The Misery Of Flight (2)
I can feel sleep dragging at my eyelids, tin cans behind a car, rattling at every pot-hole and nervous swing of the steering wheel. The driver asks us where we’re from and smiles when we say “America”, as if he’s on to some big secret you couldn’t guess what he’s thinking. He repeats it once with great affect, like a story he’s been told a thousand times. “Aaah, America!”. There’s something in his voice I’ve never heard elsewhere, the words are filtered through a sieve and his consonants breach the air with the violence of a rocket engine blast.
Out the window, small, low-rise apartment buildings come and go, like so many pastel drawings; pale yellow, pink and off-white - grandma’s lace napkins with windows instead of holes.
We get out at Charlottenlund, and the next thing I know I’m staring at the ceiling in a strange room with the smell of bleach and pine furniture. It’s early morning and I’m afraid to bother anyone so I sit and sketch hermit crabs in my special drawing book. Hermit crabs are crustaceans, they live in the ocean and on the land too. They’re omnivores, which means they’ll eat anything except cheerios says Mom. The greatest thing about hermit crabs is that they can change shells, like you’d change sneakers to go and play at the park.
When we left Bethesda, we gave everything away in a giant yard sale, except for our clothes, books, toys and kitchen utensils. Dad says we are living a nomadic lifestyle, free from the constraints of rampant consumerism. It’s a fresh start, even though we’re all the same as before. They wake up one by one and my stomach is rumbling like a paper-mâché volcano. We eat muesli in small porcelain bowls, and I pick out the raisins for anyone who likes them. Ants in a row, one dozen, two dozen, three dozen leaving tiny white ink blots on the kitchen table as Peter abducts them from their milky parade. Soon thereafter we dress up in expedition garb, with large, floating ponchos that billow and fall like sails, and belt bags holding Chapstick and tissues. We’re going to see the city sights.
It’s raining outside, but the rain is a different kind than I’ve ever seen, a slow drizzle that's barely annoying. We stand by the ocean, at the foot of that endless sheet of steel, and I get a Danish flag from a gift shop. The kiosk is overflowing with post cards, snow globes and Viking figurines. I’m afraid to move an inch because If You Break It, You Pay For It; but once outside I roll the flag’s coarse fabric around its wooden mast, and chase the pigeons into furious clouds that settle just out of reach, until I race again, and the shapeless swarm rises and falls in crashing waves, with the thunderous wings barely escaping from the wrath of my newfound scepter.
Then, my arm is wrenched from the path of its holy fervor, it’s Mom, saying you need to be respectful of the country we’re in and it’s not a way to behave in public so just stop it or you’ll see. I mope and that is the end of my crusade. The flag hangs forlorn from its stick, while the rain hits the cobblestones and no one knows how to read the street signs.
Weeks later, we move again, but it’s only down the block this time. We gather our things and it’s the shortest trip anyone’s ever seen, barely an hour. The new rental has thick gray carpet and a bunk-bed, and tall windows that look out onto a park where I can see a man picking up poo in a plastic bag, while his dog pulls on the leash like a kite in a hurricane.
On the same day, all the boxes arrive, and it might as well be Christmas, in a flurry of unpacking; the sound of scissors ripping through tape, Styrofoam chips erupting and falling to the floor. Our lives are rediscovered through the prism of our possessions. Mom sheds a tear because the baptism candles melted and left a puddle of faith sitting at the bottom of the box, with odd letters floating around and the thick, white wax sticking to everything indiscriminately. There are sighs and eventually the day comes to an end.
When I am sure everyone is asleep, I creep out of bed, find the biggest cardboard box I can find, and fill it with all my blankets and stuffed animals. Then, I turn it onto its side, and crawl in. I can feel the heat of my own breath and the creaking walls of my happenstance home. There, I dream of hermit crabs, and then nothing at all.