You never realise just how fast you are travelling.
There is something about take-off that gives you a hint of it, the way the force pushes you back in your seat, the way so many fingers grip at armrests, this unintentional and collective human twitch as bodies brace to be cannon-shot into the air. Up – and away from where they have been. Or, for others on board, toward their destination.
You feel it briefly at the start, of course. The acceleration of your leaving – or going. For the rest of the flight, velocity is not so obvious a companion. For the most part you’re flying, and you don’t feel a thing.
Except for the ones who are leaving.
I think about the ones who are leaving. How they travel in the exact same direction as everyone else on board. And yet, even as they face forward, even as they track their course, it’s not the same path at all. Not when they have left so much of themselves back there, on the ground.
For the others, for those suspended and flying toward someone or somewhere better, does it feel slower still, these waiting hours? As they get closer to where it is they want to be? Who is having the more difficult time up here in the air with me, right now? The heavy-hearted, looking back – or the light, straining toward their destination?
And me, just which one of these am I today? This question I cannot answer at 30,000 feet, no more than I ever could on the ground.
Am I finally on my way now, or is this just another leaving?
The middling people push back their chairs and snore, but I’m wide awake now, and racing. My heart or my mind, it’s impossible to say which comes first, who takes or hands over the baton that I clutch. And start running.
You’re flying, not running! I remind under my breath, but I know better than most to not confuse truth with the facts.
A fact. I’m heading toward the wide and offering unknown – definitely coming. A fact. I’m leaving the heart-constriction of my present, muddled life behind – definitely running away.
The truth. It is possible to do both, and at the very same time.
(My heart and mind merely loop the track now, with a nod as they pass each other).
Plastic has stopped rattling. Trays are set down. The snoring softens. As the cabin dims, I reach into my bag for my phone; I stare at the screen and that last message all over again. A reflexive stare, yet hopeful and breath-held too. As if something might have recalibrated since the last time I looked, as if the words and letters might have rearranged themselves into something better than the single line sent and received as I boarded the plane.
The text right there, stark and simple. The letters fully formed, unchanged. I missed you. Past tense.
I missed you.
As if he already knows I am gone.
‘Into the After’ is taking shape. Word by feeling by word. I forgot just how much of writing a novel is heart excavation.