“Maybe this is how it starts” you think to yourself, as you wait at the passenger arrival gate at PDX. This isn’t the first time you have had this thought, and you have even been close to being right before. You look at the faces of all the other people there: the gruff, hardened, emotionless middle aged man. The white family who has signs made for whomever they’re waiting for. The young black girl, she’s wearing a knit hat and coat maybe a little too large for the November weather. You love her the most, she’s also wearing headphones that may or may not be plugged in to anything, and a headset microphone in front of her mouth which reminds you of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm 1814. Your suspicion that she may be high-functioning autistic is reinforced when she lets out a loud squeal of pure glee when she sees who is probably her brother coming out of the doors, only then does she tear off the headphones.
The emotionless middle aged white man proves just as surprising: his ruddy face breaks open into a smile, he gets flushed, his eyes squint shut from happiness. The person he’s looking at comes around the corner, it’s a college aged man who is bashfully smiling a small embarrassed smile. The son seems surprised by the man’s huge bear hug, by the whisper-fast kiss on the top of his son’s head, and when they disengage the hug the big man swipes at his eyes quickly, probably hoping his son doesn’t notice. You wonder where the mom is, maybe each other is all these two men have left? No, she’s probably at home, putting final touches on the meal at home. You want it to be this.
In your almost five years in this city, you’ve been to this airport so many times. You know the roads and the MAX tracks to it by heart. You have stood in this spot waiting for friends and lovers, you have seen the carpet beneath you disappear and reappear with a different pattern, you have launched from this terminal to your family, to your best friends, to loves now lost.
Just this year this airport hurled you at New York three times, the city that even when you are in it you can’t quite reach it. Every time you are there it’s as if the carpenters and the set builders just finished the city, perfectly grimy and gritty and art-directed. You land in the airplane, the massive megaphone announces “places…and, go” and the actors start walking the streets in their pre-scripted loops. You wander the city along the paths and streets they constructed, knowing where you would wander. The huge production team finishes flicking paint onto the sidewalk, pressing gum into it, and clears out just before you turn corners. They lay bricks, erect walls, sometimes you can even hear hasty hammering that stops right before you get to where you heard it coming from. Sometimes you look out at Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and you see the seams in the backdrop, you see the painted sunset rippling in the breeze, the buildings warping and distorting.
You go to the Women’s March in January, when New York has never felt more like Portland, everyone jostling each other in the cold, but happy and smiling. You go again to reunite with your friends in May, and then again in June for Pride. That trip requires the most extras, they crowd the streets with their signs and pride flags and their love; your path is erratic and organic and you wander far and wide in the city. You see ghosts until you realize that, truly, you’re the ghost wandering the city. You’re the apparition crying for its lost companion. Maybe this isn’t the type of movie you thought it was, this isn’t a romantic comedy, maybe you’re not the hero that gets the guy back in the end, maybe you are the Korean water ghost who terrifies the populace when he crawls out of the TV? Yes, you are probably that.
You had this relationship with Seattle before, too, years ago, but you outgrew that. You go up to Seattle in March, go to the coast with your good friend Jennie, spend a day with a boy you’ve admired from a distance for a year. He waves off your kiss at the end of the day and then unfollows you on social media: this is the new trend. Rejection and then disconnection. The reward is now the release.
The airport launches you to visit your dad in New Mexico after some terribly distressing news about his health. He recovers as you hear his stories, spend time sipping coffee next to him, you on your phone and him with his newspaper at the kitchen table. You go to Pride again in Albuquerque for the second year in a row, you swear you did not plan it like this. Unbeknownst to your dad, though, you try your damndest to get laid on this trip. The men in New Mexico on the dating apps are as elusive as prairie dogs evading a predator. Every time you make coffee plans with one, he dips down into the ground, disappears, only coming up to the surface once you’ve finished circling over his carrion and flown back to Portland.
You spend the summer enjoying your city, falling deeper in love with Portland like you do every summer. The city pulses with music, with people on its rivers floating and drinking, with vital protests and acts of resistance. This is always an undercurrent this past year, your 43rd time around this planet: this thin line of anxiety and anger from the current administration. You find ways to express your resistance through your art and your audience, you feel guilty for not speaking up enough, you come to peace with that guilt by trying harder. You stand up for people of color being targeted by police, and people persecuted because of their religion, and women. You have to; this is what people with privilege do for people without.
While not at your day job, you keep busy creating. The caliber of the photography on your Instagram improves, and people notice. You get invited to have your first gallery show in Portland in the spring of 2018, and decide to call the show “My Shitty Ass Instagram “Art”” after a trolling comment someone made to you online in the past. You finally release the first episode of your webseries. It is not perfect, but you are working with amazingly talented friends; you learn a lot and redouble your efforts for the next episode.
As the people keep coming around the corner of the arrival area, you think about your next trip: The next place you launch to will have to be San Antonio to see your mom, for a trip that ‘s long overdue (as she reminds you weekly). You cannot wait to see her and the rest of your family there.
The nearby family with signs bursts into smiles and exclamations as a young girl comes into the arrivals hallway (holy shit do they let kids that young onto planes by themselves? crosses your mind, and then Holy shit was I ever even that young?). Your visions blurs for a moment then clears as everyone around you pairs up with loved ones, faster and faster. More people appear around you to wait, more people arrive, it seems like it takes moments for them to show up and then they are gone.
Who is that, among the people arriving? It is your mom and dad, they traveled together, how did that even happen when they live in different cities. Then your sister, your niece and nephew, your other brother and sister on your dad’s side, the ones you didn’t grow up with. They surround you, stand with you as the carpet beneath you is replaced again, this time with an even uglier carpet. Outside the terminal day becomes night and back to day again, quicker and quicker until it’s a strobe light. Gray blossoms around your temples, fills your beard as the laugh lines in your face grow deeper. Out of the hallway come your first, your second boyfriends, more distant family, your best friends in your life, everyone surrounds you, people arrive faster and faster and the airport fills up, surely it must be full of all the people in your life you love and have loved, there is John, your brother who passed away, smirking down the hallway. Here comes your cat, why was he even on a plane that doesn’t make sense, somewhere in the crowd is David, there are so many people you have loved and here come all the people you have yet to love your life is filled with so much love I had no idea I could love this much I had no idea I had no idea I could love all of you so much.