On Thursday morning I left for the airport an hour earlier than I needed to: Given the hubbub at home, the idea of sitting by myself in a Starbucks while I waited for my flight seemed very appealing.
The trip was to Jacksonville for work. It was the first time I’d been away overnight since Wally was born and the first time I’d “flown for work” since…well I’m not sure it has ever happened before. Caroline and I had been planning for the trip for a couple months and we’d arranged for Caroline’s mom Jan to come up from Washington to Philadelphia to help with the boys for the 24 hours I’d be gone. Jan arrived at our apartment nearly as I was leaving. I kissed everyone goodbye and bounded out the front door, confident that things were in hand at home, and eager for my two-hour flight to Florida during which I planned to do nothing more than stare out the window.
Beyond a meeting Friday morning there were no claims on my time in Jacksonville. I had dinner Thursday night with my colleague, and we tracked down a locally famous ice cream joint called the Dreamette that deals only in soft-serve and specializes in dips. Then we returned to the hotel. For a few seconds after I closed the door to my room I felt giddy: Here I was, alone, completely unencumbered with the night sprawling out before me.
I took a long shower and then lay in bed staring at the ceiling. As I lay there I wondered to myself, “When am I going to stop staring at the ceiling?” It might seem like a silly question to ponder except it’s exactly the kind of question I never have the chance to ask myself at home, where every minute of the day proceeds out of necessity and I have little choice about when one activity ends and the next begins. When finally I did get up from the bed to brush my teeth, I couldn’t have said why I stood up in that moment rather than a minute earlier or a minute later. I just did it, and then there I was, standing in front of the sink in my boxer shorts, working the nylon bristles of my toothbrush across my molars.
The rest of the trip had a similar sense of weightlessness about it. I piled my plate at the breakfast buffet the next morning, did a serviceable job presenting at the meeting after that, had lunch out, went to the airport, waited for my plane. My flight home got in ahead of schedule, and I called Caroline as I waited at the baggage carousel to make sure she didn’t put Jay to bed before I got home. As she and I talked, I could hear him in the background clamoring for the phone:
“Hiiii Daddy,” he said.
“Hi James, what are you doing”” I asked.
“Daddy take an airplane trip,” Jay said.
“That’s right,” I said. “I’ll see you real soon.”
As my cab approached our apartment my body begin to tingle in anticipation of seeing Jay and Wally. I searched impatiently through the front pocket of my backpack for my keys and took the steps up to our apartment two at a time. I realized later the feeling I had is the same one you get when you reunite with a person you’ve just fallen in love with: a sense of needing nothing more in the world than to hold them in your arms again.
But there was no grand reunion awaiting me when I opened our door. I heard Wally crying before I saw him; Caroline was carrying him on her chest while she bathed Jay, who was naked in the tub and busy pouring water from one cup into another. He smiled when he saw me and held it for a few seconds longer than he usually does, which I took as a sign that he’d missed me. Then he went back to splashing.
Half an hour later Jay was dry and in his pajamas and we were all sitting in his bedroom. Jay played with his cars while Caroline bounced Wally on her lap and the two of us talked about the trip. Every time Jay came near me I scooped him up, hugged him and kissed him on the head. My hotel room in Jacksonville seemed very far away all of a sudden, like a place I’d never really been.