It’s not even early morning, but I still want it. The minute my butt hits the thin-padded, plasticy airport seat, I’m itching to pop back up again and start prowling. The temptation that began as a wisp of an itch while I struggled out of my boots in the security line has bloomed into a siren call screeching through the most primitive fold of my brain: need coffee. Go get coffee.
Easier said than done, because I had just been deposited in this seat by an airline employee who had intercepted me while I was waiting for my boarding pass.
“You need help,” he said, close enough that I could feel the warmth of his arm against my shoulder. Too close. “I saw you, and I could tell.”
This is why I need coffee.
And this, also, after another employee had offered assistance before I boarded the tram, and when I accepted: “thank you”, he said, “I’ll give you my uninjured arm. Ha ha, I don’t know about this, I have an injury and you’re …” Here he trailed off, and I declined to fill the silence. Let him keep inserting his foot, we were stuck with each other. “… blind,” he finally said, then rushed ahead, “I’m not sure we can make it to the ticket counter.” Chortle chortle.
“I think we can,” I said dryly. “I have confidence in us.”
We did make it, but still, that is why I need coffee.
I should mention that the guy who could tell how much I needed his help tried what I can only assume was empathy. “I know what it’s like,” he said. I should also mention he spoke with a stutter. Blindness and stuttering aren’t the same, but I took his point.
After escorting me to my gate, he stood behind me, too close, again, breathing on the small hairs at the back of my neck. So, like, how long does he plan on staying? I wondered, as my itchy coffee-deprived brain started working through the possibilities. Could I ask him to go with me to a Starbucks? Could I endure more “empathy”, even for caffeine? No, there are some things I just can’t endure, even for my most beloved elixir.
“So, thanks a lot!” I said finally, too loud, too cheerful. “I think I’m good!”
“You’re in seat 24 F,” he reminded me, again, for the 17th time.
“Yes,” I said.
“I’ll come back in an hour to help you preboard.”
“Really that’s not necessary. The airline folks usually do that.”
“I’ll save them the hassle.”
I decided to say nothing, least of all how annoyed I was to hear the word “hassle” from his mouth, a word I have long wrestled with and worried over. That, and “burden.” “Hassle” and “burden” are two words I know well and worry over like a fingernail bitten to the quick.
As soon as he finally, finally, shuffles away, I slam the door definitively on “burden” and once again open the hopeful floodgates of “coffee.” Can I do it alone? Can I, by wanting it badly enough, make my way to an americano?
As usually happens, once I stand up and begin to move, my timidity and uncertainty become exhilaration. A cup of coffee, a perfectly routine task in the itinerary of a sighted person, is a quest for me if I have no idea where to procure one. And while that can be daunting, it’s also a little adventure, if only I choose to accept it as one.
Kiva and I hit the concourse, the traffic of people and carts and suitcases sweeping us along like a current. I prick my nose and ears into the dense, noisy air, just like Kiva on the first warm day of spring, hoping for a roasty hit from a nearby cafe or the sound of a steamer wand in hot milk. I pass bathrooms, (thank you, loud flushing toilets), a water fountain grumbling with fatigue, gates full of the agitated energy of boarding. No food court. No coffee.
I reverse direction, scootching into the other lane to flow with my foot traffic river. It amazes me how, in an airport, everyone is always moving. No stopping to check a text message or take pictures or chat obliviously in the middle of the concourse. Air travel forces us to give up a semblance of control over getting to our destination. Possibly, like me, others who could (or should) take the opportunity to relax and let go instead must keep moving, so we can pretend we have some say in getting from here to there.
Kiva weaves me through a maze of chairs, up a carpeted ramp, away from the narrow coffeeless aisle we’ve been cruising. I’m in a constant state of mentally marking our trajectory: here’s where the tile becomes carpet, here’s where the wall opens up to the right, remember this for the way back, Lauren. I hear the hopeful sound of someone stacking plates, the rush of water from a sink. I smell grease and a tickling waft of rewarmed pastry. Pastries, even lackluster ones, are a good sign.
As if linked by our barely-contained need, a woman materializes at my side like I’ve conjured her. “Are you looking for Starbucks?” she asks. Her voice is soft, probably in reverence.
“Yes!” By contrast, my excitement explodes out of me and echoes off the food court ceiling. I don’t bother asking how she knows, we are clearly kindred spirits.
“If you walk forward a few more steps and turn left, you’ll be in line.”
I thank her and follow her directions, emerging 5 minutes later with a paper cup of bitter holiness with just the right lash of cream. I begin making my way back to the concourse, checking off my landmarks: open to the left, carpet leading to tile. I’m grateful for my independence, and also for my recognition that I can’t do it all on my own.
That interdependence is where we truly begin to achieve our goals.