Thursday, 8 May 2008

‘Back to the Present’

They sit at the airport, silently waiting for the hour of his departure to arrive. She has dreaded the coming moment for months--she dreaded it even before he arrived. She dreads it, and yet in some ways she wishes it would hurry up and come sooner simply so she can relieve herself of the anxiety and move on to the grieving process. She prays there will not be a delay. She couldn’t say goodbye twice. The unexpected prolonging of the separation would only make them both awkward, wondering what to do. Any actions after the planned farewell would feel stupid and superfluous. Afterward it would seem sloppy, or like those final moments never happened at all. It would lack poetry.

She stares at him across the table. His eyes are red from lack of sleep. Hers must be too. Her hair is probably flat and lifeless, her eyeliner smeared just enough to enhance black circles around those red eyes. In short, she must be a mess. And still he looks back at her affectionately through his drowsiness. When he looks at her like this, like he can see right through her body and into whatever lies inside, she thinks he’s the most beautiful creature she has ever seen.

He blinks furiously to stay awake and taps the side of his coffee cup with frantic fingers. He attempts a rhythm—it’s calming to put things in order--but his joints bend at all the wrong moments and the meter sounds more nervous than musical. He gives up and looks down into the empty paper cup. He would like more--he needs more--but things are so expensive in airports and he doesn’t want to spend any more than he already has. He silently curses whoever first decided money was a good idea. It seems to him all money has done is thwart him at every turn. He wouldn’t have to catch this plane and leave if it weren’t for money.

He looks back at her. Her hair falls in wisps around her face, verging on chaotic behaviour. Those hairs rebel against the neat braid she brushed them into this afternoon. No, yesterday afternoon. They have been up so long he no longer knows when it was. He wonders when they even are, now. Time is so relative. For the three others in the café here, it must be ‘tomorrow’ compared to what is still ‘today’ for him. Does that even make sense? He shakes his head in confusion, and she laughs.

‘You look silly,’ she says lightly.

‘I don’t doubt it,’ he replies. ‘If we stay up any longer here, we’re going to lose our minds.’ He’s a little too serious when he says this, and she turns away from him, refocusing her stare on a blank spot of the wall sideways and across from her. She has an honest fear of insanity and finds it hard to talk about such a thing the way he has. She’s not angry with him for it, but she can’t continue the conversation.

He reaches his hand out for hers and she lets him take it. His touch is cold. She thinks this must be from being awake too long. His hands were warmer last night--earlier tonight--whenever. They were warm and comforting then. She shuts her eyes for a moment and remembers it, how they wanted so much to make the most of their last moments together. They put too much pressure on things. It was unnatural. It almost turned into an argument. The only other time that ever happened was the last time they had to say goodbye. Separation causes delusion, she decides. You feel you have to pack a lifetime of emotion into one moment, as though it will make it easier to leave the person. But the truth is: when you love someone, nothing can ever be enough, nothing can ease that separation.

She learned this last time, when she was the one who left. She held him so tightly he thought maybe she was trying to pull him into her, make him a physical part of herself. She thought, if she held him long enough, it would satiate her and make it easier to let him go. But somehow it made things even harder.

She doesn’t want to cry this time. She knows she will, but she wishes she could avoid it. She wants to be strong. She doesn’t want to feel so much of her stability depends on him. But maybe there’s not really so much shame in it as people claim….

‘What am I going to do without you?’ she suddenly says aloud. He looks at her gently.

‘What am I going to do without you?’ he rejoins. She laughs softly, and shakes her head because she does not know.

‘You’ll go back to your own life, I suppose,’ she tells him. ‘You’ll see your friends again’--all those people she does not know-- ‘you’ll go out to all those places you go to’--those places she has never been-- ‘you’ll be okay.’ She’s being unfair, but she can’t help what she feels. Feelings are not always fair and rational. He knows this, he understands, and so he continues to speak as though she has not just said what she has.

‘I wish our lives weren’t so divided,’ he says. It is not the first time one of them has expressed such a wish, yet each time it holds the same poignancy. She nods sadly.

They are like fallen leaves floating down a river. They have lost their roots, lost their way and are drifting along, crossing paths and touching, but never able to redirect their courses and float together. Tragically, too, every time they touch, it bounces them off onto even more divided paths.

She does not want to go about her daily life knowing the most she can share with him is stories. She wants him to see things with her. She wants them to know the same people.

She wonders what he must be like around all those friends she doesn’t know. They must see a person he doesn’t bother to share with her. They see an external form, while she sees what lies at the core. She loves knowing this, but still it gives her a feeling like she does not love the same man those strangers call their friend. Perhaps this should ease her jealousy, but it only excites it more.

‘You don’t have to go,’ she says. ‘You can just stay here. You don’t even have to tell anyone you’re staying. Just let that other person in you go back. Leave the real you with me.’

He smiles at her. ‘I’m already doing that,’ he says, and she understands. His body is returning--his façade is returning--but his heart is staying here. His soul is staying here. But how incredible it is the way the body can become the soul when real feeling takes control! She does not want to lose that. She wants to feel his soul, and she can’t do that if he takes that other half away.

He stands up. He has decided he needs that third coffee too much, and he goes to purchase it. The man at the counter looks at him wearily as he hands him his order. No one wants to be in an airport at this hour. It’s normally so busy here. One would think the current late-night silence would be peaceful, but instead it’s disturbing. This is not how things should be, here. It all feels wrong, like the calm before the storm. He longs for commotion. He wants distraction.

He stares about him, taking in the surroundings. The tiles, the walls, the ceiling--everything is white and dingy. Or maybe they’re not dingy, but the poor lighting makes them look so. Either way, it’s depressing. That dingy white is so overpowering in its mood, the brown tabletops fall into it as though disappearing into quicksand. If he thinks about it too long, it might make him feel lonely before he has even left.

At one of these sinking tables sits another couple. They are silent. He can’t even see the kind of eye contact he has been exchanging with her all night in-between sentences. These two are already divided. The girl looks bored. She’s probably wishing the man would go already, so she can get to bed. With coffee in hand, their observer looks over at his own companion and hopes she’s not so bored herself.

‘I’m sorry you’re having to stay up so long because of me,’ he says as he returns to their table. ‘You should have stayed home, let me come here on my own.’

‘Don’t say such stupid things,’ she says, and her expression is one of severity. ‘How can you even suggest I do such a thing? How could I just let you leave me with….’

‘With only last night as the farewell?’ he supplies. She says nothing, but he knows he has guessed rightly. ‘I don’t know why things always have to end so awkwardly.’

‘We just put too much pressure on things,’ she recites her thoughts.

‘I wish it were different,’ he says unnecessarily. It has almost become their theme song, yet this time it affects her strongly.

‘I do too,’ she agrees, and her voice grows suddenly urgent. She grips his hand tightly now, her nails sinking into the surface of the skin. ‘I wish we could live together--I mean really live together, not just occupy the same space. I wish I could come home every day and know you’ll be there waiting for me, or that I could wait for you--I wish, when I went out walking, I could say things directly to you instead of trying to remember everything so I can tell it all to you later--I wish you could really understand what I’m seeing, what I’m experiencing--I wish we could take our time with things, not feel the need to cram it all in. I’m tired of living with the mindset of someone who’s going to die in a few days. I wish we could talk about something utterly banal and not feel we’re just wasting time, like we should be using the minutes for something more important…I wish we could be normal.’

He nods, silently conscious of the growing pain in his hand. He looks down at her fingers. The nails are painted, deep blue and shining. He realises he will miss them when he’s home again. Home? Wherever. Semantics are starting to make his head swim.

She notices her nails and releases his hand apologetically. She has become overzealous, perhaps melodramatic. She does this more often than she would like. She tries to remind herself that, if you love someone, you set them free, but all she has managed to live up to is: if you love someone, cling like hell.

She wonders again what life will be like when he’s gone. She considers it--lonely nights in cold darkness, wondering what he’s doing wherever he is at the time--and she feels overwhelmed. Normally she would discuss this sort of thing with him, be open with him, but for some reason the words fail her now. Her mind doesn’t want to make it any more real than it already is. She needs to stop thinking about it if she’s going to get through it at all. He notices her strange, morose expression though and gives her a questioning look. She kisses him in response. She knows the few others around them must be watching--perhaps they find this public display irritating--but she’s not really thinking about them. She’s not really thinking of anything at all; she is only feeling.

Somehow an hour has passed. Suddenly the time of his departure has arrived. She becomes desperate. He can’t leave, not now. Why do these abrupt endings always interrupt such perfect moments? Just when they seem to get things right, that’s when it all has to end. How does time manage to pass so quickly? She was agonisingly awaiting his flight simply to end the torture of that waiting, but now she’s even more on-edge due to that moment having come. Now she clings to him more than ever.

I love you, you can’t leave, she thinks, but she remains outwardly silent. She could say a hundred, a thousand things, but they would only make it all harder. It’s not his fault he has to go, after all. Why say things that will only make him feel guilty for something out of his control?

They stand in line. He is only four people away from being out of her reach. Then he will be on the other side of the wall, in the ‘passengers only’ zone. She remembers last time, when she was the one on the other side of one of those walls. She sat motionless, encircled by strangers hurrying off to their holidays, while she waited to be rushed off to her own depression.

She stares at him now, attempting to take in every angle at once, solidifying his image in her mind. She knows when she shuts her eyes she can see those most important features, the ones that make her smile the way they do, but she doesn’t want to lose all the connecting lines; she wants the entire picture. Before she finishes, though--and what would be enough to qualify as finished, anyway? –they’re taking him away from her. He kisses her one last time, and then he’s gone.

She stands frozen, unbelieving what is happening. She watches as the other passengers move along through the door, and it hits her--it has not been fifteen seconds and already that feeling she knew would come has hit her. It’s a feeling like the wall divides not just those who hold a ticket and those who don’t, but also his life from hers--his dimension from hers. He will fly back to his own world filled with all those people and places she doesn’t know--he will journey back into the Present, into ‘Reality’. And she? She will linger here, revelling in what is already becoming the Past, a realm of memories she can’t pull herself away from--an alternate universe filled with nothing but herself, but surrounded by that other strange world filled with even more people she doesn’t know and places that hold no meaning for her anymore except the ones she visited with him.

When will she see him again? Neither of them even knows, and already, as the minutes pass, she starts to wonder if he was ever here at all.

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