June 21, 2009
I had been right, that night at Tutu’s house. June 21 had me terrified.
I would have felt ridiculous, too, if there had been any room in my mind for humor. Standing among the sleek and hurried New Yorkers crowding Baxter Street, I’d been haunting the Grand Street corner since daybreak in my anachronistic get-up. I felt almost afraid to blink or breathe, thinking my next inhalation or opening of eyes might have me in a manure cart. Not that the inevitable (assuming it was inevitable) would be averted if I held my breath or closed my eyes. I fiddled with the gold rings on my fingers, the scribing tool in my pocket (its carbide tip guaranteed to withstand years of use, and its plastic handle replaced with wood), the all-important hairbrush in an interior compartment of my cloak.
The weather was sweltering, but I didn’t dare take off my wool-and-rubber cloak for fear that it might not Travel with me if I weren’t wearing it. Tutu and I were immensely proud of our engineering there; its rubberized interior could be inflated into a float to use when I landed in the Atlantic. Assuming it didn’t get any holes poked in it during the intervening years.
I’m sure I would have been pacing the corner if my boots had been more comfortable. As it was, even the thickest available pair of Smartwool socks didn’t provide as much cushion as I could wish. (With all my preparation and lists, how had I missed “breaking in boots”?) Sweat soaked my reinforced Spandex sports bra and the elastic of my improvised corset, and I wondered again how long they would last me, and if I would have to explain them somehow. Not that many people would be seeing my undergarments, but my husband might be inconveniently familiar with the more usual fabrics and question the construction of mine…
That question was so much smaller than the big one in front of me this day—which is probably why I was dwelling on it, to avoid the mental mammoth in the room.
I had considered having my hair cut before I left, but given up the idea as too risky while I had a nineteenth-century man to attract in short order. This Obadiah was going to find out anyway that I wouldn’t fit the norms of his time, but maybe better if he’d already married me before he began to realize it. There was the matter, too, of my long hair in the museum photo, which obviously suggested I’d go back with tresses untrimmed. Honestly, I think that was part of the reason I was curious to cut it before—to see if I could change things. Ultimately, I hadn’t been brave enough to try it.
Though I was reasonably sure I wouldn’t land naked in 1841, I felt naked without my phone. (And I felt the irony when a couple different people held up their phones to take my picture.) Tutu Ma had a second key to my trailer, and I had authorized her to release it from the storage where I’d stowed it the previous day. I wondered what she planned to do if she didn’t get a call from me that night. Would she get on a plane and collect my things? Would she just pay the storage until I came back? Would she somehow want to be “on the ground” here to confirm I had gone? Or would my lack of contact, on a day so imbued with suspense, be sufficient confirmation?
I wished (yet again) that I had my phone with me, that I could call her now just to calm myself. I’d left it locked in my trailer with everything else of this century, knowing that I might be able to explain away a sports bra, but not an iPhone. And knowing that it would do me no good where I was going. I hadn’t counted on wanting it so badly now, before the leap. Well, it was just practice for what was coming. I wouldn’t be talking to Tutu for eight years at least, if this happened.
If this happened. Is there anything tougher than waiting for something you both anticipate and dread, and not knowing when or how it would happen? I suddenly wondered if pregnancy felt like this, waiting for the inevitability of delivery, and dreading it, and not knowing how it would go down. Knowing that I’d have that answer relatively soon did nothing to calm me.
By midafternoon my stomach growled at me audibly—but I didn’t have any money with me, or none that I could spend now. In addition to the gold I wore, I’d managed to find some period coins from collectors and had a small jingle of change in my skirt pocket. But even if a street vendor could recognize a Liberty Seated Dollar for U.S. currency, I’d paid a couple hundred bucks for each of them, and wasn’t about to spend them now on a hot dog. Those were to carry me over till I could sell my jewelry. This morning I’d given the cabbie my credit card before we left, locking that with everything else in my trailer before departing. Who knows what he thought of me, dressed as I was and traveling to Manhattan’s Five Points in the dark hours of morning. Well, there’s another hole in my planning. I could have carried some dollar bills with me and bought myself some lunch. If I accidentally Traveled with them, I could just burn them at the other end, nothing to explain.
By dusk it was tension as much as hunger affecting my gut. Was I wrong about this whole thing? Was I just wrong about the date or place? Was I going to get yanked without warning out of some other day? Was I just plain crazy?
I waited till full dark and then some, finally hailing a cab and collapsing into its back seat with a sigh of exhaustion. This day had lasted about a week, I was sure. I gave the address for the RV storage in Jersey, promised a sizable tip, and watched the movements of the homogeneously dressed crowd outside the sedan windows as we pulled away.
“Hey, could I borrow your phone?” I thought to ask after a few minutes. I might explode if I didn’t talk to Tutu. Apparently deciding I wasn’t going anywhere with it, the cabbie passed his Motorola over his shoulder, taking the opportunity to take in my unusual (and now somewhat disheveled) appearance one more time before turning back to his wheel.
“Tutu, it’s me,” I whispered into the phone, surprised to hear the choked sound of my voice. “Hey, I borrowed the driver’s phone, so I’ll call you later from mine… But I just had to let you know. I’m still here.”
She sounded maybe a touch less collected than her usual self, and I reflected that the day had probably taken its toll on her as well. “All right, child. How—how was the day?”
“LONG!” I managed a laugh, but it came out breathless. “And now… Well now who knows?”
“You can’t really talk now, can you?” Her question pulled me up, because I was close to disregarding caution and spilling, despite the cabbie’s interested ear.
“No, you’re right. I’m just messy. I’ll need help regrouping after this.”
“Hano ‘ae, child. I agree. Call me when you get to your phone, and I’m going to look at plane tickets for tomorrow.”
“Thank you!” I’d thought about asking her to come and spend this day with me, but felt foolish about it. But now I had a new list started. “Preparations for July 21”—the pre-Travel portion of it.
June 21, 2010
Here I was again on the corner of Baxter and Grand. This year Tutu drove me in the Land Cruiser, so I had company and moral support. I had broken in my boots. Tutu had cash in her purse for lunch and water while we waited.
And ate another round of hot dogs.
And finally drove back to the campground where the trailer waited—we’d thought for her… But, after all, for us.
June 21, 2011
Third time’s the charm? Or third time proves you’re nuts. Fairy tales always deliver in threes (three brothers, three wishes, three tasks, three days) but that’s just storytelling technique. Life is way less organized than that.
I fiddled with the idea of not going, this time. If I were going to get whisked to the past, let it just happen without my efforts. But then I got scared—after I’d gone to such lengths to “go prepared,” it would be a rotten waste to end up in 1841 in gym shorts or something. And if I were going to get dressed and pockets packed, I might as well be positioned where I’d thought all along I should be. Maybe it wasn’t necessary, maybe it wasn’t even useful, but maybe I hadn’t been wrong. And maybe I’d do this ten more times and be taken by surprise when it actually happened after that many years.
Besides, I kept coming back to that photo. It’s hard to tell the changes in your own face over the course of just a couple years, but I know it changes. And I just couldn’t be that much older in that picture. That, and the biological-clock-thing. Sure, I should have a number of child-bearing years left to me—but those are still limited. So truly, the more time elapsed from my first glimpse of that photo, the more likely it was that I was nearing my departure. With all that in my mind, I went.
I didn’t have Tutu come out this time. I felt a little more “practiced,” for lack of a better word. Maybe more settled. Last year I was grateful for her company, but this year I felt okay without. And this time it felt kind of wasteful to fly her out just for a day on a street corner. “Maybe we’ll do it every other year,” I joked.
I blended the approaches of the previous two years, some of each. The trailer went back to storage, my boots felt good on my feet, I had twenty-first century cash in my pocket—enough to pay for two cabs and food, but not so much I’d be upset to “waste” the leftover if I actually did Travel. But this felt more like a holiday observance or something. You know—on Fourth of July you light sparklers, on Christmas you open presents, on Halloween you wear costumes… And on June 21 you sit looking foolish in a bonnet and gown on a corner in New York City. It’s just what you do. It looked like what I’d be doing on June twenty-firsts, anyway. My own private holiday.
Huddling under my cloak in the rain, I began to debate whether it was time for the hot dog cart, maybe even some coffee. I’d avoided actually interacting with anyone but the cabbie, and didn’t look forward to the questions a conversation with a vendor would invite, though the tummy was getting rumbly. The tug to my tummy felt strange and strong, and the accompanying rumble wasn’t internal in origin. As quick as that, I couldn’t seem to inhale—like the time my Scuba mask got knocked off my face by an oblivious dive partner’s fin, and even though my regulator was still in my mouth, it took me several long seconds to adjust to the saltwater flooding my eyes and nose and convince myself I could still inhale through my mouth. I felt the same now, the breathing knocked out of me and my face ice cold. Vertigo—I felt panicked and blurry and suddenly managed to gasp a breath… Shit! Literally. I was on hands and knees, all four stinging as if with impact, my face inches from a pile of horse apples in varying stages of drying. Some of them not so dry.
It was exactly what I’d been expecting, been planning for, for more than three years, and I still managed to feel shocked.