Some things, particularly those that are sad or difficult or heartbreaking, are best heard when you’re at home.
Rand and I got back into town yesterday afternoon, and felt that peculiar brand of jetlag that so rarely afflicts those who live on the west coast of the U.S.; after nearly two weeks in Australia, our internal clocks were running behind.
After a painfully long flight from Sydney, and another two-hour hop from LAX to home, I had no idea what time it was when we landed. The numbers on the clock were meaningless, bearing no relation to me. I wandered around the house in a daze, exhausted, but too wired to actually nap. For a while, I just curled up on our bed, shivering from jetlag and somewhat delirious, and Rand started piling all manner of blankets and sweatshirts on top of me.
After unpacking (which mostly involved depositing the contents of my suitcase into the dirty laundry hamper), I made a halfhearted utterance that maybe I should go workout in an effort to get back on Seattle time. Rand, treading carefully, for he’s learned not to sound too encouraging when I suggest exercising, said simply that it might make me feel better.
So I heaved my slightly-sunburned, chronologically displaced, and thoroughly exhausted frame out into the chilly mist of a Seattle spring afternoon, and went for a run. And as much as I hate running, and as much as I hate running in the cold, particularly when I’m tired and shaky and kind of nauseated by too many hours on a plane, it was lovely.
Seattle has a particular smell to it, which I can’t detect after I’ve been here for more than a few days consecutively. But whenever I return home after being away for a few weeks, it hits: the air smells like wood and rain and, if you are in the right part of town and the wind is blowing just so, like the sea.
I ran down streets lined with old, palatial homes that loomed against the grey sky, all the way to the park. The sky was uniquely northwestern: the sun was shining through a haze of high clouds, the horizon was a dark blue-grey, and there was a faint rain – not fat drops falling from the sky, but more a haze of water that seemed to hang in the air and accumulate on your skin and clothes as you walked through it.
A squirrel saw me running along a path and stopped, abruptly, to check me out on its hind legs. I stopped, too, and stared at him. I waved at him. The squirrel’s head darted to the side to follow the movement of my arm. I waved my other hand, and the squirrel’s head darted back to the other side. I continued to wave, first with one hand, then the other, watching it slowly shake its head back and forth.
I ran up and down the muddy paths, across the wet grass, and back to our place, feeling that strange appreciation for a place that you can only get when you’ve been away from it a while.
I was, I realized, grateful to be home.
Rand and I ate dinner in, then drowsily headed to our respective computers, determined to get a bit of work done before Monday. Ready to sit in front of a monitor, but not quite ready to think, I headed to Facebook. My newsfeed revealed that an old friend of mine had passed away that morning from brain cancer.
I’d bumped into him last month at my neurologist’s office, but hadn’t really seen him since this past September, when I drove him to treatment once or twice. We talked during the drive to the hospital – mostly gallows humor – about tumors and cancer and high school and growing older. We’ve mostly lost touch since high school, reconnecting only recently. During my last few trips, I kept thinking that I should contact him when I got back into town.
I should send him an email, I thought. Or stop by. Or something.
God damn hindsight. It’s always 20-20, always so crystal clear – the things we should have done and should have said. I’m sorry I wasn’t home more. Sorry I didn’t have the presence of mind to reach out more.
Mixed in with all that regret and sadness is a feeling of incredible gratitude – that I got to know him in the first place, got to spend time with him in recent months, and that I’m back in Seattle this week, so I can say goodbye properly.