Three days and nights of the smell of saltwater and merlot end with a flight back to Seattle from San Diego. The clear head I now possess allows me the privilege and full enjoyment of recycled air, and the scent of steamy catered containers of tasteless vegetables, rubbery chicken, and fresh wine, waiting to be opened and fondled with the joy of an unwanted gift. Sitting in the exit row allows my kneecaps only slight contact with the seat in front of me, whose passenger is only too happy to accommodate the feel of two kneecaps denting his lower spinal column, via a thinly padded cushion.A man sits next to me while engaged in cellular small talk. His skin has that filmy perspiration you can only earn from several doses of coach. The stewardess maniacally hovers over our heads like a vulture, exposing seatbelt violations with a loud squawk containing vocabulary we’ve all never heard hundreds of times before.
The waves of my neighbor’s mobile phone radiation cascade reluctantly into the soft spongy mass in my cranium and start to bang into the side of my head with a victorious throb, like having a hangover without actually having had any alcohol. I can hear the sound of my neighbor’s goatee/pubic beard scratch the warm plastic as a bead of sweat starts to form on his balding temple, veiny and pasty from lack of sunlight and exercise, and many hours of monitor exposure. A hundred bucks says this guy is a programmer.
He kicks off his Nikes to expose yellowing tube socks, likely not used for their intentional athletic purpose. A strange smell immediately permeates the starboard side of row 15. The mixture of sweat and socks decides that it’s bored resting on its laurels, and as our plane disembowels itself from a hydraulic umbilical cord, the fumes of airline fuel jump in and join an already lively odor party. I vow never to sit in the window seat again, and pass out, asleep.
I awake to the absence of my neighbor and a bright beam of sunlight warming my face. The throb is gone, but I can hear static conversation in my head, probably cell phone holdovers from my neighbor. Phrases awaken in my subconscious. I can make out ‘synergy’, value-add’, and ‘command line prompt’. Attempts to erase them with several shakes of my head are futile, and the realization that I am, in fact, not an Etch-a-Sketch.
Through my partially clogged eardrums, I can hear my neighbor approaching our row through a series of apologies and misplaced footsteps. I feign sleepiness, and lean my head against the window in complete view of the horizon’s cloudiness. I know how it feels.
I’m not sure when it happened, but to have been a witness to something so beautiful is something I have continued to remember to this day. The clouds opened, and dissipated into Pointillist precision as the sky began to swallow the light within a plum and crimson cloak.
I stared through the porthole, oblivious to the clickity-clack of my neighbor’s laptop, and witnessed a new world unfold, filled with intense visions, and seeming to be every bit as real as my existence. I rode this wave of enlightenment for just a few minutes, until the light finally succumbed to the cloak’s embrace and transitioned to nightfall.
I had an epiphany.
The next day would be filled with activity. I was to start – well, rather continue – school after a 10-year hiatus. A great segue, really… after a month or two of unemployment. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, but I questioned this path now (and sometimes still do).
The vibe in my heart and body, in every nerve and every vain, spoke: “Don’t do this. Not yet.”
I committed to a decision at that instant, and realized it the next day when I pulled out of school twenty minutes before my first class, and decided that if I was to go to school in traditional fashion, that I should preface that with unorthodox experience.
For me, this would mean three or four months. And during that period, I would spend more time elsewhere and less time on the ground in my entire life, at a time when people began to question security and carry an uneasy pang of vulnerability within them.
The Great Sabbatical had begun.