There were a lot of things I systematically ignored, or put away, or pushed down over the last two years. And one of them, it would seem, is how scared I’ve been – and possibly increasingly so – the entire time. And it’s weird because I didn’t really notice because all that fear built up slowly, and then I found myself back in my hometown feeling safer than I have since the pandemic began.
There are a couple of stories here.
There’s one where I absolutely knew this was going to happen, and I thought I could wield all that relative safety to my advantage. Like charging a battery, I could heal some part of me that had been neglected for a long time.
And I told myself over and over that’s what I was doing; I repeated it like a mantra, in my head, on the flight from Chicago. And I thought that this was exactly what I needed to arrive in Colombia refreshed and ready to tackle a new adventure.
But there’s another story wherein this was simply a lie because I already knew my life had become untenable, but saying that out loud would mean something dire about the way I’ve chosen to live it.
These days I fall into a hard, dreamless sleep every night, lulled by a level of safety I can’t remember ever having before. And I’m not saying I haven’t experienced this brand of safety, I’m literally saying i can’t remember. The double whammy of contracting covid twice and the pandemic turning my life upside down has rendered me completely incapable of remembering the before-time.
I’m saying that I haven’t bought a plane ticket yet. And I haven’t done it because everytime I even go to look for one I’m left feeling like I cannot possibly relinquish this willingly. Like buying it would mean that all of this – the dog, the safety, the ease and leisure – is something I don’t deserve.
And maybe it would mean that I never did.
And honestly I don’t give a fuck if it’s true, I’m just not ready to admit that to myself. Irregardless.
And I’ve already mused on how I don’t deserve the man, so there’s no real point in rehashing that now.
But now, like in the exact right now, despite the things I can’t bring myself to do, I still feel like one of the best versions of myself I’ve ever been. There are lots of things I’m working on and toward, and there is far more than a single thing in my life that I’m unhappy with. But I’m on a path that feels mostly correct which is far more than I can say for huge portions of my adulthood.
I remember considering myself stronger than this, but was I? Or was my resiliency merely a consequence of the relative ease of my experiences?
Much like Tbilisi, Medellín has long been one of those places that means something to me. Somewhere between six and ten years ago I wanted to move there; I imagined it in my minds eye as the place, finally, that I would truly fall in love with. That would make all the other places pale in comparison, where I could tuck in. Stay still. Build a life. Where I could open my nightstand and not find a Gideon.
But now it feels like just one more place on a list among many, some other nightmare disguised as a dream.
And I’m beginning to wonder, even more than what I want, what I need. Because now that I’ve been back stateside for over a month, there are things I’m sure that I can’t return to. And that’s part of it, right? Because as sure as I’ve spent this time falling back in love with my quaint, green born-town, I’m just as sure that as soon as those wheels lift from the ground it will fade away again, then blink out suddenly, like it never even was.
And I feel like there are some things I have to say out loud before that happens.
Last summer, when I had just got back to Istanbul, I spoke of the dam that I had built in front of my heart that prevented anything from spilling out.
And then I spoke of an apocalyptic balcony, and, a bar that I said sat at the end of the universe because so much of my fair hometown is seemingly crumbling around it. And I mused on how, since the pandemic had begun, I had been daydreaming about visiting that bar, about reaching for the handle, opening the door, and stepping inside.
Last Tuesday, my plane landed at SeaTac, and then I caught the train, and then the bus. And I got off the bus right across the street from the Bar at the End of the Universe, but instead of walking in I took a right and went directly to the bartender’s house.
Because it’s time to start getting serious about figuring out why I want to do the things that I want to do.
Coming to Chicago felt like coming home. But being here, where I was born, makes me feel like everything is coming full circle.
And I know you might think that I’m merely repeating a bunch of old moves: taking one of my day-one’s to a wedding, drinking Rainier on a patio w/ with my best friend, and slipping right back into this bartender’s bed like 2008 never happened.
And I get it. But in all the miles I traveled over the last two years, none were more worth it than this last scary leg between the Chi and the Pac NW. Because of all the ways I have tried to reconcile my poor, love-starved skin and lonely heart, this one has worked the best.
I’m in Chicago, and specifically I’m at the 47th street Red Line stop just between Back of the Yards and Bronzeville. And, as I often am, I’m on my way to the airport.
Though I (obviously) prefer Midway, I’m headed to O’Hare, because the best airline with a hub in my hometown operates from there. And I’m terrified.
I know it’s technically Tuesday, and I know that technically I’m supposed to post these in Mondays, and I know that I’m technically a couple weeks late.
But the thing is: I’m looking back on the whole of the pandemic, this past two years et al, and in that time there were so many times when I thought I would never be more scared than the scared I was then.
And funnily enough, there was always more scared I could be.
So, as it came to be, there was apparently the “Most Scared™️” I could be, and rather than that time coming in South Africa or Egypt or Georgia, it arrived in Ukraine. And there is where I met my mettle, and found out it was worth far less than I thought it would be.
And so I used every privilege I have – my passport, my meager savings, and my friends – to get back to my home country as soon as possible.
And I left all of my friends behind to make it to Poland on their own.
And it’s not a small feat to say that while I have been reveling in reconnecting with everyone I love, that it’s not without reservations. Because of all the things that I’ve wanted to tell to a younger version of me, especially through the breadth of this pandemic, this recent turn of events is not one of them.
And now that I’ve languished in two weeks in Chicago, I’m now flying to my hometown, where that younger version of me was born. So now I’m tasked with finding a way to explain to her how I’ve behaved, and hopefully she’ll be placated by what we have to come.
Two mornings from now, I’ll get my third ever antigen test.
I know how it’ll go because I’ve done it before exactly two weeks ago. I’ll wake at six, finally get out of bed by 6:15 having donned my clothes. I’ll have two cigarettes and one cup of coffee. And then I’ll put on my boots and coat and walk down to the lab where it’ll cost me about $10 to have a technician stick a swab into what feels like my fucking brain.
Twice, actually. Apparently the routine here is to swab both of your nostrils.
And then I’ll wait. There’s a little seating area in the rear where you wait for results, and I will wait there. Probably wringing my hands like last time.
And then? I don’t know, exactly. It depends.
If it’s negative, I’ll walk the 10 minutes back to the hotel and get my papers in order. I might have another coffee. But then – likely without breakfast – I’ll grab my things and get a car to the airport, where I’ll board a flight to Poznan, Poland.
From there I’ll get a train – maybe a bus, I’m not picky – to Warsaw where I will spend a single night. That night may very well be sleepless or close to it as I will likely fear missing my 4 am wake up, which is when I should rise in order to catch my flight to Copenhagen just after 8am.
It’ll be my second time at CPH, and it only takes a couple hours to get there. And if I do, I’ll likely try to find an outlet where I’ll plug in my phone and computer. And then I’ll try my best to get some work done while I wait for my connecting flight.
And then, Omarion willing, I’ll board the longest flight I’ve taken since I left Johannesburg. A non-stop to O’Hare from Copenhagen is nearly ten hours, and hopefully I’ll be exhausted enough to sleep nearly that whole way.
And hopefully I’ll check in early enough to get a window seat, because at this point, after the two years of trauma that I’ve accumulated, I’m dying to see the city sprawled out beneath the plane, tucked onto the edge of Lake Michigan like a gridded, brutalist jewel.
And in the meantime, I guess I have to plan for the alternative, meaning: what if, in a cruel twist of Omarion, I still test positive?
Hmm. I mean, I don’t know.
If it were purely up to me, this scenario would find me back in Kyiv. I would refund my flight into a voucher in my Wizz account, buy a visa to Turkey, and wait in the capital until the 26th when I could fly to Istanbul on a flight I buy with Pegasus miles.
While I don’t know how I’ll feel about that, nor where I’ll stay or how I’ll pay for it, it’s the closest place I’ve had to a home since I left Chicago. And quite frankly, after impending war and Omarion, I’m just not in the mood to be anywhere but home.
So I guess I’m glad I have more than one.
But my wishes reveal what I think may be happening to me, namely that this may be it. That if I can’t get on this flight, I’m unsure how I’ll recover.
So. Some stuff has happened.
After nearly two years of this weird life during this weird time, I finally got covid.
This was my sixth time being tested since the pandemic began. I’ve had four PCRs – two at Sabiha Gokchen in Istanbul, one in Skopje, and one in Baghdad – and two antigen tests. The first of the latter was at the very tail end of December when I was on my way to Venice from Budapest. The latter was last week, three days after I first notice that tell-tale Omarion tingle in the back of my throat, the day before I was supposed to fly to Chicago.
The States is, as of about a year ago, impossible (and, to be clear, unethical) to travel to without a negative covid test. Regardless of your citizenship.
And maybe now that my plane has taken off without me and I’m being forced to decide whether I want to buy another one is the perfect time to interrogate why I bought the ticket in the first place.
Because I’m not exactly sure.
It was like:
I was waiting to be handed a reason to go. And Cara’s birthday yesterday seemed like the perfect excuse. But.
An excuse it was.
See, for about a year – maybe a little less than – it hasn’t so much been that I’ve been forced to stay away, but rather decided to. We could say that May of 2021 drew that line between those two seemingly similar ideas, and even the line itself is somewhat nebulous.
It was May 10th to be exact: it was that flight from Belgrade to Tbilisi that I feared I wouldn’t even be able to board, but board I did. But. Like. I could have just as easily bought a flight to Chicago.
And I probably should have, considering the next few months flew by while I behaved like I had no plan at all. I woke up one morning and fled to Batumi. To Telavi. And eventually to Istanbul. And somehow three months passed while all of that happened.
And then, while I was waiting for a flight to Baghdad, I spent the most useless two months in history in the Balkans, drinking way too much beer and doing god knows what.
So what I’m saying is that somewhere between Belgrade and Baghdad I was making some kind of a decision, and now I’m making another one.
So my first flight to Chicago has come and gone, and even though I’ve now missed the reason that I was even going in the first place, everything feels like it’s at a fever pitch: like. I have to go. Now.
Specifically, on the 24th.
Okay, after that hour-or-so-break, I’ve returned with a confirmed flight.
So everything should be chill, right?
Not exactly: getting out of Ukraine, though seemingly simple, is trickier than you might think. Despite the paperwork that I’m in possession of. And it’s completely fucking nuts that I may be barred from boarding a flight to my own goddamned country without a letter signed by a doctor.
And incidentally, it would appear that this is my absolute last chance.
If I don’t get on this flight, that’s it. That scraps a visit to the States for sure, and it might scrap Medellín, too. And judging by my deteriorating mental health surrounding this whole situation (which is ironically juxtaposed against my increasingly healthy lungs and sinuses, thx Pfizer!) another missed flight is, to put it lightly, not going to be great for me.
It’s crazy to think that this would end exactly how it all began. That even after the lessons and wins of the last two years I’ve been returned to the exact person I was back in Johannesburg when this all started: trapped inside, that inside itself trapped within a border, with an encroaching internal threat pressuring me to leave.
And now, just days away from my absolute last chance in the foreseeable future to get back to the States, I’m out of excuses. And I don’t know if they’ve changed to reasons or if I’ve just come upon the tail-end of a proverbial rope, but it’s time.
So here’s hoping. Because of all my loves, Chicago might be my favorite. And I’m ready to say hello again.