Mark is next to me — practically on top of me, actually — in the window seat. He's given up on reading his book, a hardcover by Jay McInerney full of essays about wine. The book's been sitting by our bed for months, a shiny jacket concealing pages set unevenly, like a glass of wine had been spilled on them just after the first chapter. He closed last night, and I woke him at 6:30 with stories of a dream I'd had. Now his head rests against the curved wall of the plane carrying us from O'Hare to La Guardia, his Ralph Lauren peacoat now a pillow.
The woman next to me, in 22D, is laboring over the USA Today crossword, and I want so badly to lean in and whisper, "The answer to 1 Across is 'DAFT.'"
But I won't. Because even after a couple of drinks, I understand that crossword completion — even the USA Today crossword — is a sacred, solitary act.
I saw that we were departing today from Gate K4, which happens to be right next to Rick Bayless's airport restaurant, Tortas Frontera. And just beside the line where underpaid workers sling chips, salsa and warm Mexican sandwiches for overpaying customers, there's a cozy bar always staffed by someone seemingly far too friendly to be working in an airport.
Mark and I rolled our bags — nearly matching gunmetal roll-aboards — to the window and found seats. After wrestling with our coats and carry-ons, we settled in. He ordered a bloody mary, and I asked for a margarita (on the rocks with salt, just as my mother takes them).
We sipped our cocktails, glanced idly at the TVs playing ESPN on mute, and caught up; we've been ships in the night recently, between my early meetings and his late nights closing the restaurant. Finally. Six days together, just the two of us, really.
First up: three days in New York City, my first time there with someone I love. Even after living there for a year and a half, my time there was spent mostly alone — and stressed. That city life didn't suit me. In all my other visits, I've returned to wander Manhattan by myself, revisiting old friends for decadent meals and remembering all the while why I eventually chose to leave: Too fast, too expensive, too many people…too lonely.
This time, we're staying in Park Slope with Mark's brother, Matt, and his wife, Jaime. They're expecting a baby in June; they've told us we'll be carrying the mattress and bed frame from the room we're sleeping in, down the stairs and out to the curb, so they can finish furnishing the nursery for their baby girl.
We don't have many plans. We'll drink wine at a nearby bar tonight, explore Manhattan tomorrow — the High Line? Chelsea Market? Rainbow Falafel? Shake Shack? — and return to Brooklyn to make dinner Friday, stroll the borough together on Saturday before our tasting-menu dinner that night, and find brunch somewhere in the neighborhood Sunday morning before catching our next flight that afternoon.
To New Orleans.
I am so excited I can barely talk about it. I haven't been somewhere truly new, for pleasure, in years. This will be an early celebration of my 30th birthday, and an even earlier celebration of Mark's and my one-year anniversary.
Mark is in charge of our plans there. Drinks at the Carousel Bar, grilled oysters, a Hurricane on Bourbon Street, walks through the Garden District, lazy poolside sunning on the roof of the Hotel Monteleone, where we'll stay for three nights.
Temperatures are expected to rise into the mid-70s while we're there, and the Chicago girl in me who hates heat and loves a cool lake breeze is ready to bask in the glow of the Southern sun.
This is my spring break.
But for the next hour and a half…I'm sitting bitch.
Seat 22E belongs to my thighs and me, the only space that's mine on this cramped airplane, a flight apparently equipped with wi-fi that I'm forcing myself not to purchase. Trying to unwind myself into vacation mode is harder than I thought: Now that I'm a business owner, I barely know how to do it anymore.
But the next six days are mine. Ours.
And I also won't stress out about not stressing out. That would be so me.
So minute by minute, hour by hour, I'm just going to…live.