I look out the window as the plane touches down and I see the familiar Sacramento airport. My stomach jolts, and not just because of the bumpy landing.
It felt off-putting, returning to the scene of the crime.
Anxiety. Depression. Loneliness. Was it really worth coming back here just to run a half-marathon?
I head towards baggage claim and find the escalator leading down to the carousels and ground transportation. I remember a friend had picked me up from the airport once and had been waiting by this escalator with a cup of tea for me, and at the time the gesture had made me feel warm and happy. We aren’t friends anymore.
It takes about ten minutes for my luggage to tumble onto the carousel. I grab it and head for the car rental shuttle. I pass by a line of cabs, all with their drivers waiting outside and eyeing the oncoming travelers with little to no interest. The first time I had come to Sacramento for a visit, an Afghan cabbie approached my parents and offered to give us a lift. What had started as a refusal ended up with him and my dad conversing jovially in Pashto and my mom, sister and I piling into the back seat. We had been dropped off at the car rental area with an open invitation to dinner at the cabbie’s home.
I was never able to get on with strangers that well.
As I hop on to the shuttle, I look into my carry-on bag to find my paperwork, because I can’t remember which car company I made a reservation with. I find it tucked away and make a mental note of the rental company, and then turn my attention to the window, wondering if I would recognize any landmarks, hills or traffic lights. It feels only vaguely familiar. My old home is more than twenty minutes from here.
It only takes a few minutes to get to the car rental building, and shortly after I receive my car. A convertible. It was my lucky day, according to the rental attendant, they were giving me a free upgrade from my compact car reservation. I glance around tentatively as I get into the car. It looks like a cockpit, and I feel too self-conscious about driving with the hood down.
It takes me almost half an hour to get to my friend’s apartment, partly due to my cautious highway driving. As I take the exit and come to a stop at a traffic light, I suddenly feel a wave of anticipation – the first one I feel since landing. I had taken this exit many times to visit M; either I rented a car or she picked me up from Davis in her own car. Sometimes we spent the whole day together – going shopping and doing dinner – other times I spent the night and we stayed up late talking, watching t.v. and eating junk food.
I had a handful of friends when I was living in neighboring Davis, but M. was the only non-student, the only one removed from my local environment, and often my only escape from my frequent bouts of melancholy.
The light turns green. I gently press the gas, and after several more turns through the grid streets of midtown Sacramento, I pull up to a very familiar building and can’t help but break into a smile. Moments later I see M coming outside, grinning as she runs up to my car and hops into the seat next to mine, telling me she’s going to open the garage so I can park my car inside. It had been three years since we had last seen each other. It doesn’t occur to me to point that out or make any fanfare about our reunion, so I thank her and let her guide me to a parking spot in the garage.