Over the past twent-six years I have flown numerous times, the majority of those times alone. The first time I flew toute seule, I was in middle school. It was the summer after my mother served my father with divorce papers, which occurred in May. I was sent to stay with my cousins in Northern California, 3000 miles away from home, so that I would be shielded from the chaos and also out of my parents already distressed hair. That summer offered me a great deal of relaxation and provided an escape from a home that often felt more like a war zone, where I was forced to take sides in a political war I opposed. The years that followed the divorce have a great deal to do with the pleasure I get from flying alone.
It wasn’t until I attended college that I began to fly alone more frequently, and it was at this time that I began to take interest in the feelings that seemed to surface while I wandered and waited in the airport. First and foremost, I felt incredibly independent flying alone, managing my baggage, finding the gate, waiting to board, and immersing myself in a book. I enjoyed the feeling of people’s eyes sizing me up, and especially the seldom occurrence where a man’s eyes would remain fixed on me for more than few seconds. I like the mystery of the airport, where no one knows a thing about me (other than the security staff and airline attendants) where I am from, where I am traveling, why I am traveling. No one knows what I am escaping or to what I am forced to return. Of course for a while, the former was college and the latter was home—a home that housed only miserable memories for me for a very long time.
Unlike cafes, or libraries, or park benches, the airport has often allowed me the most clarity of thought. Perhaps this is because for a time, the airport was one of few places where I could escape all pressures, all echoes of criticism and unmet expectations. Of course the gift of clarity often brought sadness, or feelings of emptiness. Regardless, it is the place where I have undoubtedly gained insight on the happenings and people in my life.
The past several years, I noticed that the clarity I felt during my college years had faded, and all but disappeared. That is, until this very trip from Alaska back to California, where I now reside. I have been gone for six weeks, the longest time I have been alone, in a sense, for four years. Although I am generally very happy with my life, I have found in these past six weeks that I am a creature dependant upon the ability to escape. This is another trait, or perhaps more accurately called a habit, that I have acquired from my father, who now lives overseas.
I decided to go to Alaska for a summer legal internship last November. It was a decision that I took very little time to digest, perhaps only a week in full, but one that I in no way regret. However, for several months I feared that I had made the wrong decision, that I was leaving behind my life and that perhaps when I returned it would no longer be intact. This year, our fifth year together, has been the most difficult one for my relationship. It was for that reason I feared that I was doing more than leaving for ten weeks, that it was possible I was abandoning a relationship I was tired of fixing.
Turning on my computer, waiting for the screen to load, I notice I am fidgeting in the same way that my father does. I rustle my middle and forefingers against my thumb. Last time I saw my father type, I remember him pausing, thinking of the next phrase to write, and in those moments where the wheels in his mind were turning fast, his fingers moved quickly as if to rub an invisible substance on his skin. I don’t know how we pick up these minor habits, habits with no purpose, habits which have never been pushed upon us. This fidgeting of my fathers hands, and now my own, seems to signify their frustration.
I think that one very valuable trait, which seems to be increasingly loosing its glory, is the ability to spend time alone for the sole purpose of seeking clarity of thought. In addition to granting perspective on the troubles and worries of life, spending significant time apart from loved ones also grants a rebirth of independence. I am not speaking of the sort of rebelious independence that you seek as an adolescent, but an independence which reminds you that you are more than the relationships you are in, the jobs you take, and the city where you live. Remembering the thoughts which propped up in one's mind before life got too busy to eat sitting down and learning how to enjoy nights alone--a sort of independence from all habits, all routines, and all roles.