I’m walking around the darkened, quiet airport terminals at 2am because our flight has suffered a 24 hour delay. Normally, unconventional sleepovers with friends are my jam, but tonight my only company is the three girls from my school whose courtesy doesn’t seem to extend beyond the occasional pleasantry and having agreed to give me a ride to Chicago; and one other guy, an annoying tag-along from another school going on the same trip, who no one had bothered to introduce me to. I couldn’t sleep and was tired of listening to their petty, privileged complaints and ignorant comments. One of them was so angry that we had to sleep at the airport, complaining about not being able to shower or do her makeup. While I was just glad we had a place to stay for free and pleased with the food vouchers they gave us as compensation, she spent quite a bit of time whining and ended with “I think this is the saddest I’ve ever been.” I sucked in my breath silently, thinking, Oh, honey. I’m so glad you’ve apparently never cried yourself to sleep because society hates you, or because you hate yourself, or because the one person you trusted the most broke your heart.
I decided to wander by myself.
The stilled airport was like an enclosed city, an independent ecosystem encased in modern conveniences. There were food courts and restrooms at each terminal, and the lounge areas populated themselves like tiny cities with people sharing common goals and destinations. People lay wrapped in their coats and scarves on the floor and on benches. A few walked around as listlessly as I, but never made an attempt to interact with their fellow ramblers. Humans bedecked in security garb huffed occasionally into walky-talkies, and workers in neon orange or green pushed carts, dragged buckets, or joined the sleepers on the benches, though always in an alert upright position.
I took whatever turn seemed to hold the most surprises. I found a yoga room and itched to practices my poses, but there were people asleep inside, so I walked on. At one point I found an outlet and charged my barely conscious phone, taking a quick nap while I waited for the numbers to tick slowly up. I tried the Internet kiosks, checking email and social media to see if anyone missed me yet.
At one point I passed a small exhibit of an airplane taking off. Pausing to examine the model, I noticed a sound effect of a bird chirping. It was too stereotypical and generic to identify the kind of bird, but the natural sound seemed so out of place in this very modern, very square, very grey structure, I paused in surprise to listen. It sounded so—nice. I’d only been in the airport for ten hours but it seemed like years since I’d listened to a bird…
Well, of course, it had been a few months. It was winter after all and most of the birds were gone…but it was more than that, wasn’t it? I continued to walk, thinking. I tried to remember listening to the birds this fall, or in summer or spring…I couldn’t remember a single moment when I’d sat in the grass and closed my eyes to focus on the gentle chirping. I could pull up plenty of memories from previous years, but nothing from this year. An entire year? An entire year without really listening to the birds? Was I too old? What was different?
Then I remembered.
When you fall in love with someone, it should be someone who makes you appreciate the little things more. Like the rain or the way the sun rises or pinecones or birds. Not someone who—distracts you from those things.
I’d been crying off and on for the past two days, and it seemed like I was going to start again.
How did I let her become such a parasite? Six months after the breakup I’m about to leave the country on my first big, semi-solo adventure and I still want to call her so much it hurts.
So many things remind me of her. A snippet of a word or voice. A flash of an image. Familiar sayings or jokes we may have shared. Or the feeling that if she had been there with me, I wouldn’t have been so lonely.
Despite the fact that being with her distracted me from being myself, from doing what I wanted, from my friends, from the things I used to love.
Despite the fact that our last conversations, if they moved beyond casual life updates and hey-how’s-it-goings, always ended in anger or tears.
Despite all this, she was still someone I thought of as I prepared for my first flight.
I just got over being proud of myself for not wanting to call her the last few times things got really rough. It’s not like I’ve been pining for her non-stop. But the fact that I’ve relapsed into yet another of my bad former habits made me want to end everything, and I’m not even joking. I’ve been more suicidal in the past few days than I have since the thought first occurred to me when I was sixteen. If I wasn’t going on this trip, I’m almost sure I would have done something to act on it. While we were walking around Chicago I thought about “accidentally” falling into the street or waiting till I was alone to flip myself over a bridge. Before that, I’d considered walking alone down the nature trail to the walk bridge or the tower with my razor, two bottles of Advil and the last of my anti-depressants.
Christmas had sucked. My family situation was getting worse—now my mother wouldn’t even hide her disdain for me and my life choices. I know I’ll never be able to tell them that I’m non-binary, and if I get an s/o again my parents won’t even care, but not in the good sense of the phrase. My friends seemed once again to be slipping away, and having seen my ex once more as she prepared to leave still left me shaken and sore. All I could think was her spending time with the family she was becoming closer to and working so hard to preserve while looking forward to train adventures and winter break with her beloved boyfriend, a trip we had almost taken together, a trip that would definitely have destroyed any remaining desire for self-preservation on my part. And despite all that I still wished I had said yes, still wished I was with her right now instead of three almost-strangers with barely any way to contact the people I loved.
How can someone so wonderful, so understanding, so gentle, so comforting, so calm and so kind be such a toxic presence in my life? And why do I want to talk to her about that when all that could possibly do is make things worse?
As much as I want to hate her, I still love her. I don’t think I’ll ever stop. But I need to. I need to move on. I need to be able to open up to others. Maybe if I hadn’t been so afraid, maybe if I hadn’t forced myself to move so slowly, that sweet freshman my sister had tried to set me up with might have been the one I was texting in the hotel and pining for in the airport terminal.
They say there are stages of grief. “Stages” implies that they eventually will end. Mine seemed to keep going in circles, from sadness at my loss to bitterness to regret to anger to acceptance, but almost as soon as I move on to acceptance the fucking universe throws a monkey wrench in there and makes us cross paths, forces us into the same room, lets me hear about the tornadoes in Texas so I frantically message her asking if she’s okay on her train to the bf. And then the sadness comes back. The bitterness. The loss. I tried to make myself angry that night, tried to speed up the process, but the tears came instead, and I sat in the middle of a lounge crying in a pathetic little ball on the floor.
I need to accept it again, and leave it there. I need to let go. I need to move on. I need to let the light back in.
But as I prepare to get on a vehicle no one in my family has laid eyes on, and set foot in a country I’ve never been in and surround myself with strangers speaking a language I barely know, clinging to what I know best seemed like a safe and comfortable defense mechanism. As hurtful as it is in the long run, in this moment I find comfort in thinking of her, no matter how tormented the thoughts may be.
I think it’s weird these places are called terminals. Terminate means end, and terminal implies an ending to something. An end to a journey, maybe, but for me it’s just the start, and for others, it’s somewhere in the middle. The building itself doesn’t even seem to have an end. My initial goal to walk from one end and back again was thwarted when all I found was turns and circles. No end in sight, but loop upon loop of people and places and left-behind feelings. People come in with so much baggage and clutch it to themselves protectively and comfortingly. And then they walk in circles, under the illusion they will eventually find the end, not knowing the place they are looking for might be right next to where they started.