Travel and Time: The Trophy

Source Peter Tarleton via Wikimedia Commons

My relationship with time is strained; it wins every fight.

December 18th

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.

But I’m…happy.

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.

“Not yet.”

“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 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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  1. This has a real dreamy, surreal feel. I loved it. Nice work!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, I really appreciate you reading it.

  2. “There’s no line between black sky and black water.” That’s a line worth keeping in your pocket.

    1. That is a note I will take to heart, coming from you.

  3. You had me sleep-deprived and stiff-necked right there with you…you’re good!

    1. Thank you sir. Also, Salonpas for that neck… [Wink.]

  4. Great post… I really do love your style of writing…

    1. That is so nice of you to say, thank you!

  5. GG, as always, another hypnotic and fascinating post. I absolutely adore how you string words together to form such a delightful tapestry. It’s like I am watching a film as I read your work. You are talent to the nth degree, my writing sister. In a word, delicious. All of you. XOXO

    1. I have to say, I was concerned writing about the topic — my routine travel to NY — and that it might be uninteresting to others. But you, and everyone else here, have made it a richer experience for me by sharing what spoke to you about it. I appreciate your words so much, Lizzy.

  6. Paul · · Reply

    Beautifully written. Enrapturing.

    1. Thank you, from the heart.

  7. When I travel, I just get that kind of blurry eyed haze that just makes me want to go home and sleep for a week. Maybe I’m not the kind for travelling. Must be my disdain for being around big crowds of people.

    1. Traveling might be my favorite thing, but I’ve met one or two people who don’t enjoy it at all. One of those people is someone very dear to me. Of course, most of the time, I’m happy to go home when it’s time.

      1. Like my dad always says fish and visitors start stinking after a week. Or something like that.

      2. Hmm. I thought it was three days. I try to break up staying even with family members into three-day increments.

      3. It was three days, but I didn’t want you to feel bad. By the way, fantastic job on Mr. Le Clown’s video. Guess you had to be pretty special to be invited to that party. Any chance you could give me the answer to your section?

      4. Ah. It’s very hard to make me feel bad, so don’t worry.

        As far as the video, I may have felt special being part of it, but whether or not I actually am, is a different a story.

        Here’s that clue: What you see is what you get.

      5. I’m the opposite, I feel bad when people insult me and tell me I’m terrible.

        As long as you feel special that is all that matters right?

        That clue is pretty abstract. Thanks so much!

  8. Mi Be · · Reply

    From a routine LA-NY flight, you made an enjoyable story…….. I feel like I just read a chapter from a novel…. somewhere in the middle of the book……. and now I would like to read the whole book.
    Please write a book…or at least take a longer flight 🙂
    Bravo 🙂

    1. Thanks for saying so, I’m very happy to know it’s possible for others to find interest in pieces such as this. Grazie mille!

  9. Aaaah I think you have magical pixie dust in your words because I always somehow feel as though I am living them. I love your description of your relationship with time– I feel very much the same, as though I’m living on top of it and trying so hard to let it absorb me so I can live by its rules, but I just can’t.

    I hope that moment of happiness continued on into your trip– its odd how sometimes we don’t realize how far away it has been until it returns.

    1. The moment has definitely continued, and I’m still on the trip — in more than one sense. Funny you mention “pixie dust,” because the next vignette is called “The Fairy.”

  10. mike · · Reply

    hope you had a great time with your family, I know the pictures looked like you did.

  11. P.J. · · Reply

    Very nicely written. Gotta love East Coast moons, especially this time of year! 😀


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