When I travel, I notice the same phenomenon repeats itself. On the way: excitement, looking around, paying attention, unraveling my thoughts and cares from everyday life. Returning: tired, empty of thought processes, closed in on myself, barely aware of my surroundings. On the trip home, I tend to stare out the window. I don’t much engage with fellow travelers. The simplified reasoning process says it’s all about being tired. But delving a little deeper, I recognize I close myself down during the transition hours heading home. I’m gathering the energy necessary to return to everyday life. Because like it or not, everyday life requires a large reserve of energy, patience, and resolve. Starting a trip, I’m excited. I’m aware of everything. I’m already in the trip, though not yet at my destination. On the way home, the trip is done. Most of the time I can barely remember the return journey. It takes up little or no space in my memories.
So too with this last leg of the journey home. I recall brief snatches of things, like grabbing my orange bag, sweating my way through customs, and then hauling ass across the Boston airport to get to the Soutwest terminal. (I made it.) I remember being jammed into a middle seat on a five hour flight to Denver. I sat between two guys, each of whom had three electronic devices going at the same time in order to provide them with sufficient entertainment for the journey. I remember waiting at my gate in Denver for that last flight to Albuquerque. I posted on FB while waiting: “Who are all these gregarious people, dressed in shorts and flip flops?!?!? Oh yeah, they’re Americans”. (Seriously, Americans take the art of casual dress to new heights. Can’t tell you the number of spaghetti-strap camisoles and pajama pants I saw in the airport.)
Here’s my only very clear memory from the journey home. I was sitting in the airport in Denver. A tall, dark-skinned man in cowboy hat and jeans walked over to my row of seats and sat down. Just seeing his face, which was handsome, dark and weathered and likely Native-American, filled me with the warm sense of nearing home.
And then, suddenly, there was the familiar sand and sky blue interior of the Albuquerque airport. Outside, the air was HOT. My parents’ car rolled up just like I’d never been gone, never traveled across the ocean, never spent weeks in my own untroubled mind, never seen and done and considered lives different from my own.
“Where do you want to go to dinner? Decide!” they offered, unaware that I could no more think of a restaurant than I could turn right around and get back on a plane again. They had to choose for me.
That first night back in the US, suddenly submerged in the heat of a full-blown New Mexico summer, I got sick to my stomach. All through my travels, I never got sick once. Not once. That’s some kind of record for me. But one night home in relentless warmth combined with American “food” (yes, I could have chosen not to eat fried chicken), and my system was loudly protesting “No! No! No! No! Fried? Canned? Cooked to death? Steeped in Canola oil? What happened to all that farm-fresh food you’ve been feeding me for weeks?!?!” asked my stomach plaintively.
“Sorry, buddy. Just hang in there while I get re-oriented to life in the States. We’ll get this food thing sorted out” I said.
“And why this awful heat?” wailed my body. “How am I supposed to function in THIS? To get you back, I will now make you feel like you are only capable of crumbling into a heap on the floor. Don’t even TRY to get anything done.”
Mom, dad and I drove up to Santa Fe the next morning. That experience of coming up on top of La Bajada and starting down the other side… Well instead of happy comfort, I felt completely detached from El Norte. My town, laid out wide across the plains at the foot of the Sangre de Cristos just didn’t look real.
What did feel real was this: my dog didn’t recognize me when I got home. Whuh?!?! Did I smell so different? Look so different? We all know he’s not the brightest of dogs. But he wouldn’t even come over to me. Later we realized that my sister Anna was standing right there, phone up and ready to make a video of the reunion. Riley is scared of phones. So he just kept going over to the front door and looking at us beseechingly to let him in. I was floored. And I’ll admit, it hurt. I was counting on that reunion to be the one thing that could shake me back into my life. We all went inside and sat down for a while. Eventually Riley came over, climbed up on me and put his paws on my shoulders, licking my face over and over.
I sure felt odd. The light outside was so intense and bright. I didn’t know where to go or what to do with myself. I was jet lagged. My brain just didn’t seem to work right.
It took until much later that afternoon before I felt semi normal again. Know what did it? Showing up at the regular get together of my crafting bunch. There was food. There was yarn. There were lots of excited questions. Finally it penetrated my mind that people were saying “We’re glad to have you back!!!” And soon I got to see my kids. And walk along the Santa Fe river. And drive up to Aspen Vista. And get a burger and a beer at Second Street. And start spinning up my Lleyn fleece. And listen to people bug me about how I just HAVE to go to Meow Wolf. And spend an evening listening to music and people watching at the SFe Bandstand.
I’m GLAD to be home. Deeply. Just need a few good nights of sleep. Ready to pick up and run with post-adventure life.
Thanks for coming along, everyone! It wouldn’t have been half so wonderful if I’d not been able to share it with you. Many hugs, kisses and hurrahs!