This is the one travel debacle I didn’t want. This is the one that was so unacceptable, so inconceivable, that I didn’t follow my basic rule of “always have a Plan B.” This is the one that sent me on a journey into unchartered emotional territory: a tailspin so severe it defied labeling.
With no words for how I felt, maybe some imagery can capture it:
Initial feeling: an explosion of gloomy gray ooze burrowing into my torso, from below my belly up to my sternum. It was sticky and clung there, stuck there, without my even noticing. It had a weight, more like a 5 lb than a 15 lb weight. I.e. just there, heavy, and getting heavier.
Three months earlier, realizing I was mandated to take a 3 day weekend (i.e. accept a day without pay), I decided to go to NYC for Memorial Day weekend: a perfect antidote to the desolation of my exile in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Although Heather, my daughter, would be departing for a SF wedding at 9 a.m. that Saturday, if I got there Friday night I could at least give her a hug and a gift. Then I’d go off to my best friend Bunny’s, and would surround myself with crowds and traffic and live entertainment, to say nothing of New Yorkers & foreign tourists.
I’d gotten a surprisingly good fare (only $350 RT from Rapid). Likely by booking so far in advance, the computer had not yet realized it was a holiday weekend. Not only was the fare perfect, but so was the timing: departing 4 p.m. Friday, which allowed me to work all day Friday, returning from JFK at 6 p.m. Monday, and getting me into RC about 10 p.m.
Knowing that my Tuesday work-loads are a bitch, I did one of my favorite things: planned! Thought as much outside the box as inside: scheduled in 2 men who are in the hospital, so if I were just too wiped to see them, I could easily postpone it; prepared my Tuesday lunch before I left, so when I got home I could go straight to bed; told my carpool I’d be driving myself so I could have more control over my schedule; printed up all the records I would need for Tuesday before I left on Friday; had my brief case organized and ready to go.
My baseline is NOT being organized, but when it comes to travel, I easily & with relish snap into organized mode, including tidying & cleaning my abode so I can return to peace.
Never before having been to Rapid City Airport (aka RAP) I left ample time, making me the first to arrive. It looked like there were only two airlines that left from there: Delta & United. Yet, the security screen matched that of NYC, including a pat down of my legs, and one of those voyeur machines that check out your body while you have your hands raised overhead. What did I care? I was off for my longed-for vacation weekend in NYC, nothing could bring me down.
My plane got in to RAP on time and disembarked its passengers. I risked a last minute bathroom visit before boarding was called, but still no boarding when I emerged. This did seem wrong, since it was now approaching 4 p.m. and we should be boarding. Eager for departure, I decided to just go stand on line. It was 4:10 when some passive wisp of a Delta gate agent spoke softly into the overhead mic and said something – once – I couldn’t understand. I asked the person next to me what she had said: “This flight is cancelled for mechanical reasons.”
Enter the slow motion start of gut-punch. What are those phases that accompany grief: denial? Yup, that’s where I started. “How can this be?” Then, knowing quick action was needed, and another garbled announcement was translated to me by another passenger , that there was a card with phone numbers to call at the counter, I ran up, grabbed one, punched my number and got put on hold. Then, another indecipherable announcement, again generously translated, of a different phone number, which I immediately called and here a true miracle happened: A PERSON ANSWERED THE PHONE. She had a sweet voice, she apologized, she commiserated, she sounded competent, she was my temporary Mother Theresa.
But she wasn’t. By the time I got off the phone , the one connection that could have gotten me to NYC at a reasonable hour the next day, was sold out. The soonest she could get me into NYC was 6:45 p.m. the next evening, into Newark. I was forced to make a decision. I went with whatever was left of my gut and said “no thank you.” For my trouble, I got a whopping $100 certificate toward another Delta flight. “What about my expensive theater tickets?” I’d have to call Corporate, closed for the weekend, probably won’t happen, she said.
Photo of Fantasy Land:
At this point I felt closed in upon myself, like a flower closing up for the night, but this time never to re-open. Talking to Bun on the phone, she was giving me well-meant suggestions of things to do. All I wanted to do was go home, pull the covers over my head, and take an Ambien
Fortunately, as I arrived home, Heather was calling and we ended up having a juicy 20 minute phone conversation in which she told me lots about her life and what was going on at work at the Times. Connecting with her like this is rare and about the most special thing in my life, so it was a huge boost. She had also suggested I think of coming another weekend, soon, and I put this on my “important to think about” list.
As soon as I clicked off with Heather, I again dialed Delta and attempted to milk the sympathy card, to no avail. “Sorry, we cannot alter our pricing, it’s locked into the computer.” ( Why didn’t I think of talking to a supervisor?) Yup, prices were outrageous.
Then I thought of using my United Miles: wow! Lots of affordable choices! No, not for this weekend, but for a future nearby one. Then it became an onslaught of decisions, which I was already feeling unable to make.
– Do I take off on a Friday, foregoing income, but giving me more time in NYC?
– Do I arrive back in RAP at 11 p.m. (the one and only evening return flight) on a Sunday night, knowing that Monday is my most killer day of the week?
– Do I risk having another flight canceled when I now know that getting out of (or into) RAP is not a slam-dunk?
I finally decided “No,” and did not appreciate it when Bun, who was incredibly supportive, in one of our dozen + phone calls, encouraged me to sleep-on-it. My tolerance for internal discomfort was now at the fumes level, and waning. Not having labels available, I didn’t realize I had already emotionally crashed.
Fortunately, I did sleep well that night, even without assistance of Ambien. It was after a good night’s sleep that I realized I’d been hood-winked by Mother Theresa: all I’d needed was to ask her to get me to a hub, ASAP, any hub, from which there would be many flights to NYC. They should NOT limit what airline I fly on. They should encourage me to get any flight to NYC on any airline that was going there. Apparently Mother Theresa did NOT think creatively nor generously, even though she pretended to do so.
This added to my sickness.
That bad, unnamable feeling was in me. We can try calling it “sad.” We can try calling it “mourning” or “grief” or “disappointment.” It was heavy, it was hollow, it filled a large space in my interior. I walked slowly. I didn’t talk.
In this state, I cringed, thinking of all the non-empathic suggestions I’d recently given clients about coping with pain. I tried on a few solutions with which I’d been so generous: Notice the brief moments in which you feel better and allow yourself to feel better, no matter how fleeting. I did do that and indeed, even well-educated usually balanced “moi” felt disloyal to myself.
I had absolutely nothing I was supposed to do, had to do, should do. So, I sat. And I sat. And I continued to feel so bad.
Two things did eventually help me work my way out of this mega-funk: debriefing the two hospitalized men and hearing the details of their near-death van accident; and visiting with a girlfriend in her beautiful cabin in the most beautiful woods I’ve seen since arriving in SD. (PHOTO)
So this was an unplanned journey into an emotional state with no name. I do not want to go there again.
Here’s to always having a Plan B.