the journey back, part two: Guate to DC

By the time we reached the airport I'd stopped actively weeping, but was finding it hard to stop being so very saudade, especially as I knew I was flying from eternal spring right back into the worst weather my home state had seen in a while. This is where it's handy to have multiple different names and facets of personality that you can shift between like costume changes: I tucked Birdie, the one who feels it all and sings about it, into my back pocket, and pulled out Ardea Baird: serene and unruffled; efficient; pleasant to deal with but not one to seek out deep connections with strangers. Sometimes it's just easier that way.

But something had changed since I last arranged my features into the pleasant calmness that announces Ardea Baird's presence. On my last full day in Antigua, during a trip to the mercado for fruits and vegetables for the dinner gathering later, I'd stopped by the artisan market and bought a necklace.

necklace

It's not my typical style. Ever since getting past that unfortunate c. 2001 period of choker necklaces with sparkly butterflies all over them (yes, of course they were from Claire's), I've tended to favor smaller pieces. These past several years, if I bothered with jewelry at all, it was one of two simple necklaces: one a nickel-sized gold pendant, inherited from my grandmother; the other a tiny wishbone charm on a threadlike chain, the gift for being a bridesmaid in my sister's wedding. Both are fairly unassuming when in view, and had the habit of slinking behind my collar, keeping out of the limelight, so wearing them became more an act of reminding myself of their givers than of decorating myself for outside eyes. But this new necklace - well, let's just say it's hard to miss.

And I think it's a little bit magic.

necklace again

Every time I wear it, the most amazing and unexpected happenings begin all around me - a conversation between myself and a stranger, or one between two strangers that I'm lucky enough to witness, or any manner of other coincidences of timing and fate. I feel like the avatar of some god of unexpected connections, a conduit of golden energy spilling out from me and running off into the world in myriads of rivulets, seeping through the skin of everone around me until they look up, eyes bright, finally seeing instead of just observing.

So as unassuming and straightforward as I set out to be that day in my plain jeans and simple white teeshirt, my only goal to just get through it, the necklace had other plans.

  • the businessman (with the same name as my old dog) next to me on the flight from Guate to Florida showed me his chock-full passport and talked wistfully about someday actually getting to see all the countries he flitted through as we shared my duty-free chocolates. He also told me of his friend, whose job it is to listen to all the sounds planes make and diagnose what needs to be fixed or replaced, which is just flabbergasting

  • the Alaskan cowboy poet I was too shy to strike up a conversation with, already having heard the stories about him from the mutual friend we discovered in the few moments of chat as we put our shoes back on. When I finally heeded his eyes' invitation to stroll over, we found he was about to miss his flight because he'd forgotten to account for the time change. Maybe in another airport (or a river) and another time.

  • the best damn Segway rider you've ever seen: a security guard in BWI who'd also been working on my last overnight layover in that delightful venue. We swapped stories over coffee and hot chocolate through the wee hours, and he made sure I got on the right bus to start towards my next destination: DC's Union Station

  • I'm pretty sure at this point, having gone over the train schedules, that this taxi driver was bending the truth about the various methods of transportation that would get me to Union Station on time, but it was a great conversation regardless. I told him about editing and travelling and life finally coming together, and he told me about a friend of his who was always searching for just that. A friend.

And then it was four in the morning, and I was standing in the great empty cathedral of Union Station under the serene gaze of its guardians, waiting for dawn.

the guardians of union station