My friend is studying to be a wild life scientist, a trapper and catcher of information about the world’s dwindling carnivore populations. He’s approaching his graduation date, but I am only just now getting in a trip to visit him, because after two and a half years, I am finally ready to be separated from Baba overnight.
And so, I find myself on an airplane by myself. It’s a puddle jumper, as Virginia Tech is only a two hour flight away from home, and the plane is so small that I have managed to get myself a seat that is both window and aisle.
Glorious time, for an introvert. Two and a half hours of the kind of solitude that I have become accustomed to, the type where you’re surrounded by strangers who need nothing from you. Although I should be writing, instead I read the last 40 pages of Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Stay and Those Who Leave, the third in her famous Neapolitan novel series. Somewhere near the end of the flight, I close the book on the last page and sigh, knowing that I can’t check out the fourth and final book from the library for another week.
But then I look up, to see that I have been lucky enough to arrive in the mountains in late fall, where the land is carpeted in hundreds of thousands of trees that are all turning red and orange and yellow. Suddenly it strikes me how little I’ve noticed the turn of the season and how few trees really live on my street, although one thing I loved about my neighborhood when I moved to it were the size of the suburban trees. But compared to a real forest, the paltry sidewalks plantings of the suburbs are nothing.
When I land at 6 p.m., it becomes clear that we are the last scheduled plane and the airport is closing for the night. There are cafes and bookstores in the terminal, but the employees have shut off all but the emergency lights and they chat with each other in a way that doesn’t encourage customer interruptions.
It is a relief to be out of New York City, to retreat to a calmer place, where the accents are slower and businesses shut down for the night.
In the morning, we go to Virginia Tech, which is a glorious campus, with serene and stately stone buildings nestled among majestic trees that create a campus that feels more like a well-kept city park than a university. But you can’t go far without running into a memorial for the students and faculty that were murdered here a decade ago. It is a too-solid reminder of the attack on New York last Tuesday, which hit me and mine closer than any would ask for. But we try to move past it, darting between buildings in the gray rain, and watching the Virginia Tech undergrads like zoo animals, because the 15 years that separates us makes them seem like alien creatures.
I am here for a short visit – not quite 48 hours – and most of it is spent on friendship, asking about people that no one else remembers, reminiscing about the people that we were when we were the same age as the students around us. We can’t help but wonder – is the world less innocent now than it was then? Are we less safe now than we were then?
Then the news of the Texas church shooting breaks, so we know.