There are few times when I feel more alone than when I fill out my taxes or go to the airport.
The reasoning for the former is clear. There are only so many times a woman can mark herself as “single” or “unmarried” in a tedious stream of rigidly objective documents before it begins to wear on her. For her singledom to really sink in. Yes, it’s simpler when your finances are truly your own. You’re independent and uncomplicated. But what if you’re feeling ready for those kinds of complications?
There isn’t terribly much to say about taxes that isn’t self-explanatory. Taxes are already generally unpleasant and only need to be filed once a year, anyway. No real surprises there.
But flying? Flying, man.
When you’re at the airport, whomever you're traveling to see is either ahead of or behind you. You won’t have a travel companion most of the time; as a young-ish adult, gone for me are the days of family vacations and tennis team trips. There’s something kind of relaxing about it, in a way. When do we ever really spend time by ourselves? Roommates, schoolmates, co-workers, familiar store clerks, fellow gym rats. There’s always some well-meaning random stranger who knows your face because you lift weights next to each other and make awkward eye contact three times a week. Never. Bloody. Alone.
As an ambivert, I have a complicated relationship with being alone. I like learning about and helping others, but I tend to isolate myself from others if just one of them does something that I perceive as disappointing. Suddenly no one can be trusted. That’s not especially fair, is it? Hmm.
II. The 5-X Rating System
Back to flying.
So there’s the clear fact that you are, technically, wandering through this sea of travlers by yourself. Odds are, there isn’t a single other person in that airport on that particular day who can put your name to your face. That feels truly bleak.
Maybe odds actually are that there’s at least one other person in the airport that day who knows you, if only marginally. An acquaintance from high school French club. Someone with whom you played Little League. An extended family member. An ex.
As I wrote “an ex,” all I could think of was the actual letter X. There are so many connotations, depending on how and why and how long ago it ended. That’s where the 5-X rating system comes in.
"This is XX out of a XXXXX on the Break-up Scale."
The loose system works as follows:
X – Some unfortunate turn of events led to your parting. You didn’t want to leave each other, but fate had something else in store. Maybe a job took one of you halfway around the world and the other person would have to compromise their career in order to move. You likely stay in touch with both each other and each other’s families, everyone involved hoping that you’ll eventually find your way back to one another.
XX – You just drifted apart. Nothing especially traumatic or unforgiveable happened. Maybe you even stay in touch, albeit via trite methods like wishing each other happy birthday on Facebook.
XXX – You cut them out of your life completely (or maybe they did). There was some fallout from one big problem that was symptomatic of many, many other problems. Not the worst possible ending, but it’s an instance of active elimination.
XXXX – Nuclear meltdown. Cheating, comically terrible miscommunication, abuse of any variety. You’re better off burning it all down, and at least one of you was hurt enough that you actually might.
XXXXX – See XXXX but add kids into the mix.
III. The Isolation of Extraordinary Events
Airports. Flying. Right.
I always find myself wishing that something extraordinary would happen to me whenever I travel. Maybe I've watched Romancing the Stone too many times. I suppose something like that did happen to me during my travels a short while ago. I found it pretty jarring, but that’s how it goes when extraordinary things happen to you. It was the worst kind of extraordinary – the kind that is isolated and has no conceivable happy ending.
Like the end of Dirty Dancing.
"Baby, was it?"
At the start of the movie, Baby (also: Baby?) is about to embark on a grand adventure at Mount Holyoke, and only a hopelessly dull family vacation at a cheesy resort stands between her and saving the world. It seems like she has yet to have her sub-par first sexual encounter and likely has been too B&I (Busy and Important) with paving the way to her career goals to realistically have much time for an SO. She’s got Daddy Warbucks making it rain whenever she needs anything AND his trust and faith to boot. Her sister may be a vapid, self-absorbed prom queen (re: foil), but, again: Mount Holyoke.
TL; DR: Baby has an exciting future ahead of her. But then she runs into Johnny, the bad boy with a heart of gold from the wrong side of the tracks who’s really good at X and just needs that big break. What about him genuinely appeals to the pampered, idealistic Baby, whose father, again, willingly gives her hundreds of dollars without needing to know why? How in touch can she ever possibly be with Johnny’s plight? With that of Penny, his original dance partner, and her botched abortion?
By the end of the movie, Baby’s world has been turned completely upside down. That’s kind of the point – contemporary Bildungsroman blah blah coming of age blah blah. To be clear, I absolutely love Dirty Dancing and am most definitely that obnoxious person who quotes lines at the screen 1.5 seconds prior to their delivery. I’m can’t honestly say I’m sorry.
But Baby has learned that the world is complicated and that her view of it has been laughably, painfully naïve. Many people live paycheck to paycheck and will never get the opportunity to go on family vacations at Borscht Belt resorts (pros and cons to that last bit). Not all women can go running home to financial and physical safety whenever something goes awry. Sometimes women get pregnant and have to contend with an utter lack of support. Even when you stand up for what’s right (e.g. defending Johnny by confessing that she spent the night with him), doing so doesn’t always magically rectify the situation. Management fired Johnny anyway, even though the only stealing he did was of BABY’S HEART. Nora Ephron, forgive me for that one.
But it’s ok, because Baby’s dad rescinds his recommendation letter from the scummy Robbie, Penny's back on the dance floor, Baby and her sister become friends, and Baby and Johnny land The Lift in that final fun dance party.
IV. Actually, No
Yes, Baby and Johnny ham it up for the camera at the end and have an amazing, what, 10 days of frantic dance rehearsals together, but then what? Adult Baby’s somber voiceover at the beginning of the movie already hints that Dirty Dancing is going to be sort of a sad, singular tale. That adult Baby likely now goes by Frances, has experienced the Kennedy assassination, has done a stint in the Peace Corps, and has started her own non-profit. Because that’s how adult Baby do. So what even is this long-lost summer to her? She grew up, carried a watermelon, and lost her virginity in a dingy bunkhouse to some near-stranger who she’ll likely never see again.
As far as first times go, hers was pretty epic. I won’t deny my envy.
But this story has no happy ending when it comes to romance. Adult Baby – Frances – sounds tired and lonely. There's a certain despair in her voice about having left this simpler time - this extraordinary event - in the past. Just like the Baby of the time before the events of Dirty Dancing, Frances is likely too B&I for romance and dating. The events of that summer didn’t seem to alter her life course too much (although they certainly had an effect on her worldview). They gave her a taste of what she had been missing and would continue to miss in her adult life. Because Johnnys with hearts of gold don’t exist once you’re checked back into real life, especially when you’re a pampered ‘rebel’ with a trust fund. But Frances sounds like she longs for that time and wonders what happened to Johnny – because it's frankly unlikely that they kept in touch (particularly because their story pre-dates the internet) or that that they lived happily ever after.
People like Johnny don’t get to have happily ever afters with people like Baby.
Or Frances, for that matter.
V. Stress Dream v. Field of Dreams
Obvious Inception and Dallas jokes aside, it would not be altogether inconceivable that all of the events in Dirty Dancing were just the contents of one of young ambitious Baby’s stress dreams. An escape from the hectic planning and life-changing protesting and so on. God knows even young, privileged Baby needed it.
Maybe that’s all that extraordinary happenings while traveling ultimately are: an escape from the mundane repetition of regular daily life. That’s glaringly obvious. But the point is that these extraordinary happenings can’t spill into real life, because then the heartbreaking shimmer would wear off of the event or the person or the circumstance. We travel alone. We can’t take those people with us, possibly because they would disappear like Shoeless Joe in Field of Dreams once they made it to baggage claim.
It’s hard to be optimistic when that’s the reality of things. You do hear about it working out for some people. But maybe you hear about those people exactly because it’s so rare.
Maybe that’s all right. If extraordinary things always happened, there might be nothing to dream about.
Still. It would be nice to run into an extraordinary event that happened to have a happy ending.
Copyright Alexandra Lucas 2015