“Why, in his life of frequent travel, had he never
ecognized the beauty of flight? The improbability
of it. The sound of the engines faded, the airplane
receding into blue until it was folded into silence
and became a far-distant dot in the sky.”
- Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
There is always a piece at the back of the mind, the What If ?
I remember where I was when we purchased our one-way tickets. We’d sold half our furniture to afford the moving truck to divide the rest between family homes in two States. He drove the beast of a truck during a summer thunderstorm while I peeled the foil on Rice Crispy treats to hand him.
It’s strange, the things you remember.
I was sitting on the train when I finished the novel. I slid on my shades to hide tears. The protagonist of a world-changing apocalyptic pandemic told how one plane full of 300 strangers had survived the virus. But the grief in their not knowing the fate of their loved ones was almost unbearable in writing. Thus was born my What If. The novel had been recommended to me by a woman from work. She told me she’d lived in France for a year after realizing she didn’t want to have her boyfriend’s kids. She said it took an afternoon to clean out her apartment in Los Angeles and that France was magical. At the time I was working night reception for a 1970s wreck centre in the suburbs. There was a homeless woman living in the basement but management told me to just not turn off the lights for her when I left right before midnight. I used to circle the building three times after lock-up, pulling the locked glass doors set into glass windows. It was an imperfect place but it was my place.
There is always that What If in the back of your mind. The thing that creeps and crawls into your consciousness and which you can dispel with logic, quiet into the corner again with the misplaced confidence from the before times. And then the before times become simply the past. In ways, we took for granted the past was once almost bittersweetly recognizable, so near you could almost touch it.
My What If was born of that novel. My before times are now the past. And my What If has danced so close to me every day that I feel its lingering effects.
Sixty days have passed in the “New Normal”. A psychologist on a podcast says we shouldn’t be calling it that because “None of this ‘Normal’”. My mom’s friend on Facebook keeps writing about the idiots in her town who aren’t wearing masks. In the first days of this reality, the author of the novel, Tweeted not to read her book.
When will we stop counting the days, I wonder? When will these unprecedented times slip into the routine? Will we notice?
I keep the What If at bay with the comfort that technology exists. I took so much for granted before this. I took for granted that three thousand miles were nothing on an aeroplane. That there would always be a bridge in the sky between my two centres of Earth. I know it’s foolish now but it seemed impossible for there to be another reality. This is what gives the What If it’s dark energy. I’d never experienced the tenderness of spirit as I did in the revoking of that omnipresent guarantee. To hear a Nation list you in the unwanted is surreal. It was as if my What If had taken control.
My What If is not normal. It is the hybrid of many things, kept at bay with a light nursed within from friends and family. Giving the What If the power has made it bearable. If anything is bearable now it is the knowledge that the What If is not truly the worst that could happen. To conquer the What If is possible.