I’m not a believer in auspicious beginnings. I mean, I like it when things go smoothly, but it always puts me on my guard. If anything, a difficult start comforts me somehow, as if things can only get better from there (Protip: sometimes they don’t).
But for me, the beginning of a journey, or at least the time of preparation leading up to it, is both awkward and frantic. Up until the actual point of departure, it’s usually characterized by a sort wild flailing about, something that reminds me of polyjuice potion scenes in Harry Potter movies.
And maybe the polyjuice metaphor is more than skin deep: preparation for a journey like this is preparation for a transformation. The David Pablo Cohn who sits scribbling at his desk upstairs on Greenwood Avenue is not the same one who finds himself working the windswept deck of an icebreaker, or turning barrel rolls in a WWII fighter. It’s hard to explain, but there’s something more than a swapping of clothes that has to go on for me to make such transitions; it’s closer to a change of consciousness, wriggling my way out of an old identity and climbing into a new one. When I am at my desk, the pictures from Pole, the NBP, or my time with the Collings gang feel like they were taken by an old friend who sent them to me from the road. And when I am away, the shadow of me left wordsmithing at home feels like a twin or close cousin who I am fond of and know well, but imperfectly.
I think that explains the discomfort. It’s all that wriggling as I prepare to crack the chrysalis, to become – at the moment of departure – whoever/whatever it is that I need to be next. And this next gig, understandably, requires a bit of transformation.
I was properly packed two days ago, but spent the morning pacing the downstairs hallway, unpacking and repacking stuff, staring into the fridge, the garage, the bathroom. Then pacing again. Am I bringing enough chocolate? Is 12 pounds of maple syrup overkill? (No, really – I don’t think I could survive another month of shipboard Aunt Jemima). Unpack, repack. Reorganize. Pace. I think Devon’s invitation to take a walk (ahem, outside) was her valiant attempt at preventing me from wearing out the floorboards. We talked about nothing in particular on the now-familiar drive to the airport, laughing at how this sort of time and distance away is how we courted. Old friends will remember that D and I didn’t even get to live in the same state until we’d been married for a year and a half. Close quarters took getting used to – this feels natural.
The curbside dropoff, the kiss and the promise to let her know whether I got TSA PreCheck, and if there were problems checking the maple syrup. I stepped through the sliding doors of Terminal 2, homed in on the counter and fished out my passport. Punta Arenas, via Dallas and Santiago. Two bags to check, please. I was away, and the transformation was complete.
(For those keeping track of trip smoothness so far: I got PreCheck, American took the extra duffle of maple syrup with no questions or extra bag charges, and inexplicably upgraded me to First Freakin’ Class all the way to Santiago. Waiting for the other shoe to fall.)
And hey – Patreon supporters and Medium.com followers: First off, thank you! About four times as many of you read Artifacts as read any of my previous stories. Second: I know I promised you that my next one would also be an Antarctic story, but the one I just finished polishing (“Last Night Ashore“) is a rather dark and melancholy one about being on a boat. And I’m about to, you know, be on a boat. And my mom reads this blog. So, with apologies to Rosencranz and Guildenstern, I’m going to hold off until I’m not on a boat before posting that one. Instead, look for a lighthearted tale of father-son bonding over White Castle burgers and high explosives.