December 19, 2018
New Haven, Connecticut to Bangkok, Thailand
I woke up a little drunk at 7 a.m. the morning after finals ended. I would’ve slept in, but I wanted to see my ex before my afternoon flight home, to Bangkok, from JFK. He himself was already home (New York) from school (Chicago). When I’d gone out last night, my laundry had been in the wash, and I didn’t remember transferring it to the dryer, but there it was. I stuffed my underwear into my suitcase, and called an Uber to the train station.
I only hesitate to call my ex a friend because we were long distance and now hardly see each other, so we don’t have much of a friendship to speak of, yet. I dropped off my stuff at his family’s apartment, and we did a loop in Central Park, holding mugs of tea. Three brown girls approached us for directions to the holiday market. An Eastern European couple wanted to have their picture taken in front of a tree. The husband showed me a lo-fi, black and white picture of this tree, and insisted that I replicate it, except with the couple in the foreground: “It must be exactly! Exactly!” I promised him I’d do it while his wife laughed and laughed.
Handing back the phone, I asked whether it was all right. The laughing wife said it was fine and thanked me. The husband took a long look. “I think … I think … it’s good. It’s perfect, actually.”
On our way out of the park, three Korean girls asked us to fill out a survey about paper straws, in what seemed like an effort to assess their market viability. Question 3 asked what we thought the most pressing environmental problem was. “Air pollution” was one option. “Global warming” was another. I checked off “Global warming” and moved on. My ex, reading the question slowly, said, “Actually, I think air pollution causes global warming—” As the girls turned towards him, solicitous and bemused, I thought of my imminent flight, and told him to just get on with it.
Back at his place, he mentioned an e-mail exchange we’d supposedly had that I couldn’t recollect. My memory is awful. He diagnosed me with memory loss on account of anxiety and moving around too much. It rang true, loosely.. And then it was time for me to take my bags and head to JFK.
Terminal 7 is small, so I got through it quick. I sat at a bar for two hours, then went to the bathroom and boarded my flight. I sat next to Japanese girl who was elegant and tall, clad all in black besides white Balenciaga sneakers and red Chanel handbag.
It took all twilight for the plane to fill up. We rose into a five o’clock night.
I spent the first portion of the flight awake, half-reading The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter, half-thinking about my not-yet-friendship. I switched to Chronicle of a Death Foretold—“and then I didn’t know anything about myself until” it ended and I fell asleep.
All of a sudden I was in Tokyo. Or rather I was in Haneda, which is the same baffling combination of airport, advertisement, and mall as most other metropolitan airports. From the tourist-consumer’s standpoint, you don’t even have to leave the airport to get everything you need. It was 9 p.m. local time—7 a.m. in New York, I think. I had moved from deep to deep. Drifting into the All Nippon Airways lounge, towards its expansive windows, I saw myself reflected onto a glittering Japanese highway. I took a picture and captioned it, “This is what transnational loneliness looks like.”
I didn’t get much sleep on my flight from Tokyo to Bangkok. 20 minutes before we landed early, I put on Impossible Soul by Sufjan Stevens, which is 25 minutes long, and which I’ve put on 20 minutes before the end of every flight I’ve flown for the past two and a half years—since I started college in the States. My memory sucks, so all these flights bleed together. As we touched down pre-dawn, I looked out the window across the aisle. Each runway light was haloed by smog.
My parents picked me up from the airport. I didn’t pick stupid fights with them in the car. When we got home, I looked out my south-facing window onto the verdant, wire-crossed street I know so well. It was shocking to me that another country could be on the flip side of a flight. This has always been shocking. I just know how to register it now. It was 7 a.m. in Bangkok, and the light was coming off the east-facing glass of the buildings rising around me.