I feel loneliest sitting on a plane, waiting for take off. In my small space, with my small pillow, small blanket and small amount of legroom, looking out the small window as the terminal grows small in the distance. Leaving everything behind, crossing the skies and the seas, hoping to make it somewhere. The loneliness between leaving home and getting there yawns.
I wonder who will miss me while I’m away. I wonder where the kind older man sitting next to me is going and why he’s also travelling alone. I wonder if he feels lonely on planes. I’m grateful that he remains within his own small space, makes small movements when stretching and refrains from making small talk. I’m afraid my small voice will shake and crack if he is kind to me. I wonder if he’s leaving or coming home and I wonder who I’ll come home to when all is said and done.
Waiting for my best friend at San Francisco airport, anxiously googling through my last 10% of battery life at our designated meeting point, my isolation peaks. When I hear the familiar, slightly sarcastic, almost laughing voice ask, ‘excuse me, do you have the time?’ I try hard not to cry. In her familiar, comforting hug I try to keep a big, relieved sob from bubbling up through the giggles. It’s like watching the beginning of Love Actually and not sooking; like trying to hold back a flood with a sieve.
We settle quickly into our chatter, the words per minute and pitch ascending on a steep curve. We can’t believe we’re in San Fran; ah! It’s you!; hey it’s sunny!; where are the cabs; we’re hungry; OMG I have to tell you; I actually ate the plane food; chivalry is definitely dead; I don’t want to be that jerk lady; my hair feels so dirty; cool pants!; planes make me gassy; I want a croissant so bad; I got my nails done for you – OMG me too!; once you have a shower let’s go to Tartine. It’s our exclusive, peripatetic best friend language and it’s what I miss most all the days and months we are apart.
In The Mission, and a well researched two-minute walk from where we’re staying, Tartine sits on a corner, looking over a typically lovely local intersection. Inside, cool people wearing cool specs and cool beards bake bread, serve bread and break bread. There’s bread and pastry treats everywhere; it’s a bun fight. We’re told that the pastrami pressed sandwich is sold out, gasp with disappointment and order the Jambon royale and gruyere of Niman Ranch cured and smoked ham and Dijon on country bread ($14, me) and the Sopressata, fontina, broccoli rabe pesto on country bread ($14, her).
At a table outside we eavesdrop on the fellow Australian sitting next to us and the mouthy American lady planning baby showers, bachelorette parties and managing her hectic life, multi-tasking the application of moisturiser to her cracked heels while balancing on one leg. Our gigantic toasties are cosy warm and stunt the vocabulary. ‘It was spicy, the, ah, crunchy bit was unparalleled. Shell? What’s that bit called? The crust. It was crunchy. The cheese was melty and bountiful. But the spice and the size was a bit too much for me – in the end it got me.’ But it doesn’t matter, we understand each other.
We coo at passing puppies and babies, roll our eyes at the fellow Aussie and gag at the dry-skinned American who’s now eating with those same grubby hands. It’s been four hours since we reunited and already it feels like we were never apart. We only have a small amount of time together, just four days to share the last four months – it’s a small window to squeeze big life moments through. After a rough trot and a lonesome flight, the cure for my loneliness is her big heart and Tartine’s big, crunchy, melty sandwich.

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