o c a t
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|Essays · Poetry · Comedy · Art · Video||summer 2021|
published in Fall 2006, dsaia
As of yesterday, I had crossed the Pacific Ocean nine times. As of this morning, ten. That first crossing came on a sad day in late August 1996, when I had resigned myself to returning home to America from my nearly year-long exploration of Southeast Asia. It was a day I lived twice, coming as it was from east to west across the International Date Line. A month or so later, after visiting friends on the West Coast of North America, I returned to my original departure point, Washington, DC, thus completing my circumnavigation of the Earth.
Today's crossing, eight years later, was so very different, sad again - almost desperate - for leaving my good friends in L.A. and for knowingly committing to another stint in a culture far different from my own, where known and unknown cultural and physical discomforts await. The flight was completed with little difficulty, saving for the slight methane stench of the old man sitting next to me, and the fact that I had a window seat. It occurred to me when we began our descent after 14 hours of flight that it really wasn't that bad, that having crossed this ocean so many times, I know the drill well.
On the ride into Taipei from Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport, I found myself thinking about how strange it feels to not have said good-bye to my mother or father, to no longer have the ability to call them after my arrival to tell them I'm okay. I happened to look down at my watch and saw that the time was 7:20 a.m. exactly 7 months to the minute of my mother's death in Fort Collins, Colorado. We survivors were standing all around her bed at the time. I touched her arm; she was still warm.
I've been told that a major milestone in grieving for lossed loved ones is that of "first times": Like, "Wow - this is the first time I see a movie that I can't talk over with Mama," or "This is the first election I can't talk politics with Daddy." I left L.A. at 1:20 a.m. on October 6, 2004, exactly 365 days since I flew back to Taiwan after spending a month at home in Louisiana, helping care for my mother, who had been a passenger in my father's fatal auto accident, and who was also battling breast cancer.
What does it even mean to cross all that water all those times? I think on Bob Hope, how he lived so long, jet-setting so much, and how science has shown that, owing to relativity, time itself slows down measurably when one is traveling at jet speed. An accurate enough watch can even demonstrate it. I used to think, Is that how he stays so young; by short-cutting time with jet travel? How much time have I stalled? What mathematical formulas account for the firing of synapses that make decisions: have to leave, hate to leave, love you so very much?
How much physics did it take to transform my mother from a dying body into a never-dying spirit? The clouds over the wing flourish in one spot like the visible smoke in an automobile-design wind tunnel. I imagine that fluffy stream is part of my mother's spirit, letting me know she's still around. I imagine that my father truly is happier now, somehow, somewhere. The northern coast of Taiwan becomes visible, and I imagine that what my mother said to all of us on her deathbed is literally true, then and now: "I'm with you all."
David Saia edits moocat.net. His work has been published and produced in several venues, including The Daily Reveille, The Culture Report, New Delta Review, and the now-defunct San Francisco Review.Got feedback on this page? Share it with the moocat!
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