My relationship with time is strained; it wins every fight.
5 a.m. Pacific Time – Los Angeles to New York
I’m transfixed with the black and white tiles of the bathroom floor. I ought to be grabbing toiletries to pack. My flight to New York leaves in five hours. I haven’t slept for thirty-six hours, so zoning out is par for the course. There have been errands and organizing and projects to wrap up. Sleep is for people who accept that time moves forward even if you don’t. Usually I would be mad at myself.
My eyes feel gleamy and I snap out of my tile-fixation. Happy, I’m happy! I’m going home after two whole years. Home is where family is. If they moved to Anchorage, Anchorage would be home. But it so happens, home is Manhattan. I decide to call my brother, knowing he’s awake and three hours ahead. Packing can wait a bit longer.
“Are you at the airport?” He sounds surprised.
“But you’re all ready?” He knows I’ve missed planes in the past.
“No. But I have another hour before D. picks me up.” My brain is in sleep mode even as I force my body upright, and my words take on a slack rubber-band quality. But I have to say it:
“This morning is the first time I’ve felt happiness since September. It happened while I was thinking about being home with all of you.”
I call my father to tell him the same thing. He and my stepmother both get on the line. I call my mother too.
I only realize the feeling has been absent now that I feel it again. It’s not about laughing or having fun. I’ve done plenty of both since September. It’s this deeper, inner sensation, and it’s been gone since I found out about S. dying. I’ve had to inform all of his New York friends. There have been memorials for S. in Ireland and Argentina. But none of his New York friends knew, so I’ve arranged for a New York memorial to take place near the end of my trip.
5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time – The Sky
We’re minutes away from landing. I’m in the window seat, in and out of sleep in a manner unkind to my neck. I ask for water, a bag of chips, and nuts. There’s a cute chubby kid next to me. His mother looks just like him and sits in the aisle seat. I pull up my shade. The sky is pitch black. It was Pacific Time four hours ago and too bright when I asked the cute kid’s mom if they minded me pulling down the shade. My relationship with time is strained; it wins every fight. But I can’t help admire its mix of quirk and dexterity with this whole day / night business divided up into zones.
Below, it’s all black velvet and glitter. Dots of lights spread across the earth like it’s covered in a jeweled blanket. The light grids in residential blocks look about the size of large kitchen matchboxes, and the snaking, jewel-lined highway looks about the width of a belt. I make out a stadium, illuminated by an inner glow, enormous compared to the matchboxes. In the distance, there’s blackness. It’s the Atlantic. The plane is about to fly over it for its customary U-turn before landing at JFK for a reason I’ve forgotten and must relearn. We begin our slow circle and the earth is tilted and divided between its glittery covering and Atlantic blackness. There’s no line between black sky and black water.
Somewhere beyond the glitter, there’s a massive reddish glow. At first glance it looks like a giant fireball, but there’s solidity to it and it’s shaped like a trophy cup. I squint my eyes to concentrate on it. It’s two or three times the size of the stadium, yet much farther away. It’s too far in the horizon for me to determine if it’s a structure among the glitter or if it’s on the water. I don’t understand it’s sheer enormity compared to everything else.
I consider for a moment that I might be hallucinating due to sleep-deprivation, so I reach below my seat for my purse, which holds my glasses. But I pull up the life-preserver package instead. I panic that by the time I find my glasses, we’ll pass the shape. But even though the closer terrain of the glitter changes dramatically, the shape is still beyond it, barely moved, glowing red-orange. It remains unbelievably large. I finally find and put on my glasses. But this causes me more confusion because now I see for certain that the thing is completely unidentifiable.
“Excuse me,” I turn to the cute kid’s mom who’s fussing with him. “What is that? That huge red thing.” I point out the window and she leans in for a look.
“Oh my god, is it an explosion?” She asks. It does look a bit like a mushroom cloud with an inverted top. I scan around the cabin to see if anyone else has noticed it, but most shades are down. The flight attendants are buckled in at their station. I decide to unbuckle to go to them — I can’t let this object disappear without knowing what it is. I look quickly to make sure it’s still there. Now the red trophy cup is detached from the glittery land and on the water. Or maybe it’s over the water. And all at once, I know what it is.
It’s the moon. A massive, blood orange moon with cloud silhouettes obscuring its circular shape. A moon of such color and size I wouldn’t have thought possible. And in the middle of all that black, it glows more fiery than the sun. (continued)
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