Riding Off Into the Sunrise

Scottish Sunrise

Flying, for me, is just a couple of electrodes and a wet sponge away from capital punishment. At 315 pounds, I’m not a good passenger. You wouldn’t be either, if you had to wedge your fat ass into a seat made for one of those heroin-chic Calvin Klein models from the ’90s. And can someone please tell me what the hell is the problem with giving a guy a break and adding a few extra inches of seat belt? I can’t imagine the world’s economy would collapse over four inches of woven polyamide in dystopian gray.

My biggest issue at 37,000 feet, though, is sleeping. Right after dinner service, The One burrows under a blanket, closes his eyes, and goes slack in his seat, his tongue every so often smacking the roof of his mouth as if he were trying to ferret out the notes of a fine Rioja. I, on the other hand, sit ramrod straight, willing myself to stay awake, because whenever I drift off during flight I stop breathing for so long that I awake bug-eyed and panicked, finally letting loose a sleep apnea-induced snorgg (combination snore and gag) so loud and tortured, it has, on occasion, been known to propel flight attendants out of their cubbyholes.

But the one—literal—bright spot on the flight is when I get to gaze at the sunrise. Suspended seven miles above the earth, I lose my bearings. Without reference points to gauge speed and distance, I imagine myself floating, bobbing over a sleeping world, like in those flying dreams I had as a child. I’m unmoored from myself. The stress of juggling too much at work, trying to be a good husband, worrying about my health drains. I can almost hear the ticker-y static of my daily life fade as I watch the sky lighten. At the same time, the approaching anxieties of being in a foreign country—where I’m guaranteed to miss all the subtle social cues that make one a good and polite traveler—are still asleep, and I know from experience that I have several hours before they begin tag-team wrestling in my gut.

Caught between above and below, past and future, my internal compass shrugs and lets go. I lean my forehead against the smudged plastic window and watch as the sky first begins to brighten, then turns an almost imperceptibly pale blue, a blue so faint that the only way to register the color is to close my eyes for several seconds and then pop them open. I make a mental note to tell The One that this is the color the master bathroom should be.

As gentle blue surrenders to more aggressive oranges and reds, shivery waves of wonder wash through me. I watch the sun insist its way over the horizon, and I ponder creation, evolution, the Big Bang. I question, sometimes out loud, who or what made this. My faith, which these days staggers like a man too much in love with his Scotch, steadies itself. I feel hope—something I used to feel in abundance in my 20s but that, over the years, has been edged out by the sprawl of cynicism. Hovering over the Atlantic, I murmur what some people would call a prayer, but is really a ragbag of fragmented Catholic verses burned into the folds of my brain, New Age platitudes leftover from my Shirley MacLaine days, and strange-sounding, hum-like words I once heard at a Buddhist gathering:

I hope The One and I will stay together. With our old issues of control and distance—which we thought after 20 years were finally over—circling back for yet another round, we find ourselves again filled with doubt and fighting with our gloves off.

I hope Mama and Papa Leite will live forever. No amount of therapy will ever get me through their passings intact.

I hope the freaking returning flight has bigger seats or else I’m complaining to United.

I hope we have a good vacation in Scotland.

I hope.

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