That Monday, Dear Host (DH) drove me all the way back to the airport with the cheerful alacrity that residents display toward long driving distances in all weather. There I briefly panicked, fearing that I had somehow left my keys back with Host Family. With the same cheerful alacrity, DH offered to drive back to the house to bring them for me. But thank goodness, they were with my metal items all wrapped in clear plastic for the TSA inspection. I was sad to say goodbye to him. Moving as fast as possible through the checkpoint (plastic bins, shoes, bags, then all of it in reverse), I turned back for long enthusiastic arm waves. But to my dismay I saw that people past the checkpoint are out of visual range. Perhaps the intent is that those who pass security can’t be given secret hand signals by the ones left behind? To DH my departure must have looked coldly abrupt, without even a look back.
I landed in Dallas, where the usual army of elders at volunteer posts cheerfully greeted me whenever I stopped to gaze around in bewilderment. At a CPR skills practice station, a boy 8 or so years old was chest compressing an animated model while the machine provided feedback. The boy’s father stood at his side with respectful moral support. It was a heartening scene of father-son learning, and I paused for a moment. “I hope this young man is on my plane,” I told the father. He and his son laughed as we waved in passing. And that was my last civil encounter of the day.
On the flight back to the city the other passengers in my row ignored one another in silence, communing with their blue screens. It felt dissociated to share the row for hours with not a single person asking “So where ya from? Visiting family?” We arrived at 10:00 in the evening. Other passengers dispersed to baggage claim. I was alone in an empty airport. No army of volunteers was waiting around. I hadn’t flown in years, and the airport was no longer familiar. For 45 minutes I hiked around looking for the ground transportation wing. Finally I waylaid an employee working hard to stack some ungainly bags of trash. He pointed over toward a sign for the airport terminal train; then I remembered that while ground transportation leads to Departures, from Arrivals I had to take the train.
At midnight I arrived home, dropped my clothes at the door, put them right in a punch bowl, and jumped in the shower after 13 hours by car and two planes and train and bus. I boiled the clothes on the stove, hung them to dry on the balcony, and went to bed.
Just before sunrise I half woke up from a vivid dream, believing I was still back in Eagle. Lying there I saw a black cross against the sky. That makes sense. The town of Eagle has Christian symbols everywhere. It stands to reason they’d put up a cross outside. Good. But where am I? Which Eagle neighbor let me sleep here? Maybe it doesn’t matter. It’s such a hospitable town, even a new acquaintance would let me stay on the sleeping porch for the night. Besides, we’ve got to get up now. The whole town is heading out to the fields to start the search.
Except that — was that really a cross? I sat up for a better look. No, that was my own shirt twisted by the breeze, with outstretched sleeves on a laundry rack. This was my own balcony back here in the city, hung with boiled laundry. This was not a sleeping porch in Eagle at all. The trip was over.
But what a vivid dream! Back in Eagle, I was about to join a search party after an airplane explosion. The night before, a plane went down in a fireball over the sunflower fields. There was no chance of any survivors. The fire department rushed to put out the fire, and the whole town made a plan to run there at first light and start searching in the tall sunflowers for bodies, to bring them back.
What caused a dream like that? Well, part was flying out hours ahead of a Texas storm front with lightning and chance of tornadoes. Part of it was news from Ukraine. But another piece came from joining a search party for one day 40 years ago, when I lived 80 miles from Eagle. A World War II veteran believed that the Nazis were coming to take him prisoner. In late October he ran away and covered quite a lot of ground, finding hiding places in the fields. Investigators and bloodhounds followed his trail, and volunteers from all over town showed up at dawn to help. We searched culverts and barns and woods until dark in the rain. The townspeople kept at it for many shifts until they finally found his last hiding place. Volunteers didn’t need to be asked; they simply showed up. Grandfather’s lost? Then he’s everybody’s grandfather now; we’re going.
Wide awake, looking up through laundry to the drizzling sky, it came as a great wash of relief that nobody’s plane crashed. But there was also a profound letdown. Today was just a day off work in a big city. There was no great cause to join, and no one to join with.
Next night the dream was about Eagle again, where some of my new acquaintances were restoring steps on one of the local historic old houses. One of the ladies fell and got scratched up. She wasn’t injured, but her poor forehead was bleeding. The team decided to finish the steps while one of them drove her and me to her farm. There I was going to bandage her head for her and put her to bed and fix her tea and supper and keep her company. So in the dream I teleported to my own room at home (dreamtime logic) and got my favorite head scarf out of the closet to put over her bandage, thinking it would be a nice surprise for her. I was just rushing out for the trip back to Eagle when the alarm clock rang for work.
People here back home have asked warmly “How was your week off? Go anywhere special?” And for once, yes I did. Two listeners sounded charmed hearing about Eagle as a destination. But most have a guarded or humorous reaction. “They do eye contact there? They say hello and ask where you’re from? Eek.” They also expressed kind concern for my safety in a small town, strolling in some Twilight Zone dystopia of MAGA hats, meth labs, feral dogs, guns, religious fanaticism, and malicious character-assassinating gossip and shunning. Just for the record, I didn’t see any of those features. Granted, one popular Eagleite with a grand sense of humor has a sign on the door reading “Did you not know I own a gun, or are you just stupid?” But a comparison of our police reports and theirs would indicate that the guns in their town are in more capable hands and used for saner reasons.
The dreams about Eagle lasted for weeks. In each one, everybody needed to pitch in for some important intervention, and I was one of the team. In the last dream I was working the registration table at the annual women’s retreat at Eagle Christian Church. Women flocked in, all banter and hugs. One of them brought her knitting and offered to teach me how to knit too. Then I woke up. Who’s working registration? Where did the women go? (That dream felt so real that I got out of bed and looked up the church website. Who knew: They have a women’s retreat. It’s in September.) So, every morning I’d wake up all ready to be part of the group. Then I’d remember that nobody was around. It felt discouraging to face the day knowing that if not for my job, no one would notice whether I got up or not for the next three weeks. And it wouldn’t take a skyful of October fields to hide in; this studio room would work pretty well.
In the end, the difficulty getting up in the morning had a correctable health condition, possibly brought on by all that travel. That’s the next story.