I’ve been pretty sick the last several days. I was not feeling well on the only flyable day of my paragliding holiday. The day of my flawless take off. I felt Icky-stomach-ugh kind of sick. And it was frigidly cold. The very specific reason I sat out most of soaring that afternoon was that I could not shiver *and* control my bowels at the same time. So I attempted to stay as warm as I could, as long as I could, and bookend the day with flights. My strategy paid off. And then I paid for it, groaning on the bathroom floor of an un-heated apartment in 6 degree weather. Then sucking up sleep like it was rain in the desert on a mattress so lumpy I have a bruise from one of the springs. I did not feel better on Sunday. And not on Monday either. I worried I would have to postpone my Tuesday flight. When I feverishly realized that my plane landed after the last inter-city bus left the airport, I had a meltdown. Me, with a mountain of luggage, all alone, with an upset tummy, (doing what?) until the first bus the next day? I lamented all this to Dana who replied: “Come here, your room is still set up. Brian will pick you up at the airport.”
At the airport, Brian was rakish in his wool coat and dress shoes, leaning against a pillar in arrivals. I was pushing an airport cart ahead of me, two large suitcases and my duffle bag piled higher than my head. “It was amusing to see your luggage move seemingly on its own,” he joked. “I expected to recognize you by your hair, but instead I recognized your suitcase.”
I lugged my overstuffed suitcases off the luggage belt, two ladies helped me hoist them on top of each other and then I pushed myself, and the cart, all the way from baggage to Brian. The 20 hours of transit between holiday and home had also been a transit between unbearably unwell to more or less fine. My realities have been swinging like that for the whole month that I’ve been hopping from one friend and place to another. Old places that used to be home, new places that feel like home, actual home that has never felt like home, a turbulent center of gravity.
Zero gravity is when there is no force against you, including the force of gravity itself, and you experience the absence of weight. When I look back at my life since I started to travel and live overseas (In 1999), zero gravity — weightlessness— is the perfect word to describe what I was looking for. Zero gravity is also the name of the school that I paraglide with in Spain.
In the video of my paragliding launch notice the guy behind me? See how he pushes me a little to give me some forward motion so I can lift the wing? Then, when the force of the wind in the wing presses against us, he steps back a precise amount so that I come underneath the glider. Then it’s my job to control the surge of power and thrust of the glider with careful timing so it stays above my head without overshooting. If I have done that, the glider stays aloft. Then he runs, to generate lift, but he holds on. He must be certain that I will stay in control using the precise amount of pressure to control the ongoing surge. If he let go, and I did not have a solid take off, the glider would collapse in front of me but I would still be rolling, tangled in lines and fabric, unable to stop. He would be unable to catch me. I would plummet off the edge. I must trust him. To hold on. But he must trust me. To let go.
My favourite part is the moment when those two forces are exchanged between us. Letting go and holding on merge and are, briefly, the same act. That is the moment of flight. You’re not weightless, though. Instead, you become the weight — a pendulum— that gives the wing it’s shape and, therefore, its function.
I am intimidated by turbulent air when I am piloting. You have to respond to so many rotational forces simultaneously: Rocking back and forth, teeter-tottering side to side and the twisting of your harness (think sitting in a swing and crossing the chains in front of you to make you twirl). The wind is capricious, but my weight is compelled to return to stability. Gravity might be pushing me down, it also continuously restores me.
Toronto was a sparkle city in the night and we drove unimpeded straight through downtown. The lit-up CN tower posing in the changing frames of high-rises. “When I picked you up last time, you were so excited about your time in Halifax I could feel the electricity coming off you. Spain, which would presumably be a more exciting trip, doesn’t seem to have had the same effect. I mean, I know you were sick at the end, but how was it?” Brian asked.
I was quiet for a while, trying to rouse my feelings out of my travel weariness. “It was like meeting up with an ex you weren’t ready to break up with at the time, and you haven’t seen each other in a while, and you’re worried that you’re not over them, but you come away feeling like you’re ok that the relationship ended. Which is freeing. I love who I am now because I lived there. But by the end, I was so eager to come home, and surprised myself because, by ‘home,’ I meant... here.”
“That is surprising. I don’t think you’ve ever felt like Canada was home — even when it was.”
“Yeah..” I said, exhaling soberly into the dark. “Spain is prettier and warmer and friendlier and spanishier, and way more wheelchair accessible. But I don’t regret leaving. Don’t get me wrong, It’s not like I’m all YAY CANADA I LOVE BEING IN THE DARK AND SNOW AND UGH. I have stuff to work out. But… I think I’m maturing.” I said, hesitating with a twinge of distaste.
Brian held the silence for a moment. He has known me since before I ever traveled anywhere. He was the friend I called at Christmas the first time I was in Kenya, the first time I was away from home, and seeking equilibrium. He has picked me up and dropped me off at trains and planes and busses for 20 years. “Maturity,” he laughed ”Something you have resisted for a long time,” he teased with no distaste at all.
The sky to our right was an inky, blue-black where Lake Ontario loomed vast and darkly. On the left, where the city clustered, the sky was mauve with light pollution. Brian and I drove under the part of the sky where the colours merged and blended.