The question comes from behind me, an unexpected place.
“What do you want?” she asks again.
The question hits my right shoulder, and bounces off my head. I have been waiting for this question my entire life, but the pain of it shocks me into silence.
I turn to see a woman there, asking a child to make a decision. She is surprisingly calm, patent, waiting for her son to answer.
The boy shakes his head, looking up at the sign, “I don’t know.” His mother nods, and takes him by the hand, “let’s wait over here until you are ready.” She waves at the people behind her to go ahead.
But she and her son are not the cause of the delay, and I cannot step out of line, I’ve already started my order. I go back to the basics. I breathe in and out. I listen to my heart beating. After a century of seconds, I am calm. I finish reciting my order to the pimply boy with the paper hat and move away. Nobody yells at me.
The airport is quiet today, not like last week or the week before, when more obnoxious children and mothers, finishing their summer holidays, yelled and screamed about wants and needs. “Just make a decision!” Screeches echoing off vaulted ceilings decorated with model planes that never fly away from home and never crash.
The boy decides. The mother’s kindness infects those around her, who gladly let her and her child back in line. The mother asked, the boy answered, the mother provided.
The question still hurts and I rub at the sore spot, trying to smooth it away.
“Kate, this is a really bad time, I have a class starting in…”
“John, I’m leaving.” Kate interrupted her husband.
“What? Forever?” He chuckled, but the sound contained complicated nuances.
Kate let the pause drag on too long before clarifying, “No, on assignment, but this is a long one, six months.”
“That is long. Look, Kate, I really gotta…”
“I’m leaving in one hour, John.” Kate interrupted again.
“Oh. Hold on a sec.” She could hear the sounds of his students all around him, asking questions, joking with their favorite teacher, making excuses for late assignments. He announced to the room that they had five minutes of study time before a one question pop quiz. She heard the gasps and groans of twenty young voices and then silence of the empty hallway outside his classroom.
“One hour? What’s going on – some huge explosion I missed hearing about, I guess?”
“Yes, out near the asteroid belt, crippled the WaveRing of a mining station, a bunch of miners and their families all stranded. It’s going to take five months of slow-travel to get out there and at least a month for the Wavers to fix the Ring, so, yeah, six months.” Just explaining the journey to her husband made it all much more real. It occurred to her now that no one, in all the frantic discussions of the morning, had included her investigation time in that ‘six months.’ Did they think she’d have it all solved by the time the Wavers finished the repairs?
“Kate, you hate slow travel! Steve promised he’d never send you out on a long trip again!”
Kate felt gratified to hear his projected anxiety. Proof that he cared, she told herself. “Well, there’s no other way to get out there until the Wavers fix the Ring, is there?” She took a deep breath. “They asked for me, John. The Wavers, I mean. I’m traveling on a Waver ship and the explosion happened on the Waver part of the space station.”
“Crap – that is a big deal, hold on.” She heard the door opening and his voice projecting, “Three more minutes, make sure you really know that chapter, people, this one is going to count as extra credit for your final exam grade.”
Kate waited for the silence, then added, “I’ll be the first Tinwinian on a Waver ship, ever.”
“Wow.” he said. She heard a clicking sound and some mumbling.
“Sorry – I need to figure out what I’m going to ask them.”
“Right – OK, well, see you in six months.”
“Kate, don’t be like that. Look – I’ll pull the assistant principal in to sub, and I’ll meet you at the port, in, uh, an hour?”
“No, they’re picking me in a private shuttle from the office, I’ve got a couple spare uniforms and my extra toiletry kit up here, but the Waver ambassador assures me they’ll have everything I need on board.”
“This is really big… exciting. I just wish the timing could have been a bit better.” He said.
“Yeah.” She tried to hide the disappointment in her voice, “me too.” She knew, logically, there was nothing he could do with such short notice. No magic winged horse or time traveling phone box that could skip through the time and distance, and everything else, that separated them.
“Well, call me when you get to the ship – our com’s should work the whole way, right?”
“That’s what they say. I guess we’ll find out.” Kate answered, knowing full well that the communicators worked fine in deep space.
“OK, well, be safe, love you.” John said.
“Love you too.” Kate said. She pushed the spot behind her ear to hang up, glad to have one more item checked off from her list of things to do before departure.
It is 3:30 in the morning and I am wide-awake. My mind has no control over my body’s internal clock. It does not matter the inadequate quantity or quality of sleep I have had this night. Yesterday I traveled from there to here. There, the day has begun. Here, the sun is still well below the horizon. While my mind can understand the meaning behind the numbers shining from the little box next to the bed, my body only knows that somewhere, far from where I am now, it is time to get up.
That odd disconnect between mind and body is what makes us human. Humans have self-control, which should mean that we control the way react to things. And we do, most of the time. But there are exceptions to that rule. We can’t control sneezes. I can’t control the way my eyes tear up when the wind hits my face, or the way my sinuses react to mold. My body reacts to stimuli without my say so all the time. How much control do I actually have?
Right now, at this ridiculous hour of the morning, I feel like I have no control at all.
Don’t tell me about strategies to overcome jet lag, I’ve tried them all. Nothing works for me. My body just takes its own sweet time to catch up with the sun. Nothing I do will speed up that process.
In a strange way, I’m ok with the way my body refuses to acknowledge this need. I’m fine with it overruling my mind every once in a while. As much as being human is about having self-control, occasionally losing that control reminds me that I am not just a mind traveling around in a mobile shell. Like one of those sci-fi stories with a creature living inside the head of a huge robot, controlling its movement with levers and knobs and pedals. Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain. My jet lag reminds me to pay attention to my body. It is not just the lesser half of an uneven partnership. My walking, eating, occasionally sneezing, and jet lagged body is not a separate entity. My body is me. Often ignored, occasionally scorned, and rarely respected, but still me.
Perhaps it takes the pain and inconvenience of jet lag to make me stop and pay attention to this crazy body of mine. Perhaps that is good. I should not ignore it or take it for granted. I should nurture it, and take better care of it. This is the only body I will ever have and it is an intrinsic part of who I am, literally warts and all. I need to breathe more deeply, blink more often, drink more water, and take long walks. I promise I will do all that and more.
If only I could convince my body that, right now, all I really need is to go back to sleep.
A week ago yesterday, I flew to Phoenix for a Show. (as we call it in the ‘industry’) Starting Thursday morning until Tuesday night, I spent just about 100 hours sitting at a computer in a cold, dark ballroom, cleaning up PowerPoint slides, making what we call ‘Happy Face’ picture loops for the conference attendees to stare at while they are eating and creating custom animated content in After Effects for lighting and video projection. I flew home yesterday, went directly to bed and stayed there for 14 hours.
They tell me that it was unseasonably cold in Phoenix this past weekend. I wouldn’t know. I never went outside. And that is totally normal for my job. I’ve been all over the US and a few cities around the globe and all of it looks like the inside of a hotel ballroom to me. How was the weather? 68 degrees and fluorescent.
But I shouldn’t complain, it’s better than a cubicle! And I did get to see an onion-domed church in St. Petersburg, Russia once, and I’d never have done so without this job. I saw the canals in Venice – even if it was only for a few moments as I walked from my hotel to the off-site awards dinner location. I rode a horse on a beach in Aruba on one of the rare trips when I had an extra day to myself.
There are times when I love my job, and I feel like the luckiest person in the world. And then there are times like now, when I am just exhausted and nothing that I did over the past week seems to have any significance despite the amount of time I spent working on it. I’m just so glad to be back home. Back to my boyfriend, and my books, and my games, and of course, WordPress! 🙂 This little slice of the internet where strangers read and respond to my comments and stories is so much more significant than even the most amazing animated effect I’ve done for a corporate convention audience.
Speaking of which, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of WordPress reading to catch up on, but perhaps I’ll be a post-everyday’er this week to make up for my absence.
Is it just me, or is WordPress such a significant part of your life that you actually miss it when ‘real life’ takes up too much your time?