Breathe. Walk. Wait.
A few hours before I boarded LOT flight 724 from Tbilisi to Warsaw, I sat next to Ucha, my Airbnb host, talking about group dynamics on the second floor balcony. He sat opposite the grape vines and the slanted cobblestone courtyard, and told me he had a few friends coming over. It was 2am. He had just flown in from Brussels, where he’d hosted a youth empowerment project. I had just come home from singing karaoke with writer friends. My flight was slotted to depart at 4:50am. Why go to bed, I thought? My entire trip in Tbilisi it seemed the natural bedtime was 3am. I’d arrive home to the strange half-intimacy of the center courtyard, where grandmothers sat on the balcony chatting in nightgowns, and all apartment doors were open at 1:30 in the morning. Why go to bed?
I found out why. I parced my nut-free airplane food into my backpack, threw my toiletries into rolly-bag, and I was off. My cab arrived at 2:30, and I began the long transit. I knew I was bound for around 23 hours of travel: 2 hours pre-board; 4 hour flight to Warsaw; 5 hour layover; and a 12 hour trip from Warsaw to Los Angeles. Just writing it now feels exhausting.
I had this mythical idea I’d use this time for writing. I thought I’d process my dangling sense of my identity as a poet, and make some progress on a few poems. I hate to come to this page again to write about what a weenie I was, but I it’s true. And it’s worse. Not only did I not work on poems, I didn’t read, or listen to audiobooks, or even do more than an hour or two of journaling. Ariana Reines, the workshop leader, had said the poems I brought in felt clotted. I felt like my mind was clotted. And the path in front of me stretched out like a vein that didn’t know it’s way back to the heart. Thus began the mishaps and delays.
My first flight was an hour late departing. In the USA, people only line up when it’s announced time to board. Not in Tbilisi. I went to the kiosk to ask about changing my seat – to no avail, only to find I was already at the front of a cue. I stayed put, standing with my backpack for forty minutes before I figured out what was going on. People next to me started sitting on the ground, leaning on the bags of their travel companions. I didn’t want to fall asleep, I didn’t want to lose my place. In another country, with another language, you have to pay attention to things you don’t know to pay attention to back home. Where are people going? Who is making eye contact with clients? When are people alert, chill? An announcement was made and everyone moved from the line to the chairs nearby, and naptime ensued. After I took my place on the long metal benches, I counted near fourteen people napping horizontal. I wanted to join in, I was already exhausted. But I didn’t want to sleep through boarding. So I plugged into my headphones, and stared at the overhead placards, watching for boarding times. When we finally boarded, I had been awake for 23 hours, and I was beginning to sober up.
The flight was uneventful, and when I arrived in Warsaw, it was 6:50am. My first stop was a cappuccino. No one uses almond milk abroad, so that, at least, is safe. I managed to find my creamy airport coffee, and then a help desk where I changed my middle seat to an aisle for the 12 hour flight to LAX. But the new boarding pass said departure time 11:20, boarding time 16:00. I thought it was a typo, and spent a few hours watching Shelter Cove, an embarrassingly cheesy show on Netflix. I’d never seen it before, but I knew there would be no emotional iprint, and it would suck me away from the caterpillar like chairs lining the boarding areas. I walked around the airport a few times, bored off my rocker. All my drive to talk to strangers, to dig into the present moment, to meditate, to do anything of value, was drained. I had so much swarming around in my heart and I wasn’t going to deal right then and there. So I kept the bandaid of boredom placed fully across the present moment. After a few laps, I returned to the helpdesk to ask about the typo. It turned out that it wasn’t a typo, my flight had been delayed to 16:00, or 4pm. Five more hours.
It was about this time, I discovered that I had mispacked my food, and there was not enough to eat – for the first 23 hours. As I’ve written before, for the average person, this is an easy fix. Airports are essentially snack factories with seats, movie theaters with no movies. But with an allergy this severe, I just can’t. I don’t eat new packaged food in the USA, let alone in another country. I read labels religiously, but when everything is in another language, the religion fails. Sometimes I can find Pringles, or Lays potato chips. Sometimes there’s fresh fruit. In Warsaw airport, apparently, these things do not sell. I made three panicked rounds of the airport looking for more than my last stack of ritz crackers, the can of pre-mixed tuna salad, and single tiger’s milk bar. Maybe that’s enough food for a strict diet, but for me, for post-drinking, not sleeping me, over the next 22 hours, it was nowhere near enough food. I wouldn’t just be tired and jet-lagged in Los Angeles, I’d be ravenous.
And I was. The flight was actually another two hours late, and I didn’t arrive in LAX until 8pm. I didn’t sleep at all. I thought I’d be delirious, but I was just a bitch. Getting off the airplane, I sneered left and right, took every chance to cut ahead. My stomach churned. My head throbbed. I texted my brother when I arrived, thinking maybe he could tell me if there was food at his house, and surprise! he wasn’t even home, but away for the night at a conference in San Diego. I asked the security guards at LAX if I could get to the stores and restaurants in the building for something to eat, but all my safe restaurants were downstairs, in departures. Nope.
And that was the one word swarming in my head. Nope. I had no concept of what day it was, how long I’d been awake—if you could call this awake. Under the layers of dizziness, the solid part of me had to lead. Walking up the gangplank, I told myself I was capable. It would be over in a few hours. I was capable. I had to be, I was alone. Although it wasn’t at the forefront, I knew that this was temporary, that I’d be someplace else in a few days. As I waited for customs, and grumbled at the agent, I tried not to think about bed, about food. I tried not to think about the fact that three days later, I’d be driving for six hours to work with Aidan & Tre’Von on the film Anatol. Nope. I wanted a century of rest, a suite of habits I could rely on, a sense of clarity that ran deeper than an address, but I had to focus on one thing and then the next. Breathe. Walk. Wait. Get out of the airport, get food, get to a bed. Anything I had to do beyond this was too much. By the time I walked out the front door, I had been awake for 54 hours. I walked up to the taxi line, and I had one word: In’N’Out Burger.