failing and falling

everyone forgets that Icarus also flew

We land to rain, the sky a monochromatic gray. I appreciate the somber welcome after several days of giddy, unmoored play. Like sleepwalkers, we drag our bags silently from the gate to the baggage claim. From baggage claim to the parking lot. Up and down the rows of parked cars. The gray baggage carousels. The gray parking lot. The gray concrete.

Just past the exit from the airport parking lot, there is a toll that I did not anticipate. I have spent every last bit of my cash and as I approach the booth, I see the sign “Cash Only.” I roll down my window and plead my case. The young girl behind the plexiglass barely acknowledges me, simply leaves her chair to walk around to the back of my car, take down my license plate. She returns to the booth, her head down, writing on her pad. She tears the top sheet from it, hands it to me, all without speaking a word. I accept it, thank her, pull away. I look down and see the words “NO CASH VIOLATION” across the top of it. I tuck the sheet into my bag and drive on.

The traffic is unexpectedly heavy for this hour of the morning. The rain comes in short bursts. A fine mist punctuated by several minutes of downpour at a time. In the passenger seat, my daughter sleeps lightly, her jacket draped over her and pulled up under her chin.

When we arrive home, I am tired, but cannot sleep. I make tea, open our bags, but do not unpack them. I pace, sit down on the couch, drink the tea. There are messages to return and so for a few minutes, I do that.

I am someone who thinks that travel should change you. And it does, perhaps. But I am here, and I am the same. I have carried the memory of the things we have seen, the places we have gone, but here I am, back in my house, where the tulips have faded and fallen. Where the laundry is still in its piles. Where the steady rain falls on the unkempt yard, a visible and persistent reminder of my willingness to start things that I know that I cannot finish.

My daughter, the wiser, sleeps. I sit here and nurse my anxieties about the days ahead.

Overnight, while I am in the air, M. sends me a poem from the hotel room where he and our son still wait for the later flight they are taking. It begins: Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew. He says, it reminds me of you, has a line in it almost exactly like that line you love.

I am rifling through the stack of papers on my desk and I come upon the questionnaire for the Korean television show – the one where I would appear and tell my story, to see if my parents are also looking for me. I scan the questions again and they engender the same irritation they did the first time I read them – now, weeks ago. Question #13: “When do you miss your mother or family the most?”

I do not mean to take this lightly. I do not mean to pretend that the job they must do there, at the agency, is an easy one. I imagine the earnest meetings around conference tables where they discuss the questions they will ask, the information that they feel they should know, but I wonder how, exactly, I am expected to answer a question such as this? When everything I know and everything I do – consciously and unconsciously – is shaped by her absence. That the confusion of not knowing, not understanding why has created and defined longing in me. That I have lived my whole life with my heart in two places: The place I am and the place I can never be.

Failing and Falling
–Jack Gilbert

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

I put the questionnaire back in its folder, slide it to the corner of my desk. I will get to it, in time. Back in the kitchen, while I wait for the kettle (more tea), I see that some of the flowers in the jam jar bouquet are still alive, even with barely an inch of water left. I turn on the faucet and hold the jar beneath it until it fills, set it back on the windowsill. Perhaps they’ll last a few more days.