night flight
29 August 2003

I write this on a night flight, Los Angeles to Boston. I’m not made for redeyes. I can’t sleep. Can’t even pretend to try to sleep. Damned leg cramp, arm cramp too. Is this a presage of old age or simply not enough water and too little sleep? And tight quarters, of course. Oh to be rich and in first class. I’d say “someday” and sigh wistfully but it seems unlikely at this point. And really, do I want wealth just so I can sit in cushier seats up front? An easier solution: eschew redeyes. They live up to their moniker.

Two mediocre movies later. I’m still awake, of course. Down with Love and Anger Management. The second was better than the first, oddly enough, given that I’m usually inclined toward romantic comedy and against Adam Sandler. But both were tissue-thin stories, hurtling forward toward their nonsensical conclusions with largely manufactured emotions in contrived situations. I want to sink into a movie or a book, inhabit the world and savor the character quirks and little true moments. Nowadays movies are in far too big a hurry. It’s like sex that’s so focused on orgasm the participants have forgotten how to have fun. I’m so glad to be out of that. Why did I ever think I could fit? Was I insane? Mainstream movies have been more bad than good, more polish than substance for a long time now, though admittedly the story gurus have made things much worse the last decade or so as their messages – and formulae – have spread in carcinogenic cell replication across Hollywood. So I retreat to my somewhat outlandish but at least deeply felt novel and I can respect myself and my work in the morning.

Morning. Which comes too soon. 3:30 a.m., it should be pitch quiet dark, just the cricket chorus and an occasional truck rumbling past way off down the street. Instead it’ll be dawn in a new-so old city. I lived in Cambridge and Somerville a century and a half ago. I was me and yet not. My cells and thoughts and life are different now. How much do I remember? Too much and not anywhere near enough. I want to touch the past. Taste it, lick it, inhale it. Become myself now and then both. Twin Tamars, standing on the bank of the Charles looking into the future which is past.

Yesterday as I paced the house and collapsed on our deliciously comfortable new mattress, I thought how real it was to be there then, the then which was then now. And how intangible the future, the plane ride and the Boston cousins and, well, this trip. Time is always now, but the now is so intensely, sensorily, tangibly real while the future, just around the next bend in the road, the next tick of the clock, the next intake of breath, is like cloud vapor or a heat mirage on the road, seeming to vanish as you get closer and then twinkle even further ahead, tantalizing with that “you can’t catch me!” laughter.

But now the will be is real and it’s that moment on the bed, looking up at the spinning fan and listening to Damian in the next room, that exists only in memory. And what is memory? Just some three dimensional images I hold in my head? They feel almost concrete. Almost. But then they fade away into discreet mental postcards from the distant past like my recollections of Harvard as an undergrad. I can hold those memories in my cupped hands, there are fewer of them now, a condensed distillation of my painful trek from adolescent to young adult. If I forget an incident, a moment, a face from the past, did it really happen and did I know that person? If we no longer share the memory, does the relationship-that-was still have meaning?

Does any of this matter? Are we the sum of our experiences – those elusive, once-real memories – or are we ever-changing here-and-now, moment-by-moment constantly reinventing and redefining ourselves?

There are a few people I love completely, a few people who matter to me in an ongoing, evolving way just as I matter to them. But it’s all so damned slippery. Are we friends long distance because of the present or the past? How real, how in depth a relationship can it be when you’re not there?

Damian’s had a hard time with the concept that I’ll be gone for three days. Mommy has been an ever-present constant in his life. He’s told me a dozen times that he’ll miss me and I believe him. For him I am as solid as eternity. I’m always there, background for everything else. But now I’m not. On the way to the airport, I told him he can dream tonight of me on the plane and that way I’ll be with him. He responded (in a querulous voice) that he can’t know what his dreams will be. And when Dan stopped the car at the United terminal and I leaned in to kiss Damian goodbye, his face crumpled. Not an all-out bawl but something far more affecting: that kind of quivering lip my-heart-is-breaking desolation. I remember it well. I never wanted to induce it my son. But I can’t protect him from separation forever and in protecting him I limit and tether myself. So I said goodbye and told him how much I love him and reiterated what I’d been telling him for the past week, that I’ll always be with him because I’m there in his heart just as he’s in mine. Then I grabbed my bags, hugged Dan and walked off alone, trying to not cry. That moment stays painfully real now as I hunch over the tiny seatback tray and scribble out my thoughts in blue pen on the pages of a neglected paper journal.

Dan called when they got home. I was sitting in a beige plastic bucket seat waiting for the call to board. Different worlds already. Damian was better now, he told me. Then Damian got on the phone. He said he’ll dream about me tonight and in his dreams I’ll be flying in this very airplane across the night sky. So now, right this minute now, he lies in his narrow bed thousands of miles away and far below and dreams my here and now. Real for me, imagined for him.

My real life is there with them. My concrete, minute-by-minute reality, my movie of my life unfolding – that is in Boston-Cambridge-Waltham-somewhere in Connecticut this weekend. An adventure of sorts, albeit a mild, gentle one, but something to remember when future becomes present and this becomes past. Like the airplane itself, we hurtle forward while sitting still.

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