Planes

When people ask me where R lives, I truthfully answer “Cambridge.” This, however, is not the clearest answer I could give. If they’ve met him, they pause, slightly confused, and then nod and say “Oh! Okay.”

You see, in the Boston area there is a place called Cambridge.

There also happens to be another place most people call Cambridge and I call “the Other Cambridge.” This little bit of ambiguity either results in me clarifying that I, in fact, mean the Other Cambridge, or being grateful I don’t have to talk about my long distance relationship.

I don’t really enjoy talking about my long distance relationship and people keep asking me about it. This is natural and healthy behavior, of course, and it’s something I do. But, sometimes, I don’t enjoy dwelling on the nature of what that all means or how it happens to change our interactions–how they might be different if he lived in this Cambridge rather than the other one.

In truth, this has all had little effect on my daily life. Instead, moments stand out. In these moments, the impact the modern world has on my relationship are brought forward, pulled in so close I can’t ignore them, and force my attention.

One such moment is purchasing a plane ticket.

In the course of our time together it became quite clear to me that I could not simply expect R to continue to come visit me. At some point it would be -right-, if nothing else, for me to board a plane and hop across the Atlantic as he has now done four times. Frowning over my work calendar, we settled on Thanksgiving. With Thanksgiving, I could go from Wednesday through Sunday and not have to take extra time off. Plus, my mother told me not to visit them for Thanksgiving. She kept insisting, in fact, in spite of my trying to do it. She tried to get out of New Years too, but I’m not giving up.

I am miserly of my days off. I want to hoard them and use them so I can go on the grand trips I used to and dream of–two weeks in Iceland, three weeks biking and camping, a month with my family. However, these trips are far in the future, thanks to my full time employment and firm vacation policy.

Besides, there’s still that week between Christmas and New Years. If I ever run a company, that will be assumed off and you get a bonus if you come work during then.

Anyway.

For over a month now I’ve been getting e-mail alerts about the price fluctuations for tickets between Boston and the UK. I’d comment on them, muse over them, and consider them an odd sign, sigh when they were on sale and I couldn’t afford them, and grumble as prices jumped back up once I could. Finally, once the Job deposited my paycheck for August, I greedily sat down with my laptop, debit card in hand, prepared to buy myself time with my beloved.

(Did you notice that nice use of language there? I really like how that sentence flows.)

R was in town at the time. He watched as I kayaked. I tweaked numbers and times and tried to figure out the best way to get there and back. I pestered him with questions about arrivals and departures and what would work best. Having settled on a flight run through British Airways, I went to their site to book it.

A screenshot of a Kayak-US search for flights between BOS and LHR Thanksgiving weekend 2011.

M's Kayak-US search. Note the top four.

“Hey,” I said. “I could stay in the UK for an extra hour for a hundred dollars more.”

Somehow this lead to a distracted conversation. I went to, for reals this time, order my ticket. R, looking at the Kayak page (he uses their .co.uk page, said “so you’ll be leaving at seven.”

“No, six. It’s a hundred more to leave at seven.”

At this point he showed me the Kayak-UK page. There it was, the flight leaving at seven rather than six, for the same price. They were the same price as each other, not the Kayak-US listing. This is because A) the Kayak-UK price was in pounds and not dollars, and B) when converted, the Kayak-UK flight was actually two dollars US -more-.

A screen shot of a Kayak-UK search for flights between BOS and LHR for Thanksgiving Weekend 2011.

R's search on Kayak-UK. Note the top two.

“Hey, an hour with you is worth two dollars!” I said to R.

I don’t remember if he looked amused.

He suggested I just buy the flight from the UK page. I then had to explain that with international and conversion fees, it would just cost me more. He frowned.

“I’ll just buy it then.”

When I offered him a check, he realized it would be “entirely useless,” as there is nothing he–with his UK bank account–could do with a US check. Paypal keeps GBP and USD in separate accounts. I could give him a stack of cash, but no one really wants 700 USD in cash. Well, maybe they do, but not if the other option is to have it in their bank account. Or to have 434 GBP in their bank account.

In the end, I decided just to buy my own ticket, forsaking an extra hour with my beloved since we had just used about that trying to figure out how to spend an extra hour together. I filled out the information. We shared shock and disgust over the $567.79 of the total cost being attributed to surcharges, taxes, and fees. ($346 for fuel?).A screenshot of the taxes and fees for a British Airways flight.

I appropriately giggled at the ‘title’ list BA offers (‘Sir,’ ‘Dame,’ ‘Lord,’ ‘Lady,’ “Mstr,’ ‘Capt.’)

Finally, I put in my card information and a machine miles away talked to another machine miles away and tried to transfer digits from one machine to another.

But it didn’t work.

“Your card has been declined,” the BA screen told me.

Like all Americans, I have a healthy dislike of talking about money, even though I do it far too much to try and get over this dislike. (The especially hard part here being that R makes quite a bit more than me, and acknowledging that is a difficult point for me which I could easily go on about for a while. At least a five paragraph essay.) A declined card, traditionally meaning you don’t have enough, evokes an immediate sense of embarrassment quickly displaced by indignation once you realize that you can, or ought to be able to, afford it. I didn’t want to have to deal with this around anyone else. But, I had to.

I called my bank.

After a dance around their computerized system, I came to a living person.

“How much was your last deposit?” She asked me for identification purposes.

I glanced at R. “Uhh,” I mumbled my monthly, post-tax income.

“I see,” the lady said. “Well, you had this charge for $700 dollars that didn’t go through. Let me check it out. Oh, I see! It was for an international company. You can’t spend more than $250 with an international company.”

I paused. “How am I supposed to buy my plane ticket?”

“I don’t know.”

I hung up and stared at my phone for a minute. Then, I turned to R very seriously. “I can’t visit you. My bank won’t let me.”

Then I started laughing. At least, I think I started laughing. I hope I started laughing. In between my embarrassment and quickly forming rant at how external forces mitigate my relationship, laughing seems like the only thing one could have done.

Going back to the Kayak page, I looked for other options. Orbitz also had tickets. I bought one from them.

With my bank account looking significantly less happy, I was committed to going to England for Thanksgiving. I began to dreamily talk about baking pies and finding Thanksgiving story coloring books to bring with me, to teach R and his friends the real meaning of Thanksgiving. I decided to make them construction paper pilgrim hats and politically incorrect head bands. I piled on ridiculous plans to try and distract myself from the realization that this will be my first Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays, without any of my family.

“Er, can we have it on Friday?” R asked me.

“No! Thanksgiving is on Thursday! It’s always on Thursday! It’s very important that it’s on Thursday.”

“No one will come if it’s on Thursday. They all have work the next day.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, I guess that’s okay. But we’re going to eat pie on Thursday. And I’m going to make everyone draw hand-turkeys.”

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Sharing

My relationship with R has so far been characterized by two things: 1) attempts to navigate schedules over distance and 2) him saying or doing something and then me, in the odd moments on my bike, realizing what it -could- mean and then nervously telling him several possible meanings and wanting to see which, if any, he meant by it. The answer is almost always entirely innocuous, I spent time worrying over nothing, and then he placates my new set of worries that I am too ridiculous.

These converged a few weeks ago when he decided to share his calendar with me.

Exchange, Google, and the Internet (said like Jen from the IT crowd), have made it possible for us to share calendars. When I look at my calendar, I also see the calendars of my house, my friends’ house, G, and R. When G shared his calendar with me, it was in an effort to plan a visit and an experiment with emacs. His calendar is sparse, marking his internship hours and only the most important–or necessary–of events. G, my best friend of nearly seven years, sharing these stark details of his life with me seems like something not even worth thinking about. This is not to say he isn’t worth thinking about, but our relationship, almost Bostonian in its matrimonial properties, leads me to find it natural to see “Internship hours” cover a swath of my calendar in the ever changing colors I assign it.

At work, we can view one another’s calendars, but the specifics are blocked off. We merely know, in these big empty blocks marching across the screen, that someone is “busy.” R’s calendar, in contrast, marks his regular flight schedules, his lengthy trips, and mysterious events like “blood test,” that I can only frown at and wonder. I am aware of the upcoming inspections on his new flat. This isn’t just what he tells me–the annoying search for someone who will inspect it but not try to sell him anything that I witnessed with the help of the internet–but the time it will actually occur. I know the codes of the airports he flies out of and what time his flights actually are–all automatically transposed from his time zone to mine.

This sort of hypersharing, my mind tells me, should feel intimate rather than clinical. Similar to how I feel about G’s calendar, seeing R’s lacks a direct intimacy and rather evokes a sensation of voyeurism. It’s factual. It makes things, to some extent, easier. I know when R’s in meetings, so I won’t expect answers to questions I shoot his way. I know when he’s at a conference or a meeting, so I can go out of my way to remind him how much I like him and try to soften the stress of frequent travel. These are inherently intimate acts, just as seeing his calendar overlaid on my own ought to be. I wouldn’t share my calendar with most people. No one needs to see the names of the lineup of doctors I see, the secret names I use to refer to the people in my life as I denote their birthdays with terms I never introduce them with, the lunches and coffees I now put on my calendar so no one will try and schedule me for meetings during those times, the reoccuring classes and meetings I have weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly. Not only do they not need to, I don’t want them to.

Hypersharing is becoming typical. Enabled by technology, Foursquare, Google, Twitter, and Identi.ca all allow us to share our locations by checking in wherever we are–as well as thoughts and notes. We can say who we checked in with, we can mark our micromessages so they appear on screens floating in ice cream shops. Zillow makes how much people paid for their properties web-accessible. The building I live in now was purchased in 2003 for $610,000–matters of public record, but now easily findable from my bed. A U.K. equivalent site is happy to tell me how much R paid for the aforementioned new flat (well, not quite yet. It is happy to tell me how much the last person who purchased it paid.) Dopplr is just one of many sites that people can use to share their travel plans. Warmshowers, like courch surfing for touring cyclists, has the phone numbers of my housemates displayed in their profile. The Personal Genome Project has volunteers who publicly share their “DNA sequences, medical information, and other personal information with the research community and the general public.” They trade their privacy for scientific knowledge, future promises of accessibility, and getting their genome sequenced. Sharing is becoming an increasingly de-intimized space.

Recently, two people I know became engaged and the video of the proposal made its way to facebook within days. In my mute voyeuristic awe I watched. As I always do when I see these things, I let my mind wonder how it became such that we share so intently and completely every moment of our lives, every detail, with everyone else. I struggle with my own uncertainty as I change notes in my calendar, wondering as R looks at his own if he will see them and then later connect names with my names for people and connect who they all were to me once. I wonder if he looks at the ominous markings on my own calendar, “Dr. S,” “Dr. O,” “Dr. L,” “Meeting with JB,” and asks himself which doctor is which. With similar feelings, I watch with envy at the sheer integrity at how genuine others are with so much of themselves that they share. How they put their lives up for anyone to see. I think of all the posts I’ve written that I haven’t put up because I lack the courage to give up those small parts of myself even though I think those are the ones most worth showing to others. I look at my calendar, marked with the lives of others, and think about how I ought to search for meaning in these acts of openness, how I ought to find it, how I ought to believe it’s there, but don’t.