Airports are a place devoid of time and existence. Life stops once you step onto the unloading curb, the thick smell of car exhaust and hot tarmac burning your nose. Flights can be as late as they want and you have no control. Drinking beer at 9 a.m. is totally acceptable, because time doesn’t matter at the airport. My 1800-calorie diet doesn’t exist within the airport walls, I eat a cheeseburger and a bag of Doritos. Everything that matters happens before, or after the airport.
The first propitious rays of sunrise shine through the glass panels behind me, reflecting off the all-white floors. Like the sun reflecting off the ocean, millions of droplets acting as prisms on the surface on the water. Its reflected light is nearly blinding, my retinas overwhelmed. The gates at this terminal are arranged in a circle. There is something comforting about curved walls, the absence of 90-degree angles. I always wanted to live in a yurt in Mongolia, my own private circular dwelling. Its gentle sloping walls made from natural materials, nothing man-made. The roundness of it is designed to protect it from heavy winds. (The three little pigs should have used a yurt.) It’s also easily moved, good for nomads like me.
Behind me the commercial airliners slowly begin maneuvering into place, ready to start their day. Men wearing reflector vests use their lighted batons to guide the luggage carts to the appropriate airplane. They always seem so jovial, joking around with each other and smiling, you can tell by their faces. It must be a fun job. The roar of the engines vibrates the windows.
As the sun rises further, it casts its rays on the large fish sculpture across from me, in the center of terminal. A rainbow of light reflects in every direction off the hundreds of pieces of broken glass that cover it. I always liked mosaics. I did my own for years, I found the monotony of it helped with my anxiety. Now I write stories instead. Art was like telling a whole novel in a single scene.
Music plays in the background, subliminally pumping through our subconscious, a mix of classical and smooth jazz, made to ease the weary travelers and soften anxiety. And if it doesn’t, the bars are beginning to open. Several people are already waiting, sweating and fidgeting, outside the TGI Fridays. They raise the cage on the bar. A signal. Relief is coming.
Sleepy children with bedhead, still in their pajamas, make their way through security, lagging behind their already exhausted parents. Some are screaming and some are still half asleep with their stuffed animals tucked under their arms. Their fathers motion towards the bar that just opened, the mothers shake their heads, ‘no.’
I sit in a sea of empty seats as more people scramble through the automatic doors past the checkpoint. They lean against columns or hop on one foot as they pull their shoes back on, holding their tickets in their mouths as they fasten their belts. What an intimate thing to be shoeless with a bunch of strangers. They move faster now that they’ve lost their bulky luggage at the desk. Once their shoes are on they ebb past me as if being pulled by a current towards the gates. Suits dart past like minnows to check the TV monitors, and then off they go to find the nearest lounge to escape the noise, for a whiskey and free cheese. The once serene airport is now a flurry of activity.
I see Andrea round the corner with two coffees. She smiles at me through the sea of people. She makes her way towards me, cutting through the schools of fish. She’s going against the current, like a salmon preparing to spawn, preserving its future. Less strong fish would go with the current, but not Andrea. She’s the only person I know who enjoys the airport as much as I do. We’d come on our days off if we could. We get here several hours before our flight just to enjoy the beautiful chaos.
I remember the first time we took a trip together. I brought my Dachshund, Brody. Andrea acted as if it was perfectly normal to bring a dog on vacation. She didn't even scoff when I told her Brody was my emotional support weiner dog. They say weiner dogs have one person that they love, and if you’re not that person, you can screw. But Andrea opened the carrier and surprisingly Brody climbed out into her lap. An old man walked by and reached his hand out to pet Brody (without asking) and Brody snapped at his hand. The guy walked off cussing, saying something about euthanasia. Andrea told him to get lost (in no uncertain terms.) I looked at her and thought I could love this girl for a long time, maybe even forever.
Then there was the Christmas Eve we spent the night in this airport. We were going to New York to see her family. But our flight was canceled due to a snowstorm. We made a bed out of our cable-knit sweaters in an empty corner and bought a blanket at a gift shop. We got food from every vendor and a bottle of wine and had our own little Christmas party, right there at the empty gate. She told me about how her Dad died and how she never got to say good-bye. And I told her how I always felt like I was a disappointment to my mother because I was gay.
There was also the time our flight got canceled after a terrorist attack. That is a day that we, like everyone, will never forget. We sat at a bar watching the news with a bunch of strangers, trying to process what happened, comforting each other. A bond forged between all those strangers that day, and us.
Andrea makes her way back and sits down across from me and pulls a donut out of a paper bag. “I got you this,” she says. (I didn’t ask for it but she knows I’d want it.) But she doesn’t look right to me, sort of pale, and nervous. She looks like she may throw up.
“Are you alright?” I ask her.
“I have something I want to tell you. I wanted to wait until we got there but I’m so nervous I feel like I just need to do it now,” she says.
“What is it?” I ask. That old familiar feeling of panic washing over me.
The light shone so brightly behind her it made her appear like a sort of holy-figure, which we both know, she’s definitely not. Words slipped out of her perfect heart-shaped mouth as she proposed, right there in the hard plastic chairs. I accept and we became a jetty in the current, a sea of faces swirling around us.