I tried to explain what it’s like to a friend.
Airports, I say. It makes me think of how falling in love at an airport might be, because that seems like exactly the type of thing I do. It’s so harmless. Imagine: there I am sitting in gate A6 of O’Hare with my book and overpriced deli sandwich when I see you. You’re alone and have ear buds in and choose your seat in a meticulous manner so that your proximity to me is not too far. Or maybe you just want to watch CNN. At any rate, you have selfishly stolen every bit of my attention away from John Irving without the slightest recognition. It takes me seven seconds to decide that you are someone worth knowing. Our eyes meet and then we board, together.
Our flight is an international red-eye; seven or eight hours long. Our time together is one of dehydration, cramped spaces, recycled air and uncomfortable clothes. It’s wonderful.
We arrive. Touchdown is smooth and the flight was good. Brussels, Istanbul, Timbuktu; it doesn’t really matter where we are. The seat-belt sign is off and it is now appropriate for me to use my phone, so I do. I gather my things and go.
For a while you manifest yourself as that foreseeable, bothersome jetlag I can’t seem get rid of; you leave me tired and disoriented. You reach inside of me and turn the hands of my built-in clock with your very own fingers; my circadian rhythms are disturbed and my goddamn hypothalamus is not functioning as it used to, as if taking orders from something other than myself. I am in a never-ending, confused elevator. Doors open and doors close. At night is when you pester me the most. At night you crawl into my brain and latch onto my thoughts without so much as an invitation. You are a parasite.
And then, just like that, you’re gone. A new day in a new city means a new perspective; the time we shared becomes little more than a crinkled boarding pass and the faint recollection of that one mediocre in-flight film that was entertaining only at the break of dawn. They say that it takes one day for every one-hour time zone crossed to get back to your normal rhythm. A five-hour time difference, five hours with you, means that it will take five days for me to get back to normal.
But in the end, I explain, even flying becomes routine.