For three months following the engine out I lived in three places: a festival producer’s living room, my aunt’s house in Oakland, and my home in Pennsylvania.
The other day, after froyo with my roommates, I started walking back towards the middle of the parking lot, confident that the car would be there, when in fact the car had been parked right in front of me. The past three months were like that: everything kind of blurry. It doesn’t feel like a beginning, middle, and end, just moments and segments that get fuzzy when I recollect them. What was most definitive of a certain moment may actually be unrememberable now; just the feeling remaining.
Let’s just dive in.
PART I: THE PROPELLER SILENCED
The engine dies and a mini-purgatory begins. That sounds negative, but is purgatory all that bad? It’s not good, but it’s not, you know, hell or anything. It’s an in-between, thumb-twiddling, utterly frustrating period in which you prepare yourself for a next step.
After the engine dies there’s a lot of back and forth between me, Stephen, Doug, and a fine gentleman by the name of Bill Sherlock who’s flown this same engine (a 60 horsepower HKS700E) over the Alps. During this time I continue to work at a local wine bar, and Stephen and I decide to move to different ends of the country. The plan at this point is that Stephen will continue to flight train with me in Sacramento, commuting out by plane twice a month. I think we both understand that this isn’t going to happen.
We both get hired on as Production Assistants for TBD Fest in Sacramento. For a week we run around with walkie-talkies strapped to our shoulders, getting sunburned, drinking too much caffeine, running last-minute errands, and generally having an incredible time.
After the festival I move in with my aunt Naomi in Oakland, who immediately has a serious foot operation. The day I move in, Stephen has his car smashed into and over $20,000 of equipment is stolen, including a bag full of the disposable cameras he’s been accumulating since day one of our trip. By some miracle of God in Congress, the hard drives containing all of our footage thus far are not taken.
The next time I see Stephen I’m holding him in a swanky bar -- the kind that makes bespoke, craft cocktails -- while he sobs into my arms. We get some stares. I tell him it’s going to be okay. We argue on a street corner about whether or not Coldplay should play TBD fest next year (he was right about that one). The last time I see Stephen before he heads back to New York City, I hand him a Murakami novel, get back in his car, Sheila (now entrusted to me), and drive back to my aunt’s.
The next two months are a frustrating smudge in which I commute to the airport in Lodi maybe 2 or 3 times and study a lot. It’s good to be with family though. My cousin suggests that I grow a beard. Eventually, my engine is repaired to Bill’s satisfaction. The engine’s starter motor had gotten stuck, which eventually caused a massive draw on the power and killed the engine.
The last flight before I went home for the holidays, in December, is one of the most beautiful I can remember. There are flocks of birds soaring beneath us and a puffy cumulus cloud that Doug lets me fly under.
Stepping onto a commercial jet feels strange. On my way home, I spend some time in Annapolis visiting my good friend Missy, who’s been away in Istanbul. I am so happy, just relating to her and her adventures, catching up, drinking coffee, looking at Christmas lights.
Going home is like stepping out of a dream, except I don’t know how long I’ve been asleep. I kneel down and pet Nicky, our dog, and he seems older. He is older. My home has aged and for the first time I haven’t aged with it. I find myself in tears, just three minutes after stepping through my front door. I hug my mother. A wave of relief settles as I unpack into my childhood room, slip into flannel pajamas (it’s below 20 degrees) and fall asleep with the moon slanting through the slats in my blinds like I remember. It’s funny but I can remember arguing with my mom about what color they should be, back when I was 14. Now I just feel ungrateful, because I didn’t realize then how lucky I would feel, at 25, to come back to a home at all.
This feeling persists through the holidays: a profound thankfulness to just be somewhere that I know, doing the things I remember, relaxing, being together, seeing my old friends, sleeping in. Seeing my extended family, I feel almost embarrassed, because in a way I’ve failed. My original mission has extended far longer than I expected it to.
How could I possibly have expected that Stephen and I would become pilots, get two aircraft, and fly them both across the country… in three months? It’s so ludicrous to me now that I laugh every single time I think of the original plan.
When I leave home I am scared, low on money, and very unsure about what the hell comes next. I touchdown in Oakland around noon, gather my things, get a jump start from a neighbor, and drive back to Sacramento, to the place I’ve rented out, not having met any of my new roommates, and having no idea what to expect. I stop at an In-N-Out (sorry everyone, still one of the most overrated burgers in my opinion), pull into a parking spot, and snarf the whole thing down in about five minutes. I don’t even bother to shut the engine off, I just sit there pigging out like a kid who’s escaped from fat camp.
I finally arrive at 36th/X St. and Mandolin is the first person I meet. Mandolin is ⅙ of my roommates (six, if you count their animal familiars, and I do). Next is Nibbler the Boston Terrier, who promptly pees all over my shoes, and Pumpkin the cat, who makes a hell-bent dash for freedom out the front door. Though I do not realize it, Oatmeal the cat is lurking in the shadows, analyzing my every move.
The room I’ve rented is a converted garage with it’s own bathroom, shower, kitchenette, and wood stove. I throw down two camping pads, get under my trusty army blanket, roll up a jacket for a pillow, crank up the space heater, and fall asleep on the floor. Immediately I have flashbacks to Chelan, where Stephen and I slept on the concrete floor of our trike manufacturer’s airplane hangar. Because of this, I feel as though I’ve picked back up where I left off, and it makes me not miss home so much anymore.
When I wake up I’m focused on one thing and one thing only: getting a damn bed.