We tottered down the runway, wriggling inside the plane. Pale lead morning, 18 years since I’d flown to Alaska. That weekend before 9/11, the end of the tourist season, closing down the shops. Our kids now taking pictures outside the windows with their phones. We weren’t even married yet, that time I met Dawn in the strange town of Whittier, where her ship came to port. Playing a Black Sabbath cassette in the rental car. Spending the night in a hostel. The afternoon we rented a double kayak and paddled around the Kenai peninsula, spotting sea otters swimming beside us, splitting a bottle of wine over lunch, some island where they grow all their own vegetables, catch their own fish. Thinking this is the best day of my life, today.
9/11. Watching the plane hit the building, live. Nightmares about anthrax laced on our mail, Osama bin Laden’s face on a large spider. Thinking we should move to Alaska, quit my job, hide out in a basement there, write by candlelight every morning. Live the life I always wanted to, before it’s too late.
Charlotte eats Hawaiian, barbecue-flavored potato chips for breakfast, wraps her gum and stows it. When control is in doubt I crave it the most. I never thought I could have kids because of the unruliness of it, but when Dawn told me she was pregnant, I knew it was right. I was ready to change. You think that, but we are only capable of so much change in our lives. Charlotte gestures across the aisle, “more chips?” and I mouth, No Thanks. She nods, thumbs up. Outside the clouds are lamb coats, cotton balls. All we wanted for this time away was good memories. More of them.
Beginning our descent, the kids are slumped over their tray tables like banana peels, hollowed out. When we reach Alaska the mountains and glaciers reflect back a peach, mid-morning light. The beginning of an adventure where you enter the slot with only one way in, and one way out.
Anchorage sunrise: the wind whistles through a broken seal in our hotel window. You can see Denali today, 130 miles north. The seven-hour train ride we’ll take there leaves from a station at the bottom of E street. The old army and navy store next to the furrier, all the trading posts, tourist traps, street vendors selling reindeer hot dogs, cartoon images of bears, cannabis shops. One called Alaska Fireweed. Cheap, digital hours of operations signs. Outdated fonts. A sign advertising HOMER LAND: view lots for sale.
The wind whistles with no resolution, only constant tension. The same wind they get in the south of France that drives people to violence, and comes in threes: three, six, nine days of it.
On the TV at the hotel bar, a women’s tennis match with no sound, just captions. The Greek player is fierce and strong, but angry with herself. Too much ego. The Aussie is steady and even and I am vying for her: control. It is a psychological game, the same as any.