Every now and then, I feel the world turning under my feet and I go off balance; something nameless seems terribly wrong. It’s not an earthquake though. No–even though John and Lydi feel it too. It feels like I’m on a connection that’s too slow and my eyes are dropping frames. My body moves, but my mind lingers behind. But it’s nothing… just jetlag.
I remember driving through olive orchards in Turkey the first time I ever really felt the nagging effects of jet lag, but the texture of it differed from what I feel now. It was more or less just an awkward sense that something wasn’t right, or rather that something was seriously wrong even though nothing was.
The next year, we went to China for three weeks. I hardly remember having jetlag in Beijing, but when we came back home to the U.S. and I’d try to sleep in my own bed after I’d fallen asleep for only an hour or so, I’d wake up to see the dark, opaque shadows of people in our house, leaning against the walls or sitting on chairs watching me. These people were vivid and real as I stumbled back and forth to the bathroom and they were there for several nights in a row after arriving home. I would walk past them on the way to the kitchen or the bathroom. They looked as real as the cats and the couch and in my semi-sleepy, half-dazed state, their presence seemed normal and even expected. Three days after arriving home, the shadows were gone and I was sleeping through at least half of the night like a normal person.
On our way to Delhi, I slept through most of the flight, much like I did the first time we traveled here. When we arrived at our hotel, I slept too, but close to morning, whenever John got up from bed to get a drink of water or use the bathroom, I rose with him at the exact same time for reasons I couldn’t explain because I wasn’t going anywhere and didn’t need anything. It wasn’t that strange to us though. We didn’t care. We were too tired. Too out of phase with ourselves. Yesterday, around 10:00 AM Delhi Time walking laps in the Delhi airport, I commented optimistically to John that I felt really normal. I wasn’t overly tired. I didn’t feel jetlagged at all. He couldn’t relate. Halfway through our second lap he “hit the wall” and wanted to take a nap, probably because it would’ve been bedtime at home.
After five days of air travel of varying durations moving west for three hours, then east for four, then east some more for 14 hours, and finally south for three, we arrived at our destination: Chennai, India. I slept well the night before last. And last night I slept well until about it was about 2:00 PM at home. When I woke up, I looked at my cell phone to try to get my bearings, knowing I was someplace in the world other than home, but the phone was still on Nebraska time. I went through a list of places in my head, trying to remember where I was: Egypt? Nepal? Costa Rica? I’d been sleeping pretty well…dreaming about an airplane with four wings that I needed to “bring home”. I got up, drank some water, and hoped to fall back asleep again. But my mind was awake. A-WAKE. So I lay there looking up at the air conditioner, going through every single thought that I had stuffed up there in my head, forcing myself to “rest” until daylight in the hopes that the following night—tonight—would be less about things like how the air conditioner looks like an upside-down toaster without my contacts in and more about real, authentic sleep.
This afternoon, I succumbed to a “nap”, but it was fitful, arguably even a little painful. It took the shape of a deep yearning for nothing-in-particular. I asked myself if I was tired: No. Was I hungry? No. Was I uncomfortable? Yes. I changed position. I changed position again. And again. John reached over to remind me that he was still there too, also trying to nap off the apathy. I squeezed his hand as an acknowledgement and a promise to try to stay still but changed position one last time. It didn’t help. I stared up at the air conditioner for an unknown amount of time. Then I stared blankly at my own reflection in the mirror on the wall. Did I want to read or go do something? No. I got up anyway and had a fig. It was deeply unsatisfying.
And now I’m sitting here writing about it.
I want to want to go out and see Chennai. From the balcony, I can see the laundry on our neighbor’s roofs flapping enthusiastically in the afternoon breeze. A thunderstorm is building. Fifty feet away is all the crazy weirdness of India complete with free-roaming cows, rick-shaws, and saris. But I’m weary. A little, wise voice in my brain (the voice of an inner self that usually just observes) is telling me to chill. Chill… it says, There’ll be time to see Chennai. Yesterday at this time, I wasn’t even here yet. Eventually I’ll wear myself down and go to sleep…at night. It may be a couple of days. And then I’ll actually want to go out and do things during the day like getting dressed and eating.
For now, I’ll just sit here apathetically watching the planes fly in from Sri Lanka and Hyderabad waiting for the daylight to end. Later, we’ll eat dinner…something with potatoes or tomatoes, rice, and probably lentils. We’ll watch a little Bollywood and then, in a few hours I’ll try to sleep again. When I get back to the states, I’ll remember this day and the jetlag as a piece of a longer story about the month we spent in India, but for now it just seems like a waste of time.