Frequent flyers are familiar with a phenomenon. When the plane’s doors are sealed a large percentage of passengers either doze off or feel very sleepy. It is a biological response to a sudden drop in oxygen levels. I have never needed an excuse to nap. It is one of my favorite activities and no more so than on airplanes where snoozing cuts perceived travel time. Combine this phenomenon with additional factors such as length of travel, lack of sleep and stress and it becomes a near certainty that your chin will assume a resting position against your chest. So, it is with me. I am asleep before the plane leaves the gate and do not awake until the flight is well on its way to Newark.
I have been cautious on this trip not to think beyond next steps. I found in traveling thinking too far ahead invites disappointment and frustrations. The gods of travel are fickle and too many things can happen when you travel that are unexpected and beyond your control. Especially, in these days of a global pandemic. As a consequence, over the course of the last day, I have focused almost exclusively on the task at hand and virtually nothing about my homecoming. I wake from my nap thinking of nothing else.
I know that New Jersey has been at the heart of the Covid19 outbreak in the United States. Emergency measures have been put in place regarding what stores and businesses can operate. The wearing of masks in public and social distancing have been mandated. I realized that this new normal along with my federally required 14-day quarantine will make it a challenge to get the basic supplies I need. I have purchased masks from Amazon, and they arrived yesterday. I ordered Emergen C, Zinc supplements and multiple vitamins from Costco in the hopes of giving my immune system all the fuel it needed to run efficiently. CVS had been contacted, my prescriptions renewed and sent to me. Laetitia Vasco, my cleaning woman and temporary caretaker of Rosie, has volunteered to stock my larder so that I have the food and water that I need until I am allowed to go shopping.
I have done what I can to prepare myself for my arrival home.
I think about Rosie. My companion., officemate, cuddler in chief whom I have not seen in nearly 3 months. It is hard for someone who does not own a dog to understand the bond that exists between you. It goes beyond family and friend. With them you share an existing language. Between man and dog, communication develops beyond the scope of linguistic. Only over time do you develop communication that is unique only to you two. As Morley said, “No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does.” I wonder whether in the three months of my absence, where Rosie has spent time frolicking on a farm full of dog companions and in a home where she was indulged and loved by a little girl and her family, whether we will still share our special bond and communication.
There are these wonderful videos on the internet where soldiers who have returned home after a deployment are reunited with their dogs. The pups go crazy, barking, yapping, tails wagging so fast and hard they blur, running around their persons, often knocking them to the ground just so they can lick their face. This is how Rosie loves to greet those who come and take her to day care. It is how she greets Laetitia when she comes and visits. Occasionally, she has even treated me this way when I have left her in her crate longer than she liked.
Thoughts of Rosie and the homecoming I hope to receive from her fill me with emotion and make me grateful for the single person row in which I sit and for my sunglasses and mask.
I think of my family.
Cate, my niece, and I have developed a special relationship. She is MFN, my favorite niece. She, in turn, started to call me MFU until I decided the initials left something to be desired. We settled on BUE, best uncle ever, which is probably untrue but nice to hear. What I know is that my niece is special. A gifted rider, artist and student she is imbued with integral kindness and a depth that exceeds her age. We never fail to say good bye to each other without three kisses (2 are too ordinary) and playing the I love you more game where we each to play off each other….I love you more than Oreo’s loving fillings…I love you more than fillings love teeth….until one of us capitulates.
Oliver, my nephew, looks like my father which means he looks like me. He is curious, creative and in near constant motion looking for new experiences and exploring life. Before I left, I introduced him to the television show “Hot Ones” where celebrities and well known people are interviewed while eating chicken wings that range from a hundred to two million scovils. For fun, while I was away , I sent him a hot sauce called “The Last Dab”, which is the spiciest hot sauce used on the show, and challenged him to taste it. If he could last ten minutes without quenching the flames, I would give him $100. He accepted and we did the challenge over Zoom. He has more money that he did before but we are both richer for the experience. I admire his courage and cherish his hugs which are top 5 in the world.
Mark, my brother in law, is one of the best men I know. He is trustworthy, steadfast, and decent. An engaged and understanding father he is amusing in the understated way some Brits are. He has become the brother I had always hoped to have.
My sister will always be my baby sister. Even though she is far more capable of taking care of me, I feel the need to take care of her. When the pandemic had caused New Jersey to be locked down, I found myself trying to imagine what it must be like to work at two jobs (writer and professor) virtually, manage the virtual school of two teenagers while also tending to their fears, stresses and natural energy and having a husband, helpful as he may be underfoot. All while having to deal with the stresses, fears, and anxieties Mom’s feel when they and their family are threatened by an enemy, let alone one that is omnipresent and invisible. It is hard to provide a helping hand or comforting shoulder when you are five thousand miles away. What is a brother to do?
This brother turned to Goldbelly. When my mother had died, Marissa had confided in me one of her major de-stressors was carbohydrates. Cake being her number one choice. Every week I would try to order her something that was difficult under current circumstances, to get delivered to her home. Ove the course of my absence I had sent cakes, donuts, ice cream and even an outlier of Dinosaur BBQ. My hope was that it would be stress relief and perhaps add a little bit of serendipity into what I imagined a monotonous and challenging day to day.
But I also knew that as much as I was enabling her carbohydrate habit, I was doing it for me. Sending those sweets made me feel as if I was getting hugs from my family.
Now as we are on final approach to Newark, it dawns on me that the homecoming that I could only fantasize for so long, full of wagging tails and hugs, is only moments away and I am overwhelmed by it.
When the cabin door is opened, and we are given permission to deplane, it is as if I am shot from a rifle. I move at speed walker pace down the concourse C at Newark. I pay no notice to the closed shops, restaurants nor even to the very few people have made a choice not to wear a mask. I am focused only on getting to baggage claim where my brother David has arranged for a well-regarded car service to pick me up and take me home in as safe and as Covid free environment as possible. I scramble pass security and negotiate my bags down two sets of escalators to baggage claim. It is empty. None of the carousels turn. No patient passengers waiting for bags. Most importantly no car service person holding a sign with my name on it.
I survey the whole area. I walk down to the carousel where the bags from my flight will be deposited. Still no one. I am annoyed and angry. I almost never ask my brother for favors and the one time I do he drops the ball like a little league outfielder. As I survey baggage claim for my driver, I consider calling David and asking him what is up with his car service or digging through my phone to find the number of the service and finding out about my ride. I reject both ideas. The siren call of home, only 15 miles away, is too alluring. I dash to the taxi rank.
The cab at the head of the cue reluctantly ends his phone conversation when I approach the taxicab. I see that his mask is dangling off one ear, so I ask him, too firmly, to please put on his mask and let him know that his assistance is not needed with my luggage. He is clearly peeved at my attitude and I feel badly for my tone but not my message. As we pull away from the curve, I try to smooth over any hurt feelings I may have caused by asking if he needs directions. He grunts a no, points to the Waze ap on the phone mounted on his dash and is silent for the rest of the trip.
Route 78 between Newark and the Short Hills Mall is not scenic. It is not even pretty. Mostly shopping malls, light industry and sound barriers. But with every mile passed, my excitement grows. Home lies at the end of this ride and the odometer can click fast enough. I begin to anticipate what it will be like as I walk in the door to my apartment. How happy I will be to see my puppy and the happy dance she will create when I open her crate.
Home. I am coming home.
We leave the highway and enter Summit via River Road. Years ago my mother told me that the reason she and Dad had fallen in love with Summit was because of the trees that blanket the town. I think of her now as we drive under the canopy of leaves that shroud the road. She died a year ago yet every time I come home to Summit; I want to call her to let her. Let her know I am home safe. I wish I could call her now. No one welcomes you home like a Mom.
I am grateful that the lights at Morris and River Roads are green as is the one at Kent Place Blvd. I am way too anxious to suffer the delays of traffic lights. Within minutes of leaving the highway the cab is stopped in front of my house. I am home.
I scramble out of the cab practically throwing the cabby his fare. Grabbing my bags, I rush to the garage and tap the code to raise the door. But a combination of my glasses fogging from heavy breathing while wearing a mask and anxiousness to see Rosie makes me mis-enter the code twice. I take a deep breath. Allow my glasses to clear and finally plug in the right numbers. I wait impatiently for the large door to rise and I rush in as soon as I can duck underneath it. After nearly 3 months I am going to see my beloved pup and we will have a reunion full of wagging tails, face licks, and yelps that is Facebook and YouTube worthy. I slip past my car, leaving my bags at the door rush into the apartment and make a bee line for the ground floor room where we keep Rosie’s crate.
She is a caramel colored fluff ball which is no surprise as she has not been groomed since January. She is alert, sitting in her I am a good girl pose. She has what appears to be a stuffed gingerbread man in her mouth.
I fumble with the latch on the crate and the door springs open. I wait for the mad dance of joy I was have been thinking about for the last 3 months. But there is no dance. There is not even a wag of the tale. No yelp. No bark. Instead, Rosie, almost reluctantly emerges from her crate. She carefully walks around me and goes to the garage door. Then walks back and looks around the room as if she is looking for something familiar. Finally, she glares at me with an expression that I interpret to mean “Who the fuck are you? And what have you done with the people I normally play with?”
Needless to say, I am disappointed in her response to my return. But I am not entirely surprised. I had predicted for months that her response to my return would be cool. As much as I love her, she is a love the one you with type of dog especially when you give her treats. I should not have let all those wonderful homecoming dog videos on YouTube and Facebook make me forget what type of a dog Rosie has always been. But it would have been nice to be treated like the prodigal son.
The first thing that I do, after calling Elaine and letting her know I have arrived in Chatham, is throw all my clothes into the washer, and jump into the shower. As much as I had anticipated the joy of seeing my puppy, I was looking forward to this moment almost as much. Not just because I had spent the last 28 hours wearing the same clothes and traveling through areas ripe with Covid 19 but because our shower in Brazil required an effort to get wet and where hot water was something that had to be planned out in advance. Our shower in Chatham is sybaritic. Voluminous amounts of water and pressure. 16 different spray settings. More hot water than I can use in an hour of showers. I luxuriate in soap and suds for nearly 20 minutes. As much as Rosie’s welcome was a disappointment this exceeds my expectations.
I still needed to unpack and do the dozens of other little things one needs to do after a long absence from home. I do none of them. Instead, I decide to just bask in the joy of being home. I put on my heavy blue terry cloth robe and sit on the couch in my study and flip on the television. I have not watched any broadcast television since before I left here in March. I wanted the experience of seeing programming of someone else’s design and in a language that I understand.
CNN comes on first. I have no desire to hear about Covid19 and how it is ravaging the world or for that matter to think about anything of consequence. I just want to put aside all the stress and anxiety I have felt for the past months and especially the last day away. I want to be entertained. I click to HBO.
The image on the screen is of an animated movie. Two blue parrots are amusingly trying to hitchhike a ride on a hang glider who are attempting to hitchhike on a hang glider. When the parrots land, the hang glider banks and I see the rocky outcropping of Pedra De Gavea, the mountain that looms above our home in Itanhanga. Over the last 28 hours I have traveled over 6,000 miles by planes, trains and automobiles, braved Covid19 infections, washed my hands 56 times to make it home in Chatham, only to find “Rio”, albeit in animated form, here.
Even I have to give it to God. Hysterical, side splitting irony.
I cannot watch it though. Rio good, bad and ugly is real. Watching it “Disneyfied” seems disrespectful to me, so I click up a channel. The flat screen shows an image of a very skinny Tom Hanks sitting perfectly upright and a little dazed in an airplane seat. He is having a conversation with someone off screen who is explaining to him what is going to happen when they reach Memphis. I know immediately the movie. It is one of my favorites: Castaway.
At first, I believe God is having more fun with me.
The movie is after all about the nature of the human condition and isolation. For the last three months, in many ways I have been a castaway from the US. Isolated from my country, my family and my friends and like the lead character, I am emerging from isolation.
But as I watch the movie, I change my mind. The character played by Tom Hanks undergoes a huge transition. He has been living a subsistence existence forced upon him by a circumstance no one could have predicted. He has learned to live and perhaps even thrive on little. Now, returned, he sees all the things that he has been dreaming of food, shelter clothing mean little to him. He realizes, despite how heartbreaking, that the world has moved on and so has he. With his old life dead, he needs to find new meaning and he begins his quest by looking for the “angel” who saved him.
Perhaps this time, God is not telling me a joke. He is providing a parable. Covid19 has made us all castaways in one way or another. That, if we are smart, we need to bid farewell to the world that existed before the virus forced us into self-isolation, quarantine, and social distancing. We need to find new meaning in the world that exists today and perhaps the best place to start looking is with our better angels.