Rehearsal for departure

Posted by jdg | Thursday, June 15, 2006 |

I am back from my whirlwind tour of Detroit; it turns out the owner of the place we'd already bid on thinks she's still living in 2003 with its 4% interest rates and its millions of rabid investors watching late-night get-rich-quick infomercials telling them to take out second mortgages on their little ranch homes to buy more and more REAL ESTATE. That meant I had to get on a plane to look at other properties on the market. I'm beginning to think that some real estate agents are like lawyers, but lie twice as much (meaning they never tell the truth).

After Wood fed me four beers and dropped me off at the airport for the red-eye I stood and drunkenly watched people getting on and off planes with their babies, relieved that I did not need to entertain a 16-month old for the entirety of a 2300 mile flight while simultaneously missing my little girl so much and feeling like I could not bear those 36 hours apart from her. It became clear why airports have little toy stores next to the duty-free and magazine shops: to prey on our unending guilt.

I watched lovers' hands slip apart seconds before one turned a boarding pass and license over for inspection; I know that pain, I thought. In September 1996 I left Wood at Detroit Metro Airport, bound for Dublin, unsure of when I'd see her again. I made a fool of myself crying on that flight, back when they let non-passengers into the boarding areas and you could watch your loved ones disappear down jetways. We did it over and over but it never became easier. I thought of August, 2001, watching her leave SFO for Cambodia. Airports are such theaters of human misery, when any departure looms. It is easy to forget they are also the site of reunions.

I am scared of flying, of trusting all that metal and those two men who strip you of all control and temporarily take responsibility of your fate. I clutch a talisman at takeoff, a little toy Wood gave me before I first left for Ireland ten years ago. I pray. I realized on the flight to Detroit that I'm not scared of dying. I'm scared of having the last sound I hear be middle-aged women screaming.

After I looked at 12 homes Monday morning, compulsively videotaping and photographing every room for Wood's benefit, I met up with Melissa Summers from Suburban Bliss and we walked around the Lafayette plaisance and I talked about Mies van der Rohe and we drove around Belle Isle looking at dozens of vintage, rusting playgrounds and an abandoned zoo and I talked about Frederick Law Olmstead and we looked at the Detroit skyline and I said what she said I said. I was afraid I was talking too much. Wood and I will be bringing a couple six packs of Bell's up to Royal Oak this fall, I think.

Detroit is beautiful in the summer. It just needs its lawn mowed. I have forgotten, it seems, how much more lush foliage is when you only get it for half the year. It's cliche but I do miss seasons. I miss having memories associated with the smell of autumn, with those first few days of any season where the change is so welcome you cannot bear to ignore it. I cannot live somewhere where change is tectonic. I walked through Greektown, to Woodward and then east again down Lafayette. No one killed me, but several people smiled pleasantly and said "hello." You'd have more luck squeezing champagne from soggy bok choi than getting that kind of friendliness from my neighbors in San Francisco.

My girls picked me up at the airport yesterday, and from far away I saw Juniper stretch her arms out to me with an awareness that she had not seen me for awhile, a sense that she had missed sitting in the crook of my arm and talking about lions and buses. And for the first time in ten years I got off a plane and ran towards someone other than Wood in the arrivals hall.