I remember the moment very clearly. A sudden, intense sense of loss that bloomed in my solar plexus and rapidly filled my chest with that sort of shapeless melancholy that is so much harder to grapple with than a sharper, more focused pain. What was I losing? Why was I so sad? Tears stung, ridiculously, in the corners of my eyes.
At the time, I was standing on the 102nd floor of Freedom Tower in New York, waiting for the mocktail my husband had ordered for me from the One World Observatory. The price, in Rands, was jaw-dropping. I tried not to think of it. Instead, I gazed through the windows at the city beyond. The Hudson River, where the jet had landed so dramatically six years before and prompted me to sign up for Twitter. Helicopters slicing through the crisp late October air, the comically small brownstone blocks of Tribeca and SoHo, the spires of Midtown beyond, a slim triangle of Central Park and, still further, the shores of Brooklyn and Long Island laced to Manhattan by a series of bridges. (New York, from this height, was so much less impressive than Hong Kong.)
Would I ever get to see this again? I wondered. And the thought that no, there was a good chance that I would not, that the exchange rate would get worse, and there would be no time, and, most of all, that having a child would put an end to all of this travel, was terrible. The fabled city faded before my grasp even as I tried to hold onto it.
I have always wanted to travel, and, for most of my life, I never really did. As a teenager, I had turned down opportunities for school tours because of the expense, and later, it was unaffordable or I had studies or or or… there was always a reason. After getting married for the first time, my then husband and I booked a Contiki tour of the US and Canada and I visited New York for the first time, when the Twin Towers were still standing. It was summer, and hot, and wonderful, and I wish I’d visited them instead of waiting until now, to view the blank, empty spaces where they once stood, more than 14 years later.
During the past two years, I have visited Vienna, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Bangalore, Macau and, of course, New York. My husband travels often on business, and he likes me to accompany him. My job pays well enough that I can afford the airfare and the Uber rides, and my credit limit tides me over until the next pay day. I have loved all of it, and the knowledge that I have seen these places in the world illuminates the suburban quiet moments of home, when dogs bark and house alarms screech and white BMWs speed past. This is ok, because I have done this, and I have seen that and I have, quite literally, got the T-shirt. Hard Rock Café Bengaluru, it says, though it doesn’t fit me right now, and won’t for a while.
Before Thursday August 27th last year, I could see our life together mapped out: both well-established professional types who have the luxury of jetting overseas when we feel like it, the schlep of visas permitting. In our wake, we would leave a trail of Facebook check-ins and somewhat smug selfies, Instagram posts of quirky cafes and tweets about the wifi in airline lounges.
Which brings me to Paris, where I am not. I could have been there tonight, with my husband, who is there for a conference. And yet, here I am in bed, clutching my new pregnancy pillow (52% off from Groupon) and worrying about timesheets. Oh, the decision was a combination of many things: the expense of the flight, the awful guilt of taking more leave so early in the year, the weather (I hate the cold and the wet), the exchange rate – significantly worse since late October – and the thought of long hours in economy class while very much more pregnant than I was in New York.
What happened, though, between the angst I experienced in Freedom Tower and now? Paris is my favourite city; normally, I’d grab the change to visit. And yet, when I was doing a cost-benefit analysis on this trip, measuring the happiness I stood to gain from it versus the outlay, I found myself not wanting to go. Not wanting to apply for the visa, not wanting to book the ticket, not wanting to confess to the office that I was heading off on a plane yet again. Thinking about how flights would cost more or less the same as the gynae’s fees for the birth and, adding up all the transport and museum visits, I’d be looking at forking out the money I could use to produce the child I am carrying instead, and how it didn’t make sense when I’ve visited Paris twice before, in summer, and seen almost everything I want to see.
Will I come to regret this? When that second blue line appeared on the Clicks home pregnancy test, my first thought was: fuck. No more travel. And then: fuck. No more wine. So it has come to pass. My greatest priorities in life right now are choosing curtains, finding a compactum and getting the baby’s room painted.
Scrolling through my husband’s Paris photos on Facebook, I am now experiencing FOMO, of course. The menus (Rillettes de canard)! The narrow streets! The je ne sais quoi! But not quite enough to wish I were there.
Is this how my old self is to be conquered? Not by being forced into a corner by circumstance, but happily choosing to retreat there because it’s comfortable? Nesting, my husband calls it, amused. I wonder if the wanderlust will return, and if I will ever see New York or Paris again. Right now, curled up in bed, listening to soft rain outside, I am quite content to be where I am, my passport buried in a cupboard, unstamped.