Cruising altitude shows a carpet of clouds and then a large nothing. A blank page. I need to write a letter to my mother, ask again whether she'll visit me at Christmas. She'll say—again—that it's too far and she doesn't know Spanish. The amount of Spanish I've learned could fit in one empty water glass. My mother does not want to leave her home, even for a couple of weeks.
I'm not being fair. She did come to Oslo for a week. I met her there, and we toured the city museums and ate a lot.
In this living, I miss her—and my sister, my happy sister, who stayed just down the road and now has three sons who swirl around her, their circles ever-widening until one day they may escape that orbit entirely. I try not to feel guilty about leaving them. Sometimes it works.
I travel back the years to South Bend, Oyster Capital of the World—or one of them.
I grew up in along the Willapa River, with the wide light and the salt air and the long summer days. A smaller town safely away from any kind of a city. But I shivered through winter, a long sadness that got worse when I left home for college. Caught under the fluorescent lights in the dorms and classrooms, I shrank from the dark afternoons.
At this point in the flight, I remember where I first heard. This is my ritual:
I am in the library, and I am trying to focus on Euripides, but whispering from the next table pulls at my ears. My ears follow, pick up little scraps—a village in Norway, a people who travel to Chile, a tribe that follows the light.
Now, I am buzzing—surely the way you must buzz when you've been underwater much too long and you take that first electrifying gasp of air, the way your whole body tingles when you walk in from a cold evening.