Tale of Two Homes

I wrote this on Monday morning and wasn't sure I even wanted to post it. But here it is. Because the blog told me it was lonely. I'm catching up at work and in way over my head…more writing soon, I hope.

Captain’s Passenger’s log, day…oh, hell.

I’m on American Airlines flight 2022 from San Juan to Chicago, just over the mainland, with a few hours until I land.
We entered U.S. waters just after midnight, and my BlackBerry got its signal back. It screamed back to life, downloading the text messages, e-mails and Facebook notifications that had hung in the cloud since I left town 11 days before. I spent an hour in the tiny bathroom of our stateroom before the sun rose, reviewing my notifications and blinking back the flood of tears brought on by a long e-mail from the Knight. I sent him a text message at 5:15 a.m., 3:15 Central time. He called me immediately – he just happened to be awake – and we spoke for a few moments, in whispers, as I tried not to wake my sister. She wasn’t sleeping well, and she’d talked in her sleep at some point overnight; she and I laughed riotously about it as we lugged our carry-ons from the stateroom and up to our last breakfast.

We’d left the ship so ahead of schedule that I made it on a standby flight. Six hours early. What does it say about me that I’m so eager to return to cold and snow and a murky, grey lake after 10 days of warmth and sand and crystal-blue ocean? Yet here I am, seated comfortably in my exit row next to two catatonic Latinas with shimmering fake nails and hooded sweatshirts. None of the flight attendants asked the exit rowers whether we’d be willing to assist in the event of an emergency, which I find more than a little disconcerting. So I’ll say it here, for posterity: Yes, I would have been willing and able to lift that 50-pound door and help my fellow passengers to safety if some midair calamity had befallen us. Hell, in case of a sudden change in cabin pressure, I’d even have helped my seatmates with their oxygen masks after securing my own.

That’s the kind of woman I am.

It does seem a bit crazy, being as excited as I am to return to Chicago. To early-morning alarms, to trudging through snow to get to the suburbs for my 8 to 4:30 job. To preparing my own food and cleaning my apartment. To bills and bus passes and deadlines and Facebook drama. No mornings at the pool, no midnight buffet, no round-the-clock ice cream scooper, no stateroom attendant, no white-jacket maitre-d’, no chocolates on my pillow after dinner. Obviously, that’s not all that awaits me in Chicago. And really, lounging and being waited on hand and foot does get tiresome after a while.
(How convincing was that? Be honest.)

The Knight is picking me up from the airport when I land at 2:20; not being in touch with him has been the hardest part about this trip and probably the biggest reason I’m so jazzed to be back. But I’ve missed silly things about home, too. My flannel sheets. Thai takeout. Metra conductors’ hats. Starbucks. (Dear lord, Starbucks.) Coats and scarves and hats. The rattle of the Brown Line. Buffy on DVD. Tall buildings. Collective kvetching about the weather. The solitude of my one-bedroom apartment. It feels as though I’ve been gone for months.

My friends thought a nine-day cruise sounded like the ultimate paradise until I told them I’d be traveling with my family. “God, I’d kill myself!” they said with a pitying chuckle. But I never flinched. As strife-ridden as the holidays were, I didn’t actually have to steel myself for more than a week with my family. Our house in Kansas City may not feel like my home anymore, but so many moments throughout our cruise together reminded me of how wonderful it could be.

Yesterday was our day at sea, a day spent reading by the pool, enjoying the last few splendorous buffets and dozing off to pass the time before dinner. Ah, sloth. I woke up from my glorious nap as the sun was beginning to set and hurried to the upper deck to soak up a few final rays of Caribbean bliss. The light was no longer warm as the shadows lengthened and the sun passed through the fluffy cartoon clouds and dipped out of my view, bar by bar of deck rail. It set the horizon on fire and turned the sky the color of a tropical drink, and I fought back tears as I walked back downstairs to get ready for dinner. As excited as I was to come back to this home, I was leaving another.

Last night, we said goodbye to our servers, the maitre-d’, our stateroom attendant. We waved timidly to a few other guests we’d seen around the ship but never bothered to introduce ourselves to. We finished packing, set our suitcases outside and tucked into our tiny beds for the last night. And this morning, we said goodbye to our cramped, makeshift home of the past nine days, and I said goodbye to my family again.