This summer I went through a strange bout of … depression? … for lack of a better term, which manifested itself by my brain kinda just shutting down instead of dealing, confronting, processing, etc. I spent a few months floating around in a daze, unable to get my cranial capacity past first gear.
I was very much looking forward to a week at my lakehouse in Upstate New York — my childhood Mecca and my adulthood retreat — the only place in the world where I can read a book cover to cover uninterrupted by people, technology or (most importantly) the noise from my own head. Considering how much noise there had been this summer, the day couldn't come soon enough where I could shut everything down and live on the equivalent of my laptop's "sleep" mode.
My dates for the lake were August 9th through the 16th, Tuesday through Tuesday.
On Monday the 8th, Ben and I were in Metairie doing errands. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch when I got a call from my uncle John. I smiled. He's calling to tell me how happy everyone is I'm coming, and how lovely the weather is, I thought. I answered the phone, "Heyyyy! How's everything!"
"Great!" replied John. "Where are you?"
"Oh, just doing some last-minute stuff at home, getting ready to pack."
[a long pause]
"Well, I'm at Rochester airport," said John, "waiting for you."
Something heavy in my chest detached and fell through my torso, down my leg, and landed inside my foot.
"But … tomorrow's Tuesday," I stammered idiotically, blood pumping in my ears with dread.
"Yes, it is. But today's the 9th," replied John.
No, that's impossible. My trip is from Tuesday to Tuesday, I argued pointlessly with myself. That Tuesday-through-Tuesday line was a near mantra to me for the last several weeks. I couldn't be wrong. I couldn't. Could I?
I checked my phone's calendar. Of course, he was right. I had missed my morning flight because I was incapable of keeping the days straight. Laptop : sleep mode.
"I'll call you right back," I said.
Ben stared at me incredulously in the restaurant parking lot. "You missed your flight?!"
I rang AA to see what could be done. Miraculously, the woman told me I could still get to Rochester today, late. I didn't think it was possible. Both MSY and ROC are one-horse airports and American only flies to either begrudgingly. A later flight was something I didn't think possible.
She charged me a mere $50 change fee (or "idiot tax" as Ben and I call it), as opposed to the $400+ I thought I'd have to pay by buying a new full-fare ticket. Considering my embarrassing synaptic lapse, I thought I was getting off pretty easily.
I called John back: "Okay. I got a flight. It gets in late," I said, wincing, knowing John's bedtime was usually 8:00, being one of those early to bed, early to rise people I've read about in stories, but rarely met in real life.
John is also an incredibly easy-going person whose sense of humor never flags. Instead of sighing and lecturing, he laughed and said, "That's fine. I'm glad you got a flight. I'll go play a game of golf and take in a movie."
"Wow. You're incredible," I said, my mind still in a fuzzy state of dread and embarrassment. We hung up.
"Sorry Ben," I said in the parking lot. "No time for lunch. Gotta go home and pack. I should just be able to make my flight."
"Yes. Okay. Let's go," said Ben.
Driving home, feeling lower than low, I asked myself aloud, "What is wrong with me?" This flight snafu was merely another manifestation of how my brain had been working — or not working — for several weeks. I looked to my boyfriend for comforting words.
What I got instead was that same incredulous look. He repeated my words back to me: "Honey, what is wrong with your cat head?"
"I don't know!" I fairly screamed in the car. Trying to lighten my mood, I added, "But hey, at least you can drive me to the airport and I can save the $40 cab fare I would have spent tomorrow morning — or this morning — or whateverthefuck morning…"
I packed hastily and we drove to MSY. I was routed through Chicago. When I got to ORD, I found my brain was even more sluggish, as if it were a puppy kicked one too many times and now hiding under the coffee table. That's okay, I thought. I won't need my brain for the next week. That's what the lake is for. I'll recharge my batteries, reading books on a raft in the water for a week, and come home sharper, improved, positively bionic in intellect!
I checked my iPhone. I had three or four hours of layover in Chicago. I went outside, had some smokes, beeped and bopped on my iPhone for awhile, mind as addled as a late-career Ronald Reagan.
At 9:30, I went to board my plane. There was no one at the TSA queue. The airport was suspiciously empty. I didn't think much about it.
The TSA dude wouldn't let me through. "Your plane already left," he said. "I can't let you through security."
I blinked bovinely. "What are you talking about? My flight's at 10:00pm."
"It's 11 now," he replied.
Blink. Blink. Blink.
"No, it's not," I said, taking out my iPhone and turning it on. "See?" The phone read 9:15.
He showed me his watch. 11:15.
"Your watch must be wrong," I said, glancing around the empty airport, that feeling of dread returning tenfold.
"I promise you it's not."
My mind "raced" (such as it was [in]capable of "racing") trying to figure out how I had bungled my travel plans twice in one day. Did I forget to take my phone off Airplane Mode? Was it not talking to the satellites? No, the phone was on the 3G system. And anyway, New Orleans and Chicago are in the same time zone.
As it turns out, my iPhone chose that one single time to decide that I had somehow moved to the west coast, and was reporting the time two hours earlier. Despite Apple's, or AT&T's incomprehensible fuck-up, that made me feel a little better — it wasn't entirely my fault.
Except, of course, it was. I should have known I didn't have a five hour layover, but, as I've said, my brain was thick porridge and my sense of the passage of time was as weak as that of a snake's or a goldfish's.
I went to the AA desk to arrange a new flight, but they had all gone home. I rang AA again and explained to them that this is what happens when they sell tickets to retards. The woman was very kind, and booked me on the 7am flight to Rochester with no fees.
I then had two more ugly phone calls to make. First, Uncle John:
"Hey. Um. You're not going to believe this…" I explained the situation. "So, I was thinking, if you want to grab a hotel near the airport, I'll happily pay for it and see you in the morning." It's a 3 hour round trip drive from the lakehouse to ROC.
John was exhausted, his bedtime having long been passed. Incredibly, he laughed at my predicament and, by proxy, his. "That's okay. I'll go back to the lake and your Aunt Kim will come out in the morning."
"Oh, god, seriously? All right. I'm sorry I've ruined your entire day. How was golf?"
"It started pouring, so I drove around Rochester for five hours," he said, laughing so hard he could hardly get it out. "This is the most depressing city since Kodak pulled out."
"And your movie?"
"Awful!" he howled. God, I love you John, I thought.
Then I called Ben and explained what had happened.
There was a long pause. Then, with absolute awe and disgust, as if there were palmetto bugs crawling on his phone, he repeated what he'd said to me so many hours ago in New Orleans: "What is WRONG with your CAT HEAD!?"
"I DON'T KNOW!!!" I wailed, near tears, except tears are a luxury reserved for those who can actually think clearly enough to to cry. My brain was too constipated to allow such relief, and I could feel the porridge getting colder, thicker, slower and more viscous by the second.
"You travel all the time!" said Ben. "What is wrong with you!?"
He was right. Getting from A to B in airports is something I can do blindfolded. It's as second nature as driving a car. Fucking up not one, but two flights in a single day felt like waking up and not being able to speak the language you were taught as a child and had been conversing in for 40 years.
I spent the night beeping and bopping on my phone. I didn't trust myself to take a nap in a seat in the airport lobby, although I was exhausted. If I missed my morning flight, I would have to do the proper Roman thing and take my own life. There would be no other honorable option.
My iPhone was losing its battery. The only electrical outlet I could find in the terminal at ORD was inside a janitor's closet, so I spent the next ten hours sitting on cold, hard marble next to brooms, mop buckets and bottles of cleansers, booping and beeping on my infernal, lying iPhone.Occasionally I would have to go outside into the warm August Chicago night air to thaw out my numb fingers, for the A/C in the terminal was set on 'stun'. 52°f, I'm thinking.
I caught the morning flight and got into ROC without incident (the gods do smile—infrequently, but still…) Kim was angry with me on the phone the night before, but we still somehow had a nice drive from the airport, laughing about my retardation. (Sometimes you have to laugh so you won't scream.)
I told her that my self-imposed penance would be to do all the dishes for the week (usually we all split up the chores at the lakehouse), and to assign myself the time-sucking task of driving to the airport to pick up anyone else flying in.
"There's only your cousin Eric tomorrow," she said, "and you're welcome to pick him up," she added, relieved she wouldn't have to make the drive again. I told her it would assuage my conscious to perform that task.
When the time came, I finished cleaning the dishes for the nth time and got in the car to pick up Eric. "Don't forget to get a dozen eggs on the way," said Kim. We had run out. No problem.
Somewhere around Canandaigua, an hour away from the lakehouse, I realized with a shock and another dropping feeling of dread that I had left my wallet back at the lake. This could be a huge problem because the NY Thruway is a toll road and I was penniless. I briefly considered doing the honorable Roman thing again, there, on the side of the road; such was my dismay at once again not being able to perform the simplest task without fucking it all up. My mind was so sluggish and thick I began questioning if this were a dream or a waking-state problem, Seriously.
Then I focused on the problem at hand. Should I drive back to the lake, adding two more hours onto the trip, to get my wallet, or was there another solution?
Upstate New York is a rustic place that seems to have stopped evolving around 1952. As such, there are little carts on the side of the road set up by farmers selling their fresh corn. (Sidenote: I'm not much of a corn eater, but Upstate NY sweet corn in August is something I look forward to every year.)
The carts are based on the honor system. Take some corn; drop some cash in the bucket.
DING! I would stop by this unmanned cart coming up on the right, take a couple ears of corn, feign putting money in the bucket, and extract the toll cash I would need. I justified this theft by promising the absent farmer I would stop on the way back and pay double for the corn, borrowing the cash from Eric.
I began to pull over to the cart when I remembered that John had a FastPass or whatever it's called in the windshield of the car, which bills the toll charge to your account. Phew. I wasn't looking forward to stealing from an Amish farmer. I planned the rest of the trip: I'd ask to borrow money from Eric for the eggs on the way home, and Kim need never know of this additional evidence that maybe her dear nephew was suffering from a brain tumor.
And so that's what I did. And my feeble plan worked, though that in no way made me feel any better about my recent track record.
The next day, I was floating on the raft in the lake, trying to contemplate just what the hell was wrong with me, but coming to no conclusions. I cracked open my book of Tennessee Williams' short stories and flipped through the contents. With short story anthologies, I usually read them in order, but one jumped out at me, entitled, "Happy August the 10th!" How could I not start with that one as it was the 10th, and a notable one for my departed senses and sensibilities.
The story was about two awful, single, middle-aged women sharing a flat in Manhattan, and explored their relationship of loathing for each other, and their complete co-dependency upon one another. It was very good.
John swam by. "What are you reading?"
"A short story called 'Happy August the 10th!' It seemed appropriate for today," I said, smiling.
He laughed. "Yah, except today is the 11th."
A flash in my mind: throw the book into the lake, secure some rocks around my midriff, and just drown myself right then and there.
Ben, upon reading this, said, "I come off pretty mean in that story."
"No!" I argued. "You weren't mean! Is that how it read?"
"I offered to get you a hotel in Chicago and rebook you through another carrier. I didn't just say, 'What's wrong with your cat head?'"
Just wanted to add that: Ben's not mean. He's super-supportive. That's why I married him.
P.P.S. I've been meaning to write this story since August the 10th (or, I guess, the 11th, actually), but I haven't been able to. Perhaps being in Chicago this week finally allowed me to revisit this mental place?