There is a dip and a pull, like a hand tugging at the root of your tongue.
Good evening ladies and gentleman, we will be arriving at Burbank, Bob Hope Airport in about 30 minutes, the temperature is 75 degrees and the time is now 8:12 PM.
The lady next to you is still pounding Chardonnay. Her kids are draped across the seats, asleep, clutching stuffed armadillos.
We took the kids to see the Alamo, spent the weekend in Dallas. Their dad never showed up.
You nod and say how cute they are. Even though they spent the better part of the past 3 hours throwing pretzels at each other and scream-laughing.
You tell her about visiting your old friends from highschool, how one of them has two baby boys and her husband is in Afghanistan. You can’t relate, you tell her, but you would do anything for her, and the kids of course. You can’t imagine how hard your friend has to work just to keep it together, just to get up in the morning. She is the strongest, most brave person you know.
The Chardonnay lady confesses that she has never been so lonely as she was this weekend.
Flight attendants, please prepare for landing.
You wonder what it is about strangers, and airports, and honesty. You just nod. There isn’t really anything you can say to this lady. What do you know? You could be her in 15 years. It could be you, a single mom, chugging chardonnay and lecturing some girl in an airport about birth control.
The funniest thing happens when you visit old friends. It feels as if you were never apart. But now, everyone is older, with babies, and husbands, and houses. Then there is you, with less direction and fewer belongings than when you started. You’ve got your back pack and your suitcase, headed west to start over….again. But you always knew you would be the last one to grow up. No surprises.
The dirty martini you had for dinner is starting to make its comeback. You slip on your headphones and hum along to distract. The sun is gone but there is still a light blue glow to the sky. Little houses and buildings spread out in neat rows lit by tiny dots of golden street lamps. You are close enough to see people running around a lit baseball field. Miles and miles of people living in rows. The cars on the freeway are fireflies going in red and white rivers to and from the neighborhoods.
You are coming home. If home means the place where you grew up, than yes, you are coming home. But home is subjective. The place where you grew up is all stucco and cars and hair dye. When you think about it, you never felt at home there. That’s a lie actually, you always felt at home there when you would sit around your friend’s porch shooting the shit and drinking wine. But that is because of the people, not the place. You have to be reminded constantly that you don’t have to identify with the sprawling malls and car dealerships and endless track-housing. Just because you are from there, doesn’t mean it defines you.
But you can’t knock the beaches. The long wide yellowing beaches. Combed and filled to cosmetic perfection. The good people of LA and Ventura County stuff their cars full of colorful plastic furniture and wait in long smoggy lines to get in to the baking parking lot so they can drag their spawn across a quarter-mile of tar-hot sand, to sit in the salt stinging sun and play in the half-ton waves. The water curls and pounds the shore in variations ranging from pale white-blue to deep murky evergreen. And that smell. Like the beginning of the world; salt and decay and mud. Carbon-based life dying and being born at the same time. But that’s the landscape, it has not home. Maybe the beauty of the place is too important to you, no, it just means you are a romantic.
You find a bench next to a planter in the pick up lane of Bob Hope airport. You drag your giant blue plastic case over to be your foot rest. You lean your head back on the smooth concrete and close your eyes, it smells like jasmine and gasoline. You bum a cigarette from some thin snarling lady and start counting the number of Mercedes verses BMWs that appear. You try to guess who belongs to which car. Then a dusty grey pick up truck appears around the corner and two giant bodies unfurl from the doors and start galumfing towards you. This is home, two big hugs and four man-arms to lift and shove your baggage in the back. Your “little” brother makes fun of you and then you make fun of his hair. Your Dad makes un-funny jokes and sound effects the whole way home.
You are back at square one again. Life could be compared to a lot of things but the game Shoots and Ladders seems to be the most passive metaphor; you’ll take it.
The next morning you sit at your mother’s dining room table scaning The Ventura County Star and drinking excessive amounts of coffee. You try to write but it is as if there is shredded cotton filling your head instead of a brain. Your brother tumbles down, grabs the jug of orange juice and a glass and posts up on the couch. You discuss future plans lightly. He is currently paying rent in Montana but has been traveling around working for Transworld on a contract basis and trying to keep Mom out of his hair.
“I’m trying to write,” you say, “But I just can’t, I don’t know what it is.”
He turns and says “I know, it’s like every time I come here it’s like a black hole of creativity.”
You nod. Yep.