I’ve been back from my residency in Wyoming for about five days. The morning I traveled, Monday, I made myself an omelette with farm fresh eggs and sat outside to enjoy a view of mountains while I ate. It was too cold to be out there, no more than 40 degrees, but I was snapping a mental photograph. I knew I would need an image and feeling to hold on to when things at home became too much. And I wanted to return home conscious of when that feeling of too much loomed near.
The residency program manager and I had a chat in my studio. You have to protect yourself, she said about my returning home. Everyone will want a piece of you. Her words have been a daily mantra. If there was something I observed and admired in the few folks I had contact with in Wyoming it was their desire and ability to maintain their pieces together. Perhaps their sense of wholeness is helped by the distance between properties, or the fact people seem to remove themselves from their own bustle and go into nature regularly, or maybe it’s the fact that life doesn’t revolve upon immediate gratification, but more on preparation. Whatever it is, there is a deep sense of personal space and respect for the space of another. There is a harmony in physical distance. There is stillness after you’ve done all you can do.
The airport in Sheridan has one gate. Trust me, I checked as discretely as I could without asking. Inside, the airport is no larger than your average company office in the city. There were about a dozen people waiting. A man who reminded me of Robert Redford’s older, outdoorsy countenance. A father with his son. The young man still had that lanky adolescent look, wearing tan boots that seemed entirely too big for him, but he had the aura of someone who grew up doing manual work. There was an older woman with short hair and fluorescent orange sneakers. An announcement was made that our original 12:25pm flight to Denver was delayed until about 1:50pm. No one flinched. Orange sneaker lady called whoever was expecting her and told them not to wait on her and go ahead and have their soup. She’d get there when she’d get there.
The plane itself had no more than 10 rows, only half the seats were filled. You had to go out onto the tarmac and board outside. Something about that made me feel like someone important in the 60s. Like I should’ve had very large sunglasses on and a black shift dress. And while I was boarding, I’d turn around and have my picture taken on the steps up to the plane. And someday, that picture would be shown at my funeral and everyone would remark on what a beauty I was. (Wow. Where did that just go?) It reminded me of the days where people dressed up to travel, how I caught myself blowdrying my hair and choosing accessories the night before flying out to Wyoming and laughed at how some Dominican habits die hard. I thought of my grandmother who on her first flight back to the Dominican Republic from the States, wore a wig and Lee Press On nails for the occasion. With the heat, the nails never made it. The wig just barely.
In Denver, running to make my connection, I thought there is something about being in an airport that makes you feel like someone. Or at least someone with a purpose. You have a charted route. A clear destination – one it’s important to get to even if only to you. Everyone around you is there to get you where you need to go as fast and well-fed and entertained as possible. More than can be said of life.
There was a time, for someone like me, flying must have seemed as feasible as a trip to the moon is now. Once on a flight to Puerto Plata, I said to a friend, isn’t it amazing how this huge machine stays in the air? Nothing holding it. I mean I know there are mechanics to how, but still when you think about it, doesn’t it defy everything you think should happen? She told me to shut up and I looked to see she had dark circles of sweat painted under her arms. One person’s sense of awe is another’s terror.
On my packed flight to Denver, I felt home approaching. The faces I passed on my way to my seat looked comfortable being indoors, in close quarters with many people. More hoodies and t-shirts. Denim hung differently. Other than clothes more suited for a bar in the LES than driving in your pick-up with your dog riding shotgun, exposed skin varied more – shades from fair to bronzed to chestnut.
I can’t lie. On our descent, when the city lights came into view like blood running through arteries, a vast network of pulsating life, I felt I would always call the city home. Even if I lived somewhere else, a possibility being in Wyoming opened up for me – living in a smaller rural place was not just possible, but welcome, perhaps even necessary – I would always feel something swell in me returning to this city.
Walking out of LaGuardia, one cabbie talking to another punctuated his story with “this motherfucker.” The first words I heard on the streets of New York. This motherfucker. Hearing a group of teenage girls talk, I realized I hadn’t heard a “yo” in a month. I was home.
On the bus into Manhattan, I felt as if a lot of eyes on me. I don’t know if they really were or if it was me taking note of the fact there were more people on the bus than there were in the whole Sheridan airport. Maybe it was the fact I was wearing a hoodie and knee-high boots when it was hot as balls – a balmy 74 degrees.
I got home to sticky floors, trash that needed to be taken out and a dog that ignored me until the next day. I thought of that morning’s eggs and mountains, but I was grateful for my bed again, for the streetlights that gave me a goodnight kiss on the forehead. I missed the sound of the creek, sure, but sometimes the car tires rolling by on the asphalt come pretty close. After a reading in Sheridan, I was asked of course about how it felt coming to a small town from New York City. I said I thought it was a misconception of people from the city that a quiet town is silent. There is sound. The orchestra is just different. There isn’t much satisfaction in comparing the two either. Each one is it’s own experience to be enjoyed that way, maybe with the amusement that comes from recognizing a note here that I thought only existed there.