I have had a lot of sad airport moments. I was sad when I left Ireland, summer of 2012, after I extended my stay there three times, and after laughing with the old timers at Dick Mac’s about how I would never leave. Part of me felt like I should stay there in Dingle and paint, and let the things I left behind stay behind. Part of me felt like I belonged there. Thank you George Dugan, and may you rest in peace old friend.
I was sad when I left England, not because I felt like I should stay in Canterbury, but because I fell in love with a Dutch boy and fantasized a life different and far away from my own, because I had friends there whom my hunch told me would remain far away forever. I wrote my lost love a letter in the airport, promised I would return, wrote letters well into the summer and fall. But I did not cry much in the airport.
I was sad when I left Santa Barbara last summer, carrying my plastic tupperware bin, clear to reveal my chamois and jerseys and leftover cliff bars, through the LAX airport. I wore my only pair of sports shorts and Tevas and did not feel self-conscious in contrast to the LA culture, only distant from my body; My body which had propelled me from the East to the West, felt wrong for passing so easily over the terrain, so hard on my collective soul (shared with 31 other riders). My tears were held back for another time.
This summer where I have the space to rest and reflect, to live a happy and wholesome lifestyle, has also given me the pause to remember the environment that pushed me to challenge my daily pattern a year ago.
The only time I can remember visibly crying in the airport was December of 2014. I was in Cleveland, Ohio, leaving the state for my second time. While I had never thought much of Ohio, I knew then that I did not like Cleveland. I did not like the very empty art museum, the four lane highway that took me to my mother’s new house, or the escalades that parked at the orchards outside of the city.
That fall I had realized there was a possibility I would have no parents at my wedding, if I could ever choose to get married. Then, I still could not fathom what a symbiotic relationship could look like with any partner, one that did not involve pain. If I had children would they be allowed to see their grandma, would she be alive to see their faces? The time bomb uterus weighed heavy in me. Would I fall to the same demons that had taken my mother from me, and her mother from her and her sisters? Would I choose a path of loneliness?
That winter I learned the details of Grammy’s untimely death quickened by alcohol abuse, of an accident that brought my mom rushing back to her family after a decade of separation, of the abuses inflicted on her and her sisters. I felt the weight of a cycle and my path already chosen for me. It was the first time I began to think about the possibilities of having a family one day, but only because I wondered if my own future children would have a mother who was mentally ill. I wondered who would take care of my children if I could not.
We went to Applebee’s before I went to the airport. I remember feeling cold as I watched her drink an Irish coffee, knowing that I would not stop her. I was tired, grateful for the painful holidays to be past and to no longer feign happiness. Weeks before we had gotten into a screaming fight at an Applebee’s after I found her sneaking alcohol in an ice tea. Again we yelled in a gas station, as I kicked the door open to a bathroom where she was chugging sour apple liquor, and again in a Petco after I followed her into a bathroom stall and found bottles in that little garbage with the dirty tampons. A week before she had driven her car into a guardrail after several near head-on collisions. Christmas week she spent in bed as my sisters and I went through the motions- tree, gifts, dinner. Fate, luck, or God had brought us safely to the airport where she would continue to drink and stare at me with glassy eyes, dead and distant.
We were silent, me conforming to her current state- removed, unfeeling. She dropped me off at the gate and for the first time in hours I spoke to her. I told her I did not think she would live to see my family. Her head fell to the steering wheel and her thin arms hugged it as she sobbed, and that is how I left her. I did not cry until the sliding doors were sealed behind me. It was the kind of cry where strangers gave you a wide girth, where service people averted their eyes when attending you, where kids looked up at you afraid.
I returned to Vermont to begin fundraising for Bike and Build, to work my forty hours a week, to train for a four thousand, five hundred mile bike trip when biking five miles down the road still seemed exhausting, and to leave the painful memories a flight away.
This morning I could smell the rain coming through my open window. Isn’t it amazing that here in Vermont we get so cold we wear coats to sleep for half the year, and in the summers we open our windows all the way, and still have to sleep naked to keep cool?
I woke up from a dream about my mother. I was wrestling wolves, I was with my team, a team that seemed to encompass all forms of comradery I had ever encountered. She was asking for help, and I knew to find the trick, to find what the alternative motive was beneath her plea. It’s a blur but she was there and I could feel that something terrible would happen.
I texted my sister, “Sometimes I feel like I should reach out to her even though I’m angry and sad. I just wanted to share.” She quickly responded that she also had a dream about her last night.
“It’s sad because she really did try to do everything for us.” she said. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? That through my mother’s illness she still spent every drop of energy trying to give us a better life than she had. Even so, she isolated us, hurt us, and pushed us away.
Bike and Build was so unexpected, so intense, beautiful, emotional, physically and mentally exhausting, I forgot the context that drove me to sign up. I forgot graduating college and feeling no sense of accomplishment, or working at a corporate bookstore before getting my job as a grocery stocker. I forgot the depression that nipped on my heels as I busied myself, buried my head in work.
Addiction can really steal a person from you. For me I was used to the cycle of losing my one parent, yearly, bi-yearly, monthly. Each onset of illness felt more definite, more lasting, and more hopeless up until that 2014 Thanksgiving week when I wondered if it would ever end.
I signed up for Bike and Build having just begun to acknowledge my eating disorder, a coping mechanism I used to keep control and to punish my body for failing me. Never life threatening, it was how I responded to my body feeling dirty, grotesque, useless or disappointing. I was told an eating disorder is a way I try to impose structure, is an addiction, and I felt like my mind had tricked me into a fate I swore I would never fall prey to. The irony stung more than the stomach bile.
In part, I wanted to bike across the country to be reminded that my body can be a wonderful tool. I wanted to change the feelings of it being a cage or a weight, to have a relationship of gratitude instead of hate. I told myself it was for the cause, something I cared about, to help people and spread awareness. My motivation was for me- and it doesn’t feel good to say that.
It was hard not to resent people who had parents sweeping them away to forget, who had down time at home or with rental assistance while they realigned their path. I felt weak for not embracing my independence, immature for needing help. I wanted someone to talk to but honestly I didn’t want to talk to anyone at all.
I remember being on the bus three weeks after my trip ended. I was rolling into Burlington for September 1st, a day that is quickly approaching again even though it can’t have been a year. I was coming from Boston, from Chicago, from the seaside of California, the desert of Texas, the Grand Canyon, the New Mexico mountains. Interstate 89 shoots you into Vermont like a movie scene, and the foliage was just beginning. My belongings were in a shed, I had no room to rent. I cried then too, because I was coming home.
It took leaving to know that Vermont is my home, and that family is something you choose. And though I didn’t have parents to call each night, I had packages from my young, hard working friends filled with granola bars and funny gifts, loved ones driving long distances to say hi for a few hours, places to stay as I made my way back east and until I found a new home, phone calls and texts from people I did not know were listening.
Home is a nest you build around yourself in the branches of people who were always there. Today I am overwhelmed by the comfort and security I am gifted with. Although I do not make much money, I know that I am safe, loved, with a house and meals that I am able to afford each month, and with an immense network of people who won’t let me fail. If the feared fate follows me, at least I will have an army to face it with.