Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Archive for the ‘traveling’ Category

Fear as the Dark Mother of Moving

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Yes, I am moving to Texas – the land of big hair and blue eyeshadow. I know, I know. But it’s my fear after spending ten of my formative years in Alabama feeling under made-up and under poufy-haired.

I keep thinking about fear, fear of moving, fear of my friends forgetting me, fear of loneliness from a general incompetence in making new friends, fear of the heat in Texas, fear that I am throwing out something important. The list goes on and on.

So, I went for a walk last night around Five Points late in the evening when the scraggly trees blend with the night sky. Total patches of the earth are black and vision-proof. I kept wandering the streets, shuffling my way along pavements occasionally stubbing a toe or tripping, bouncing off tree branches, feeling the spiders from said branches land in my hair, and working my way into a panic attack.

Like most Scots, when I’m worried, I walk and walk for a while, late at night, regulating my breath so the fear coalesces, snaking back into the dark edges to lay in waiting for the next time that it can grab me.

I can’t remember ever being freaked out about walking at night. I’ve walked this area for almost 20 years. I’ve survived the night of Dropping Spiders (one April evening I found three had dropped down crowning me with 24 legs – still makes me shiver). I have listened to the trains go past with the chug-a-lug sound, never changing in these two decades, and wondered about where I was going in life. I’ve sat on the swings in the park, surrounded by the toys of happily innocent kids and speculated if the wisdom gained is worth the innocence lost. In the dark, I have admitted my failures, where I’ve been mean or thoughtless, ignored then stared in the face my aging with the creeping vista of finitude, death. I’ve cursed and cried, laughed and said “I love you” where no one can hear me.

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I’ve met Kali, the dark mother, twice in one weekend walking these streets. During yoga teacher training, I walked my beagle-dachshund mix, PooPet, at 11:30 one Friday night. My doggie loved the darks holes, where the light had disappeared with the dipping sun and would scamper into places that looked fit for Moray Eels or Jack the Ripper. Nothing stopped her thirty pounds of courageous canine, but that night, we tromped along, meandering an uneven sidewalk when a silhouette stepped into the road. In a long robe, features obliterated, with a croak she whispered, “Don’t be afraid.” I remember opening my eyes wide, struggling to remain upright as PooPet jerked the chain to run behind my legs. When I gained my balance, the street was dark, leaves slithered in the breeze, and we were alone in the darkness. I didn’t think too much of it beyond, “Holy moly, we have weird ass people in this neighborhood.” But then the next night, walking the dog, another woman stepped into the light in the middle of the road. Even backlit I could tell that she was not the same woman. She lifted her arms toward the trees, and PooPet let out a bark that morphed into a whimper. The air stopped moving. I couldn’t breathe. Now I was seriously freaked out. PooPet was still, and for a moment, I could feel my blood move through my body, like I was being watered from the inside.

This Kali was formal, “There is no need to be frightened.” I think I said, “Uh, yeah, Okay.” At that point I was scared as fuck, running down that road to the safety of my townhouse. It didn’t stop me from returning to the training class the next day, but I was really, really, very alert between yoga poses.

Maybe that’s the way this is supposed to be. I am aware, actually frightened, that things could go wrong in a big way. But. I’m still going to move to Texas. My friends, come along for the ride but hold on. This will shake us up! Anyone up for a walk?

Om Kali Ma

 

Travel by Dali

All this talk about airports has fired up my neurons. Many of my memories ping pong around the surreal experiences I have had traveling.

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Like being stuck at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. Munching on my third super croissant. Flaky, buttery, quintessentially French. Slightly panicked by the blaring French announcement possibly saying, “Trudi, this is your last chance to leave, your plane is closing its doors, you’ll be stuck here forever, we’ve lost your luggage – again, and …  we’ll only give you 50 francs for clean undies.” Or something like that. Panic needs carbohydrates hence the croissants. Then my attention was diverted by a group of travelers speaking in heavily accented English. They were describing the importance of their carry-on luggage to airport security personnel. Focusing over the croissant, thinking I might need a coffee and searching my mind for the correct French pronunciation, the argument became heated between the family of travelers and the personnel. Looking around, I spotted the luggage. They wanted to take their dining room table and six chairs as carry-on luggage. Huh. So that’s why there’s never room in the overhead bins.

In air travel’s good time, I made my way across the Atlantic. I have no idea what happened to the family and dining set. But that was not my strangest adventure traveling.

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This is not for the faint of heart but maybe with all the craziness of canceled flights and endless lines at airport kiosks, it is does put things in perspective.

In my early twenties, back in the Middle Ages of airplane travel, I putzed around the Caribbean. I was young enough to feel invincible, traveled with an overnight bag, and had an American passport when that counted for something.

I was sitting in the airport bar, waiting for an alternative to my canceled flight when I noticed people standing up and clapping. With enthusiasm which was quite a feat in the sweltering humidity of the tropics. Even the stoic bartender stopped polishing the not so clean glasses to smile. After more outbreaks of applause, my curiosity was piqued.

“Uh, what’s happening?” I asked.

“A plane landed,” the bartender said not missing a beat.

“Do they do that every time?”

“Every time a plane’s successful,” said without emotion.

“Can I have another?”

“Good idea,” he said already pouring.

Guess that was the usual response among travelers. Better to be plotched when I plummeted to the earth like a lawn dart.

Finally, my plane was called, I stumbled to the tarmac and squinted. That could not possibly be my plane. My mother’s pinto, the exploding car, was bigger.

“That’s your puddle hopper,” said the ticket taker. “Better hold onto your luggage.”

Like a good sheep, I got into the plane, boosted by another passenger from the rolling stairs through the door (or exit). We, the passengers, sat sweating in a cabin barely six feet wide. Sardine-like, five rows, two in each row, a center aisle walkable if you were anorexic and scuttled crab-like. Strapping myself in, I looked out at the cracked, tiny window, mouth opening at the sight of duct tape wrapped tourniquet tight around the wing.

The man across from me started praying with his rosary. Occasional moans drifted my way. The man catty corner across from me opened a bottle of rum, drank, and passed it to another passenger. When the bottle made its way to me, I took a swig. What a way to go!

The mood lightened and darkened depending on where you were sitting until the pilot stepped into the plane. He grinned at everyone. I could swear I had seen him at the bar earlier. He was wearing cargo shorts and a starched white shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in one sleeve. With a “Gooday folks. We’ll be taking off soon,” he disappeared into the cockpit. More praying and drinking.

Did I say the cabin was tight? It was tight. Before take-off, the pilot, he had introduced himself as Dickie over the PA, opened the cockpit door with some energy. He hit the man sitting in the front seat, knocked him out, “Oh damn, not again,” and the plane was delayed until EMS carried him off the plane.

After stewing for an hour in my own sweat, the plane took off. We flew low, I thought perilously low, to the waves. I watched the white caps cresting the ocean and dark shadows just below the water’s surface – sharks following the plane for the entire flight. If I were a shark, I might think of the plane as a package of easy snack foods.

 

Air travel is the miracle of careening through the air in a tin can. Fast, often efficient, and highly surreal. It boggles the mind.

Airport Nightmares

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I will admit to being scared – I am acutely frightened these days of my status as an immigrant but in truth, I have felt this way since childhood.

When I was six, my mother took her two daughters from our home in Scotland to meet our ship captain father in Alabama. We flew into a New York airport with our British passports and went through customs/immigration screenings with everyone else but this time we were pulled out of the lineup. We were made to follow two people down a hallway into a larger room with a curtained off area on one side. I remember looking at my mother who had gone pale under her tan. We had made this transatlantic trip a few times to meet my father in the US without having to undergo this process. She nodded to me. “Take that baby’s hand,” she said. Like the good daughter I was brought up to be, I grabbed my four-year old sister’s hand. Mother and children were separated into two cubicles.

“Strip to your underpants,” a man said to us.

I remember helping my sister off with her dress. She was too small to undo the buttons.  Her hair snagged on a button causing her to cry when I tried to pull the dress over her head. She kept crying as I took off her shoes and socks. She looked tiny huddled into the corner of the shelf acting as a seat even to my almost as tiny six-year old self. I pulled off my tartan trousers and my top, unbuttoned my school shoes, to sit next to her. Eventually, I cried too.

There was a shuffling sound so I peeked through the curtain into the room. More people had entered, mainly men.

“Mrs. Young, come out here,” a man called out.

My mother came out of her cubicle.

Vicky, my sister, called out, “Mama? Mama?”

Mom turned around. Her face was paler still. She motioned for me to pull Vicky back into the cubicle. She was wearing her bra and panties. Under the bright lights before a group sitting in chairs. I heard them laughing. Settling my sister, I sneaked back to look through the curtains.

“Take everything off,” said the man. I watched my mother strip in front of these men and women, probably US Customs and Immigration agents. I do not know what other indignities my mother had to endure. Vicky was screaming at this point and I was so scared I wondered if I was going to die. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening and who these people were but I knew mean when I saw it.

Clutching my sister to me, I heard a man say, “Get the kids.” Mom came into the cubicle and one at a time she paraded us in front of the people. She was still naked. Vicky pulled against Mom’s hand trying to escape, I guess, until Mom picked her up. There was a defiance in my mother’s gesture. I pushed her hand away, wiping my face clean with my top, to walk out on my own. My brain has a snapshot of the group sitting, uninterested, talking among themselves, oblivious to my terror.

Shaking and crying, the three of us were allowed to dress and leave the airport.

We never talked about this. Nightmares of being naked in a confined cage surrounded by giants plagued me into my thirties and have restarted.

When I was 18, I applied for American citizenship. To accept a scholarship to college and to never have to go through this again.

I have written this as I remember the event, devoid of most emotion and description. Because a part of my six-year old self did die that day. I hate New York and I hate airports, and I hope no other six or four or thirty-three-year old ever has to go through this.

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