Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true
But you and I know what this world can do
So let’s make our steps clear that the other may see
And I’ll wait for you
If I should fall behind
Wait for me
~ Springsteen, If I should fall behind.
As I’ve already said, that first visit was pure magic. Looking back on it now, the entire thing feels like a dream. Unfortunately, dreams have to end and after the most important three weeks of my life, the day of my return flight arrived. It was devastating.
Over that time, we’d lived what felt like a year’s worth of experiences, not the least of which being that I’d gotten to meet her three daughters and we’d all hit it off famously. I’ll admit this had been one thing I’d been worried about in the weeks leading up to coming. What if her kids hate or resent me? Can we go on with this thing if they don’t approve? The answer was probably no, but I don’t think either of us could have taken that.
It was a huge relief when it became obvious that they were all on board. We took them into Philly for a visit to the Franklin Institute* and we all spent a terrific day together wandering around the cool exhibits and activities on offer. It was such a joy to be around that sense of wonder as the girls pulled us from one display to another.
I like Philly a lot. The centre is very like Melbourne in the way that it is situated at the mouth of a broad, winding river. The skylines are quite similar too. I felt very at home there.
It wasn’t all fun times. I’d also had to help Jersey girl find a new home for them all when she was suddenly forced to move from the High Bridge house (it’s a long story, punctuated with many grrrr’s, which I will not be recounting here). We achieved this as a team and I think it was another confirmation for her that she was with someone she could depend upon in a crisis (again, not something she was used to).
There were numerous other fun excursions, though, and the three weeks felt like one of those endless summers of childhood that could not possibly have been as long as they feel in memory. Then, suddenly, it was over.
The night before I was due to fly out, we just held each other, talking in low, strained voices. We made our promises and pledged our devotion, but we could both feel our spirits dying in pieces.
The next day, she drove me to Philly airport and we sat waiting like the condemned for check-in time in the lobby of the hotel where it had begun three weeks earlier. There were tears and more promises then fate intervened. As we made our way to the baggage check, we noticed a large TV screen in the hotel showing a plane that had bellied out on a runway. It was obviously an accident of some severity and the headline on the screen read San Francisco Airport Live.
We looked at each other uncomprehendingly and I said (quite unnecessarily) “That’s where I’m headed.” “Do you think this will delay your flight?” Jersey asked. I had no idea.
I went to the baggage check to ask the attendant what this meant and she assured me my flight was still scheduled to depart at the appointed time. So we said our final, teary goodbyes and my Jersey girl walked away. Both of us were wondering if this was the last time we’d ever see each other.
I was a blasted, empty landscape as I drifted, uncaring, through the ridiculously complicated process of getting to my plane. When I reached the departure lounge, however, all was utter chaos. Despite the assurances of the woman at the baggage check, the flight was indeed delayed, in fact, all flights into San Fran were suspended indefinitely.
And, at that very moment, my girl was already in her car and on her way home to Jersey. I tried to use the frankly awful public phones to call her and explain I might be here a little longer, but no luck.
Meanwhile, the situation at the departure desk was getting serious. People were pissed and wanted assurances. Ironically the woman who was currently engaged in disappointing them was the same who had misled me at the baggage check. Her next announcement drew disbelieving silence.
“We’ve just been informed there will be no flights to San Francisco until at least Monday.” This was Saturday. People mobbed the desk and seats on the Monday flights were disappearing rapidly. That’s when it struck me. I can make this work for me.
I waited for the feeding frenzy to subside and then approached the attendant. She didn’t recognize me from the baggage check, and immediately launched into “I have no seats left until Wednesday morning”. I just smiled and said, “Look, I’ve already missed my flights home, what say you just re-book me through to Melbourne on Thursday?”
Her relief was palpable (it really had been a stressful afternoon for everyone) “absolutely,” she said. Fifteen minutes later I finally got Jersey on her home phone.
“How would you feel about driving me to the Airport next Thursday?” The whoop of joy nearly blew out my eardrum.
And so, for the third time that day, she made the trip between High Bridge and Philly. I waited the entire time (about an hour and a half) outside the terminal building in a state of complete bliss. As she pulled up and I threw my bags back in the rear of her beat up old Outback, we were both grinning like idiots.
To top it all off, as we were driving home along the Delaware Expressway in a state of near hysterical intoxication, the Fourth of July** fireworks began exploding around us as if in celebration of our reprieve.
* It was somehow fitting that we should visit this place with the kids. During my own childhood, I had lived in the village of Ecton in Northamptonshire, UK for a time. This was actually the place where Franklin’s parents had lived before emigrating to the Colonies.
**Perversely occurring on the 5th.
Words and images in this post are my own.