Monday, May 9, 2011

The First Morning

Although I had set my alarm for 3:15 a.m., I awoke before it rang. I stood in my undershorts and shivered, blinking at my unmade bed in the dark. The tangle of pillows and blankets was a gray cloud, inviting me to climb back in and drift off. I pressed the palm of my hand into the mattress, then pulled it away, the last comfort I would have from my own bed for two weeks.

It was too early to hold multiple thoughts in my head, so as the shower water poured over my skin very stupid thoughts came to me at uneven intervals. This morning is unlike other mornings. This shower does not feel like my shower. This body does not feel like my own. Whose shower is this? Why am I awake?

The night before, I had ignored the television as I criss-crossed through my apartment, collecting all the things I needed to keep clean and keep clothed for two weeks. When I was finished packing, I picked up the remote with the intent to turn off the TV for the night, but stopped when I saw the words "Breaking News" at the bottom of the screen. I sat on the couch for the next two hours, watching coverage of the death of a terrorist who once masterminded a plan to kill thousands of people using commercial airplanes as missiles.

You may have heard that I do not like to fly. Receiving this news approximately 8 hours before I was scheduled to board a flight to Dallas did not exactly sit well. The taxi arrived and the trunk popped open as I approached. The driver stepped out of the car, an older gentleman with a gray beard a thin black scarf wrapped about his head. He greeted me with a large smile and I said good morning. "It is a very good morning," he said. "A very good morning." I thought, but did not say, that I hoped he was right.

It was still dark when I retrieved my luggage from the trunk of the taxi. My pulse quickened as the stale airport air touched my nostrils. At the security check I watched a middle aged woman hold her elderly mother's hand and lead her toward the metal detector. The old woman touched her head, seemingly overwhelmed by the people, by the crush. A large man in a blue security uniform approached her and spoke in a pre-recorded manner. "Any metal implants. Hips, knees, other joints." Nearby, someone put a pair of crutches through the x-ray machine and I wondered if I would feel safer if I were made of metal.

I traveled down a long corridor on two moving walkways before reaching an escalator. I looked up as I stepped onto the escalator, and saw a sign at the very top of the moving stairs that read "Security Assured." There was something about this sign that put me at ease - bold, yellow letters on a black background made the message seem simple, yet delivered with confidence. For a moment I believed that my security really could be assured by the honest, professional people looking out for me. And then, just as I reached the apex of the escalator, I realized that it was actually an advertisement for anti-virus software.

I arrived at my gate nearly two hours early. Although there were only a few people scattered about, a man wearing sandals and a spray-on tan sat entirely too close to me and attempted to strike up a conversation. He was heading home from Hawaii and began asking me how I thought he should use the $400 travel voucher he got from giving up his seat on his last flight. "Maybe Australia. How much do you think it costs to fly there right now? $1,000?" He had one of those voices that seems normal volume to him but not to anyone else who is at the airport at 5:30 a.m. I opened my laptop and tried to ignore him until a middle-aged man in a business suit with more tact than I sat near us, and the tanned guy took the cue and struck up a conversation with him instead.

An hour later, just before the initial boarding calls began, the tanned man looked up from his phone and said, to everyone and no one, "Oh my gosh! Did you guys know Osama Bin Laden is dead?" It was all I could do to keep myself from reaching over and strangling him with his own Hollister hoodie.

The plane bounced and shifted as we descended through gray clouds into Dallas, where it was colder than Chicago, and where the rain was pouring down hard. There was a curtain against the far wall of my hotel room, and I pulled one side of it back to reveal a floor-to-ceiling window. Through it I could see a parking garage and, behind that, planes taking off from the airport. I tried to pull back the other side of the curtain, but found that it was locked in place. I peeked behind it; a bare wall stood where I had assumed the floor-to-ceiling window would continue. I adjusted my tie in the mirror and stepped out of the room, on my way to a five-day exercise in being not quite what I really am.

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