Chapter 7: Late Arrivals
I parked my father’s car in the temporary parking garage next to hers, as we both stepped out, still feeling a slight buzz from whatever was left between the two of us. She knew her way around better than I could have ever imagined; the crumbled itinerary for my Uncle’s flight, sitting comfortably in my left blue jeans pocket. It wasn’t nearly as crowded as I expected. After all, to everyone else, it was just another normal weekend to unwind and hopefully forget about where life was inevitably going. To the two of us it would eventually be seen as a wake-up call. We would open our eyes bright and early and walk out into the vastness of the world without much remorse or time spent allowing our minds to rewind second thoughts.
I felt reasonably on top of things for once, as if it was a subtle way of my life becoming more ordered, less structured and above all else, somewhat meaningful. Following Alanna through terminals and past flashing departure time signs was the easiest possible way to process all emotions into the simplest of existing forms. We stopped in front of one such screen, a man in a brown business suit and an old woman with her daughter looking for the right column standing staggered in front of us. They departed soon after, as we saw that both our expected planes would be late. Her aunt’s baggage claim was in gate J, my uncle’s in K. We sat together, patiently waiting for the slow skid of the conveyor belt, and the gathering of those with set destinations. The two of us were so far from getting anywhere.
“So do you think they’ll be able to find you?”
“It’s twenty yards away. I’ll notice them Alanna. They’ll look confused.” I slouched in the connected gray chair. Airports were full of different kinds of emotions. Some people were getting away, while others were finally arriving for temporary excursions in all the vices that life had to offer in a particular place. Chicago seemed reasonably dead to me after roughly twenty-four hours spent starring at spectacles with bloodshot vision. I was still tired, the day of sitting around the illustrious Brinker household, indulging in all the temporary escapes Ken paid far too much for, only dulling down my already shattered sense of livelihood.
On the ride over, I thought about how she had pulled me aside that day, how she had passed it off as something that wasn’t a big deal. I wanted it to be a big deal, though. I almost needed it to be. I didn’t have any choice but to fall into Alanna and let her completely take over. It was her fault, not mine. She had put up the effort.
Awhile back, I had come to the all too clear realization that any effort put into any woman would most likely only make things worse. They love the attention, the questions, and the conversations leading around in circles, always coming back to their favorite topic which is anything but off subject: them. And although Alanna seemed anything but vain at that point, after the wear and tear of the road, the city, her friends, my life, parents, sister and talk of the following day’s grand events, I didn’t really feel as if I could allow myself to say much of anything as both of us sat waiting impatiently for faces from way back when.
I should have sat over in K. There was a fat woman in a flowered dress and hat, waiting with a dog carrier. She looked more alone than I had ever felt in my entire life. There was no doubt that the people she had been waiting to see were somehow more important than anything else that was going on in her large apparent disposition. Work and TV, the occasional bill in the mail, a dirty old apartment on the seventh floor and the small Pomeranian that her landlord didn’t know about. I foresaw my future in a similar position of utter loneliness and knew that I needed to do or say something before Sunday rolled around. The long trip home with all the normal rearview mirror looks, bickering and speed limits. It didn’t feel in the least bit promising.
“So have you ever taken anyone to the airport?”
“What, are you serious?” She seemed a bit surprised by my question, as if it didn’t have a purpose. I felt as if I was asking the obvious, but it was an important question and one that I needed to know the answer to, not necessarily for the normal barrage of hypothetical bullshit chitchat either. I needed to know more this time, to dive into the deep end and allow myself the air to breathe on occasion when the bottom didn’t offer nearly as many answers as the other shallower ends.
“Yeah, but… Well I guess I should rephrase the question.”
“Alright, go ahead.”
“Have you ever taken a boyfriend to the airport?”
“Oh… We’re having this conversation now, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess. I mean, I figured I mine as well bring it up.”
“Ya know, the airport doesn’t necessarily mean anything Noah. It’s just a means to escape sort of.”
“Or to come back.”
“Yeah, well I like looking at it the other way. See I really only like airports when I’m leaving. When we get the shit job like this, having to pick people up. Well, then it all just kind of sucks.”
“Yeah, I know, but you still haven’t answered the question.”
“You wanna know if I’ve ever driven anyone to the airport?”
“Yeah, that’s what I wanna know.”
“I don’t really wanna get into this with you right now.”
“Why not? It’s not like there’s anything else to do.” It was the easiest of answers for our generation. It came tailored-made, somewhat imprinted into the deep crevices of all our subconsciouses. We never had anything to do, and therefore we never had anything better to do. No topic was ever considered off-limits so to speak, just so long as the proper situation occurred. A potential suitor could get the girl of his dreams to talk about blowjobs on New Year’s Eve, just so long as all the right elements were in order.
Sometimes they needed to be drunk, or remorseful, searching for something to say, something to express. I couldn’t just look at the painting in Ronna and Tracy’s apartment, hoping for some vague sketch of the person she was or the person she was becoming. The airport question was unnecessary to her, and I knew that even before I asked it. At the same time, she should have known better. She should have seen this as another way for me to get caught up in all those stupid little insignificant things I would always get caught up in. After twenty-four hours, I figured the two of us would have known each other better.
“Maybe you should go wait over there.”
“What, are you pissed at me for asking?”
“No, I just don’t wanna answer.”
“Why the hell not? I’ll answer.”
“Okay, fine, who have you taken to the airport?”
“Nobody. I mean, well… There was this one time, during spring break, Muriel wanted me to go to the airport with her and her family because they were going to Disney World, but I chose to get drunk with friends and pleaded ‘hangover’ the next morning.”
“Well, that always works.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“So how old is she?”
“She’s almost twenty-one now, why?”
“Well why the fuck is she still going to Disney World then?”
“I don’t know. Her whole family’s all about that organized idea of fun.”
“Well that really sucks.”
“Yeah, I know, especially when you’re this old. I mean, isn’t it like normal for people to hate their entire family from like fifteen till like forty?”
“Maybe that’s only a trait that’s present in people like us Noah.”
“Well still, I’m just saying.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Ya know, I’ve never been.”
“Where, Disney World?”
“Yeah, it’s not really the place for me and the rest of us, ya know?”
“What, the place where dreams come true?”
“Well, I’ve been there, once. I was like ten and Ken got some passes or something from work.”
“Well, how was it?”
“Good for the first day or so and then we all ate at this Mexican place and half the family got diarrhea.”
“Yeah, I know, right? It was still okay, though. I mean, it’s not like it’s one of those memories I thoroughly enjoy now, but at least I can say I was there.”
“I feel as if that’s the mentality with everybody anymore. We all aspire to go places just to say we’ve been there.”
“Yeah, well I hate the fact that you’re so fucking right all the time Noah.”
“I figured.” I gave her a smirk as we both turned and faced forward. She had the best way of putting everything, as if there was a plethora of stored sayings and looks that she had been saving for me since our initial meet and greet. I let the original question slide to the back of my mind and allowed the seconds to tick from one to the next. People wheeled black suitcases past us their way out. I felt like I was on the outskirts of an ant farm, still enclosed but choosing to refrain from digging. There were more important things.
“So can you imagine how good things would be if you simply planned ahead.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, Disney World would be amazing on some sort of psychedelic.”
“I think it might be a little too overwhelming. I mean, you’ve never been there.”
“Yeah, but I think I could handle Dumbo on mushrooms.”
“What about the teacups?”
“I might hold off on those.”
“That’s the probably a good idea.” She crossed her legs and looked at the time on her cellphone. I temporarily forgot that we were waiting. It didn’t feel like the regular-associated drag. While I had spent the majority of my life waiting for the wrong woman to make up their minds or simply get plastered enough to see a different side of my overly drugged-out self, the airport with Alanna was somehow different from anything I had ever been used to, and I knew that I was thinking about her in a such a way from the second she happened to peruse into my somewhat messy life, but at the same time it was more than all of that, more than the looks and what the night and following day had in store.
It was something I wouldn’t be ready to let go of, not on Sunday morning and not after all the phone calls and forgotten words of steady parental advice. It was a tricky place, to even listen to anything all of them were saying. To abide by their warnings and to act like our hearts where just there to pump blood like a chain on a motor or chess pieces confined to one solemn subtle move from black to white. I lost the affinity to even allow myself the energy to listen to such words long before I met Alanna, and yet she was a constant and all too pertinent reminder that forgetting about certain things said or sometimes screamed out of suburban household windows was the only real way to live life.
It wasn’t as if we had become entirely too reckless yet either. We were abiding by what they said, and still somewhat slipping in under all their radar. Me and the all the loose feelings of temporary belonging intertwined with eventual betrayal and the acceptance of my own place imbedded in all of it. She spoke louder than dead prophets and TV psychiatrists.
“Ya know, it’s not like what you see on TV.”
“I’m well aware Alanna.”
“No, but what I’m saying is that there’s a line for everything, and all the really popular rides… hell even the shitty ones have lines, and everyone’s really loud, and there’s just fucking idiots everywhere wandering around in costumes, posing for pictures, but there’s lines for the popular ones to, and well… In retrospect it’s big fucking a waste of time.”
“Yeah, but most things are.”
“You don’t honestly wanna go, do you?”
“No, I’m just thinking about how to make some place that’s considered the happiest place on earth, happier.”
“And you thinking tripping on shrooms would do it?”
“Possibly. I’m not placing any bets on the subject.”
“Yeah, I guess I’m not either.”
“Ya know what’s weird, though?”
“How Disney as a company still participates in the long dead tradition of slavery.”
“What are you talking about?”
“They fucking buy people.”
“Yeah, I do. I mean, they’ve been doing it since the fifties with the original Mickey Mouse Club. Walt built a fucking franchise with all those original kids. They sold him their souls for a piece of the pie.”
“So you’re making the parallel between Walt Disney and the devil, as if that hasn’t been done before?”
“Well kind of. I mean, if you watch the station now, you’ll see all these young kids in a barrage of bullshit family entertainment, singing, dancing, doing all the things they’re supposed to be doing. Now, why do you suppose that is?”
“Because they’re getting paid copious amounts of money to suck.”
“Well yeah, that’s part of it, but think about how difficult it is to finally break free of those chains of tyranny.”
“I’m not sure where you’re going with all of this.”
“To get out of the whole Disney cookie-cutter image, you either have to turn into a slut, or some sort of a sex object. I mean, look at Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake, any and all of them started out on that channel, before eventually realizing that bad was the way to go, except it’s not necessarily bad if you look at it from my perspective.”
“Well yeah, I know, but it’s not exactly family values.”
“So what? Who gives a shit? I mean, can you honestly legitimately say that there are families out there in the world today that are fully fleshed examples of what Walt Disney was appealing to? I mean, this is the same guy who released ‘Song of the South’ to mass audiences.”
“And now we’re coming back to the whole slavery issue again.”
“It’s not a far fetched theory Alanna.”
“No, I know. It’s just… What about ‘Fantasia’? I mean, that’s some trippy shit.”
“Well, Walt couldn’t do all wrong.”
“We need to stop talking about this. My head’s starting to hurt.”
“Well, I’m sorry. This is the bullshit I talk about when we don’t discuss the other stuff.”
“What other stuff is there to discuss Noah?”
“I don’t know… Nevermind.” I had done it again, brought up the subtle hint that was supposed to push her over the edge. I couldn’t flat out say that I was completely falling in love with her, or that I wanted to know every little detail about who she was and where she thought everything was going. Instead I just callously retreated back into the safe spectrum of my own thoughts, porn stars and cartoon characters being the center of focus.
“You want me to answer the question, don’t you?”
“The airport question.”
“Oh, well… Sort of still, but you don’t have to.”
“Once. I’ve never taken anybody, but I had Everett drop me off once two years ago when I had to go to a seminar for school.”
“Oh…Well, I guess I really didn’t need to know that.”
“Yeah, I know you didn’t.”
“Shit… What are you gonna do about all of that tonight?”
“Play it by ear asshole.” She nudged me with her shoulder as our conversation dried up. I lost my motivation to continue annoying her, knowing that there would be time for such a rigid activity later that night, the two of us once again turning in our sobriety cards for misguided steps down tacky wallpapered hallways. I would come into my own finally that evening, seeing time as a factor that was only merely there as a warning. We would forget to wear our glass slippers and above all else, remind all those who knew us to ignore their own internal monologues. We were already past the point of subtle head nods and false senses of understanding.
Her aunt was the first to arrive. Fiona Brinker and her daughter Harriet were identical twins, one always picking up the right amount slack for the other. They were blonde, Ken’s pseudo-hippie sister and her fifteen-year-old daughter who didn’t take the time to allow herself the comfort of hating what her mother represented. The two of them needed one another far too much for that. There wasn’t much deviance associated with Harriet’s youth. She enjoyed the lackluster freedom that Fiona would preach to her late nights in their small New York apartment. She worked in a head shop on the corner of 112th street, selling accessories for those that needed to express themselves more than any over-priced store in Times Square could offer. It was called Misanthropes, an oxymoron of an invitation for customers, Fiona was best friends with the owner Brett. They were a story for another life.
Harriet’s friends loved Fiona, as did Alanna who was starting to become more of an explanation the second her slight discoloration in the same gene pool arrived, carrying a large black and white purse filled with small bottles of liquor stolen from the service cart as it passed by on the plane. Fiona was a breath of life to every room she walked into. Although she was the younger one, missing out on certain aspects of history in the seventies and inevitably indulging in all the improper social extremities of the eighties, there was still an underlying sense that this woman understood what the meaning to her particular brand of life was. She didn’t have any substantial doubts or regrets for that matter. Harriet’s father was a rolling stone, not one of the real ones, but a reasonably acceptable imitation. This provided the mother with all the right stories to tell one particular cold late night in a city that was always having difficulty falling asleep.
Their reunion was loud and jumbled, Fiona bringing her niece into her side with no clear means to escape. I stood a few feet away, watching contently, Alanna’s eyes drifting towards my general direction, the largest of smiles on her face. She was happy to do the shit work at that point, the drive and wait mere subscripts to this A-typical airport scene. She didn’t want me to see her this way, I could tell that. The second the overly skeptical standoffish bad ass lost-in-the-thick-of-it-all Alanna Brinker broke down and actually revealed some loose expression associated with being human, all bets were off. The kiss wasn’t nearly as meaningful as that look. She was letting me in, and I was simply patiently waiting for the pieces to fall all over again.
I couldn’t avoid Fiona’s boisterousness long, her eventually pulling me in as well, after a brief introduction and explanation as to why I too was eternally lost in the confines of the Chicago airport. We waited for luggage, all of my looks and words becoming obvious tells to how I really felt about my current situation, following Alanna around like a lost pet, hoping for table scraps and a frantic piece of mind. My uncle’s flight was later than expected, as we moved from J to K, sitting in similar spots, and glancing down at our watches. It was close to seven, the rehearsal dinner most likely starting without us. I could see all of them sitting comfortably at the head table, the bridesmaids and family all opening bottles and scraping their forks across fine china. They didn’t necessarily miss any of us at that point. We were the ones with excuses and above everything else, a reason to be late.
Alanna and Harriet decided to wander off towards the bathroom at the same time, as I checked the time once again before noticing Fiona’s lingering smirk pointed in my general direction. I loathed this particular moment from the second its inclination occurred. She was on to me. Unlike my parents who were too busy letting their heads mindlessly float around in the stratosphere and the Brinkers whose self-indulgence was the only logical explanation for their ignorant blindness, Fiona was a perceptive gossip, the girl in high school who listened in and then spread words like diminishing wildfires.
“So, I think I know why you’re here?”
“What?” I was reasonably zoned at that point, all joints and stomached butterflies having drifted away with time and depleting motivation.
“I know why you’re the one who decided to come to the airport.”
“My parents forced me to.”
“Yeah, but there’s more to it than that.”
“Yeah, there is. You’re falling for Alanna, aren’t you?”
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s obvious. I mean, I notice these things. The two of you have known each other for about a day now. You’re stuck in the same position, and well… She’s beautiful, right?”
“Ya know, considering that we’re not in the least bit related, I see no point in participating in this wink-wink-nudge-nudge conversation with you Fiona.”
“Fine. Play it cool cowboy. I suppose I can just wait until the two of them come back to bring it up.”
“Go ahead. It’s not really gonna do much of anything.”
“My life is a very intricate maze, and at this point, where I’m going, what turn I’m making… Well it’s all sort of up in the air.”
“Are you a writer?”
“Fucking hell… This is bad. I mean, I sort of have this sixth sense about things and man, you’re in trouble.”
“Oh yeah, definitely. She’s bad news Noah.”
“You’re her aunt, aren’t you supposed to be somewhat supportive?”
“This is me being supportive. I think she’s falling for you too.”
“What the fuck man…? You’ve seen the two of for about five minutes and all of a sudden you’re the queen of mass assumptions.”
“Well, you wouldn’t be so standoffish if I wasn’t so right.”
“Okay, considering that you don’t know me all that well despite the fact that you’re pretending like you do, I’m just gonna say this one quick factoid and then we’re gonna leave it at that, okay?”
“Alright, go ahead.”
“I’m playing this one by ear. There’s tonight and tomorrow. I don’t know what’s gonna happen and for once in my life I’m sort of happy about that, so don’t bring it up, okay?”
“Yeah, okay. Of course, you are falling for her, aren’t you?”
“Could you see somebody like me not falling for her Fiona?” She smiled at my comment, nodded her head and faced forward. It was reasonably gratifying to have somebody understand everything from the instant they saw me starring. I felt as if my life at that point was a lyric in a Beatles’ song, all motions leading towards something larger than life. There would be crescendos and later a slow fade. I wanted to compare Alanna and myself to everything the both of us ever knew. I could write tedious lists of pros and cons, consult books or scripture and loosely disassociate myself with all those pretty pieces that we would say made us more whole.
There were the words sitting on shelves, the alphabetized dust sleeves, the torn posters and our one late-night drunken kiss in the foyer. All of it was simply pleasant to think about, and yet there was more on the horizon. Sparks of purposeful mistakes and bedroom conversations stretched out over weeks. At that point, though, we were a “to be continued”. They returned from the bathroom with glances and smirks they couldn’t hide. For once in my life, I felt as if I was the only topic of conversation. Possibly the vanity of the Brinker household was contagious. Gail had already caught the flu, and it wasn’t vanishing anytime soon. There weren’t antibiotics for this particular virus.
We discussed wedding plans and dead rock stars as we waited for my uncle’s flight. It wasn’t too much longer, Neal and Sue walking through the wide corridor with Kieran and Jeanie two steps behind them. They were a family like mine, only better at the whole “faking-it” principle. They always seemed like they got along, my Uncle the carpenter taking the time out of his day to fix all the parts that had come undone. He didn’t frequent the couch like Fred. In fact, if he wasn’t outdoors, Neal was doing something wrong. He bred Kieran to be the same way, a notion that stuck with him until his son inevitably grew up and out of principles and fell into the familiar distant crowd at the other end of the hallway. At sixteen, Kieran was lost like no other, waiting for a driver’s license and a lock on his bedroom door. I could view all the holes he was burning into the back of his father’s head as they walked towards the diminishing fluctuation of gate K.
Sue and Jeannie were like my mother and sister, only once again better at it. While Gail would complain at Joy’s lack of perfection, Sue and Jeannie were much better at allowing themselves the time and patience to simply fix one another. Jeannie was twenty, past the point of college recklessness, her previous semester having been filled with multiple boyfriends, uppers, downers, and untimely mistakes. She was officially off the wagon, though, living back at home, subscribing to decorative magazines and remembering what boys from high school were like. In this sense, the weekend offered with it only a minor reason to forget about how life was back with the civilized. For me, it was my last hurrah, although no one knew or understood then. I suppose, I didn’t really either. There were a lot of moments in-between.
I hugged each family member, before introducing them to the others. Kieran attempted not to stare at Harriet, who obviously had a strange appeal to him. The city girl, the country boy. We could all write books about how these pieces were imperfectly succinct. Then the wait for the luggage. At this point, conversations were sparking up from multiple corners. Kieran and Harriet bullshitting about the slow descent of the MTV generation, Jeannie latching on to Fiona’s obvious appeal, Sue commenting on how gorgeous Alanna’s hair was, and my Uncle standing by the conveyor belt, waiting for circulation. I stepped over next to him, as if pairing off was the only normal thing we could do at that point.
“So how was the flight?”
“Longer than expected.”
“Yeah… I’m pretty tired actually. I had a scotch on the rocks and it just sort of sunk in. We didn’t get a meal.”
“I didn’t think you would.”
“So how’s everything been going around here?”
“Pretty good. I mean, I’ve just been hanging out with Alanna mostly.”
“Well that’s cool. I guess you two are about the same age, huh?”
“Yeah, we are.”
“So how’s the rest of her family?”
“Uh… They’re all right.”
“Well that’s good.” The bags started to fall before the awkward silence could resonate. Everyone waited for their familiar tags, and soon we were off, walking past the automatic doors and back towards the garage. Jeannie got in the back of Alanna’s car with Harriet, as I took the rest of my family in Fred’s midlife crisis. It seemed like a rush all of a sudden as Alanna ripped down the highway, changing lanes and eventually taking the exit for the hotel. I maintained some shred of a conversation with Neal, Sue and Kieran, trying best to remind myself how gratifying it was to be doing absolutely nothing with Alanna all afternoon. I instantly missed the boredom as if it was something I had grown accustomed to in such a short amount of time.
It became even stranger the more I thought about everything. Muriel and I were always somewhat bored together, desperately searching for some kind of midnight excursion even if it didn’t happen to turn into much of anything. I was happy in that sense too, as I didn’t necessarily ever want there to be something bigger than the both of us happening. Our entire existence as youthful self-indulgent proprietors was a mere product of what our entire generation was becoming. We were the last of the somewhat creative intellectuals, although we lacked the motivation to turn any of our thoughts, feelings and emotions into something of substantial value. She would talk about bigger things, flipping through the channels and pretending like all the everythings that were scrolling across the bottom of the screen as headlines had some kind of bearing on her life, or mine for that matter.
Nothing did, though. We were more complete when we concerned ourselves with movie show times and different brands of cheap beer. We would occasionally become reminiscent, commenting on the shattered elements of our pasts. Although, none of it was fueled by memories of moments necessarily. She would occasionally discuss family events that left her feeling more whole, drunken words of advice from alcoholic uncles or misguided older cousins only prolonging the already apparent feelings of shear numbness that she projected on all those who took the time to try and understand her. Muriel wasn’t in the least bit normal, and yet it was through our parades down snow-covered sidewalks and misadventures with hormonal imbalances that we somehow became more aware of how everything managed to loosely survive in the frantic spectacle of college living.
I missed late night movies edited for television and music videos lined with reiterations from men and women who never considered themselves gods. They simply wanted people to see it all differently. She was a firm believer in the underground coldness from the past and present, subscribing to fliers and hand stamps, and always batting her eyes at what I considered living. I guess it wasn’t really living so much as just breathing out of routine. In any case, I understood where she was coming from at that particular frazzled moment of time, and later realized that I couldn’t continually be there for her firm realizations and dilapidated collages masking themselves as creative nuances. I was getting far too old for it at that point.
Alanna was a new kind of greeting from outer space. She took everything at face value. All parts of her life were in some way directly responsible for the person she was. It wasn’t as if she would become mindlessly ashamed of certain past actions, liking a certain band or kissing the wrong kind of boy. Instead, she would dive deep into her mistakes and allow them to loosely shape her along with all the brand new borders. In this way, I didn’t understand why I had predominately spent four years of college chasing after all the wrong people. I could come up with excuses for a lot of the things.
Blame it all on misguided judgement or misinterpreted lecture notes from professors who I only loosely respected before discovering the truth. They cheated on their wives, spouting off idealistic verses from literary closet cases to achieve tenure and blowjobs in their office. I was taking a sabbatical from persons, places and concepts I should have simply ignored, and it was a strange feeling, knowing that grades meant nothing anymore.