The thing about jet lag is this: it doesn’t just mess with your sense of time, it messes with your sense of place. This is a far more serious offense. Time is nebulous enough on its own that when, for a few days, we’ve totally lost track of it, when we’re hours ahead of or behind ourselves, we feel that maybe it is, this secret force we live by, just asserting itself for awhile.
Place is different. There’s nothing so off-putting as falling asleep in the late afternoon, knowing you’re in Oxford, and waking up convinced you’re in New York, and being therefore in a New York state of mind, and realizing only by the voices outside, crawling their way home after an evening at the pub, only by the smell of your house (a nice smell, a specific smell), that your body is still where you left it hours earlier to sleep.
I don’t know how to count the hours, speaking of them. And I never know how to describe the time before a transatlantic flight: is it yesterday that we left, really, truly? I can hardly convince myself that this can be so–that yesterday, whatever that means, we woke up late, we had lattes and bagels, we took the subway to midtown, and then again back uptown, we ate a Korean lunch across the street from Columbia. And I ask this, not to be pedantic or navel-gazing, particularly, but because I genuinely do not know how to answer it: was it yesterday or today or some time in-between that we sat eating croissants at an altitude so high it is usually reserved for our hopes and dreams alone, that I wondered, because my mind had gone numb in the hours of no movement while we sped over an ocean, if the correct way to spell student was s-t-u-d-e-n-t or s-t-u-d-a-n-t? My copy of White Noise now bears proof of this struggle, but I don’t know exactly when the struggle occured. Student. Studant. Student. If I spell it wrong, will they let me back into the country? (In the end, I spelled it right).
But time. One time, we took the metro, from the village to the upper west side. As we were underground, staring at our own feet, moving fast through a rare darkness, things happened outside. Rain fell. Night fell. Things we couldn’t know until we re-emerged. Before we alighted at our station I looked at the bookmark in my novel, a thank-you note from a friend. Our Oxford address on it. I liked the way the address looked, the way the country (England) was not specified, the way our last names (Ward, Cansell, things that identify us in ways we can not change) were not specified. It seemed friendly, familiar, small in a city where nothing and everything is small.