– nothing gets the whole thing in the right way.]

December Snow

Another day of heavy clouds broken by sun and rain—Seattle winter. Sometimes I think it’ll never snow again.  In California the closest we got to snow were fires, the Santa Anna winds blowing ash into gutters like snowdrift.  Here I can see the mountains and their white peaks but it feels so distant. One year I bought perfume that smelled of a snow storm when you open a warm front door—the cold crashing into your body, the edge of darkness pushed back with spilling light.  I wore it at my pulse points and went to a friend’s fundraiser hoping to find a rugged mountain man to keep my evenings warm and spent the night dancing with an ex when I should have run. I still remember the surprise in his eyes when he touched my skin, sweaty from dancing, and a different evening flashed into sight. So the snow lured him back, in a way, for a time.

Christmas time is a strong recipe for nostalgia, especially after spending 4 years in college in Bethlehem, a city that had to put out a press release announcing the generic postmark after being overwhelmed by out-of-towners depositing endless sacks of mail. White lights twinkle and, for most of December, you can hear the college choir practicing or performing for Vespers at the Moravian Church. Is it because fresh snowfall erases so much about a city? Is it because of the hush that falls, the filtered light, the way a window steams up as if to push away night fall?

The first major storm in Bethlehem I was caught at work on the wrong campus, a mile from my room with buses that, even with chains, had stopped running. It was probably a Friday night, that was the night that I closed the library with my boyfriend, and the place was empty.  We walked the stacks, gathering books from the tables, watching the snow out of the large windows.  Campus police came to lock and, because they saw us every Friday and often closed the coffee house I ran, knew we’d be stranded. They gave us a ride down the hill—slowly navigating the empty streets, and dropped us off at my building.  I ran upstairs to drop my things off while my boyfriend smoked a cigarette on the porch and when I came back down there were a few friends gathered.  Quiet energy was building—the kind that’s unique to snow storms and college students—the world closing into a bubble around young bodies just beginning to stretch into adulthood.

One of the houses we passed on Church Street. Photo credit: Kathleen Connally

We walked down the street a few blocks to the town library where we’d spent our first few hours together, reading romance novels out loud to each other during the monthly basement book sale, trying desperately not to laugh too loudly.  The landscaped shrubs had nets of white lights over them, peeking through the snow, and the courtyard was a blank field of white.  Snow haloed around the orange street lights and our footprints trailed blue shadows behind us. We scooped up snow into our gloved hands and drank deeply—still children in that way, wanting the cold on our tongues and reveling in the way it disappeared down our throats. My boyfriend cleared a bench off and I sat beside him, leaning into each other as our friends tipped back into the blank field, making snow angels.  When he kissed me our warm breath mixed with ice and snow dusted our shoulders.

My memory ends in that kiss and not what happened next. I’m sure we stood eventually, I’m sure we walked back to a warmed room and draped our cold things over chairs to dry.  Life kept moving forward, as it does when snow storms melt away.

Snow storms now mean something entirely different—friends disappear into the mountains chasing fresh powder, new tracks, higher elevation.  There are crevasses to be navigated, avalanches to be wary of, beer at lodges with loosened ski boots and thermoses of warm wine at the fire lookouts. The snow here is not my snow yet—it’s bigger, more dangerous, unfamiliar.  But look- I have skis leaning against my wall, borrowed boots, goggles that fog; I will learn.

(Image credit from this site.)

Outside the library, a different snow storm. Photo Credit : Kathleen Connally