Airports, train and bus stations have in common something peculiar. In these very places, thousands of family members, loving couples and good friends say farewell to each other every day. Sometimes they leave for just a few weeks, but sometimes for an undetermined stretch of time. Some can hardly suppress their emotions and burst into tears, while others shake each others’ hands formally, when the moment is there. In airports in particular, the goodbye has quite a definitive connotation, as aircraft possess the impressive force to increase the margin between two people to thousands of kilometers within a short span of time.
Especially for border-transcending love, the airport can be an incredibly cruel place. While seeking busily for the right departure hall, a wry feeling of contradiction is slowly taking hold of those who are unwillfully divided by distance or bureaucracy. At the airport, the painful separation feels like a sentence which, moreover, also needs to be executed merely by oneself. It’s an act of self-harm in its purest sense. Unlike a train or bus which drives away irreversibly, the airport separation is done by walking into a restricted area yourself. Simple as that. No dramatic train chasing scene. And for those who haven’t chosen to be apart, the moment comes always a little too early.
Two souls, one ticket. They’re aware that sooner or later after finding the appointed entrance, they will be disunited. Only one half of the companionship will go, and the other will stay, because the robotic gate refuses anyone without a valid plane ticket. No exceptions are made for sticky love birds. Soon, they will be isolated from each others’ warmth and words. Closeness exchanged for sombre separate compartments of the airport. The automatized doors at the end of a brightly illuminated hall symbolize the unrelenting line between tender closeness and a haunting absence. This clinical environment is the last possibility for a series of tight cuddles and other outings of affection. But on an unspecified moment, it’s reluctantly decided that it’s time to let go.
Meanwhile walking away, the face of your loved one then slowly disappears amidst crowds of hurrying passengers. Eye contact becomes harder with every step onwards. Non verbal messages are sent to and fro, or whenever the masses allow it. A hopeful smile is directly followed by tears of sadness.
Stringent border guards show no sign of compassion. On this stage, they don’t even allow a brief hug anymore. They simply enforce the rules, and instruct the confused loved ones to place their items in the right bin. Generally, the fluids are in the wrong sachet with zipper, and because of some change in a pocket, the metal detector suspects a potential hijacker.
The growing sense of the approaching separation makes every glimpse of each other more lifelike than can ever be compensated by the most advanced ways of communication. Eye contact continues uninterruptedly until it becomes nearly impossible. And then, the frightening automatized doors shut for the very last time. Permanently.
The by now so familiar feelings of intimacy and adjacency, make way for a prompt feeling of disenchantment and numbness. It penetrates into the consciousness in the form of heavy doubts regarding the decision to say farewell.
Entirely unjust this is not; all kinds of uncertainties may diminish the chance of a quick reunion. Indeed, through the eyes of the one left behind, the airplane is a flying fuel tank, which will tear through extreme weather conditions at the speed of nine-hundred kilometers an hour, on an altitude of about eleven kilometers. A summary that doesn’t inflict much confidence in terms of safety.
An ordinary sounding announcement on an enormous screen in the hall then declares that the plane in question had departed seconds ago. Upon this, all the available images of all imaginable disasters pass by in the thoughts of the poor straggler. Intense fear overrules all the successful flights and the minimal statistical chance of such a disastrous occurrence.
Slightly paranoid pictures of a destructive collision between some unattentive geese and the jet engines, or of a mentally unstable co-pilot who decides to steer the aircraft straight into the earth, constantly besiege the mind of the powerless left-behind loved one. Fierce panic attacks are not ruled out.
Such imaginations continue to persist stubbornly, until the flight control center of the designated airfield announces that flight number BT451 had arrived according to schedule. Merely two hours after taking off, the beforehand so doomed projectile is safely on the ground once again. A grand but short relief for both, afore emotions of a different kind start taking over.
Together in the morning, alone in the afternoon, or conversely. The first hours after the farewell, often in a bus or train homewards, are characterized by a heartbreaking feeling, followed by an endless emptiness. Undiminished contact with your loved one continues on the phone, on which messages of affection and missing carry the ambitious goal to fulfil the void that had appeared. But communication which was previously transmitted through all senses, is now reduced to only a small typepad. It’s just not the same.
Kissing, an utmost delicate and gentle action between two persons. Lips, made of flesh and skin, are now replaced by yellow bald faces without clearly defined gender, who spit out a modest heart. They can be found in a side cabinet of the virtual typepad on modern phones, and can be given out unlimitedly. Still, it is all insufficient to maintain the complex, familiar conversations like before.
For a moment, the brightly lit train homewards is an unsparing and confronting place. And surrounding you, passengers are occupied by their daily worries, without having any insight into the tormenting affliction you underwent barely two hours ago. Expressing a serious countenance, the other passengers appear to be sheer indifferent towards the invisible wounds. They are focussed chiefly on their smartphones, laptops or tablets. Hours ago, when they were presumably still attending hideous meetings in the office, the poor loved one was still in a far away land, happily united with his or her dear one.
The coming time will be characterized by an uneasy feeling. As fast as the aircraft had departed earlier on, as wretchedly slow the first signs of recovery and reconciliation regarding each other’s excruciating absence will unfold in the weeks to come.
Nevertheless, places like an airport have a paradoxical meaning for international love. On one hand, the sterile departure hall functions as a metaphorical torture room, consisting of clinical white walls, automatized doors and hermetically closed security passages and strict employees.
On the other hand, the arrivals hall fulfills the conciliatory role of of reuniting loved ones after a long divide. Impatient individuals, carrying a bouquet or a written name sign push each other away at the irregularly opening doors. As if it were a factory functioning on full speed, love birds appear from the production line, to be wholeheartedly embraced by their significant others. This time, crying tears of joy. With this, the intense missing might be numbed for some time, until the inevitable separation presents itself again in the near future. A pattern that should ideally not occur too regularly over a brief period of time.
This story was written in 2018, originally in Dutch. This is an expanded version in English, with additional details.
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