There and Back again
Downtown Phoenix, despite its hotels, coffee shops, and conference center seemed empty. That is the way, often in the desert, that emptiness prevails, and it is why I love the desert, but I hadn’t gone to Phoenix equipped for the desert. I acquired a water bottle, and found fresh spring water sources in the hotel fitness center and the conference center to keep it full. I am good at finding water in the desert. If water coolers aren’t available, sliced cactus, condensation traps, and low ground can get it done. But food in the desert is harder. I have not quite resigned myself to eating insects yet, and there was nearly nothing gluten free in Phoenix. There were nuts, chocolate, smoothies, and salads. I wandered like a hunter gatherer through the heat from coffee shops to smoothie bar trying to find a banana. Finally a woman at a bakery found one in a fridge in the back. I found a tamale stand once, but it was gone the next day when I went to find it again, almost as though it had been a mirage.
By the time my plane came I was on empty. At the airport there weren’t even smoothies or salads let alone bananas. I had a headache.
When I found my seat, it was the one near the window, to keep me away from the flight attendants. The straps of my backpack always stray into the aisle and the flight attendants become hostile at me because I am the owner of the offending backpack straps, so I sit by the window to maximize my distance from trouble. In my mind, flight attendants wear nuns habits for their uniforms and carry rulers instead of beverages; they terrify me. As I sat down, my skirt rode up a bit on my leg, exposing my knee. The woman next to me was middle aged, slender, hair cropped short. She seemed tightly wound somehow and irritable and she sat staring at my knee. I wasn’t sure if she was irritated that my knee was showing at first, but after a time as she kept staring, I realized she was staring at it in the same way that one would stare through the feathers at Folies Bergere. A fleeting glance at something covered…forbidden. I pulled the hem of my skirt back down. I do not like the idea of my knees being treated like forbidden territory.
A few minutes later two twenty something women appeared in the aisle to inform the person beside me that she was occupying one of their seats and she needed to move. She was deeply annoyed but moved, and the two sat down beside me. One was bossing the other around, telling her not to eat any snacks. The other was defensive and trying to hold her ground. She was hungry, but self conscious about eating when her partner disapproved. The bossy one backed down, before she crossed some line…A lovers quarrel. The bossy one turned on me then, asking me to crack the window so she wouldn’t get motion sick as we took off. We weren’t even moving yet, and the windows were closed to keep the plane cool. I cracked the window a bit for her, since that was what she asked, and heat poured through the slit.
“No?” she asked. “You could just open the one up there in front of you.” I explained that the heat was intense and coming through the windows, and that we weren’t moving yet, so her motion sickness was not as great a concern as the heat.
When the plane moved, I opened the window for her, and the two of them held hands as it took off. She started talking about flying to Minnesota once, and she kept going on and on like she was an expert at flying or something.
I jammed my earphones in and turned on Beck as an escape, from a cranky lesbian, from being hungry, from a headache.
When I landed in Denver, the cranky lesbian had simmered down and was quite decent to me, helping me pass my trash to the flight attendant. It was as though leaving a completely barren desert for a less barren desert had somehow hydrated her soul.
There were friends excited to see me after I arrived, and my students came with posters ready to give excellent presentations of their work. And happily Denver had more gluten-free restaurants than any place I have ever been, including New York, Geneva, Madrid, Vegas, and L.A. I started sleeping through the night again and got done nearly all of the work that I needed to catch up on.
When I left Denver, it was time. The bit of my consciousness tied to the growth of the grass on the front lawn of my house started manifesting itself as did the bit that is tied to an awareness of how many times I had worn the same clothes, and the bit that is aware of dehydration and altitude. I made it home safely, very late at night, grass long, air moist, heavy and cool, from a windstorm that had blown the air of San Francisco across the hills that define the Bay Area. Car fine, house fine, and the clean white sheets of my bed and soft feather pillows beckoning.