40. The Farther Shore

“Pretty little hairdo, don’t do what it used to...”

 

     I stood by my car, under a street lamp. I had just waved goodbye to my wine group after our last meeting together in awhile. We’d gone for a long dinner at a wine bar in Franklin, TN on a Tuesday night, after my last four days of tearful goodbyes and long hugs with others in Nashville. I’d said goodbye to all of my piano students that week, as well as come to the gut-punching conclusion that there would not be a buyer for my tuning business; no one would ever care about Allie Farris Piano Tuning as much as Allie Farris herself. The cold calls, the bulk emails. The years prior to taking the leap out on my own fraught with long hours in dusty warehouses or stained-carpeted music college practice rooms, for little to no pay. I’d been in Tennessee almost 9 years.

I stood there, and the light moved, catching the glint of the sign for the building in the next lot over. Stunned, I had forgotten where I was; I was standing where I had been almost 9 years previous. I had parked next to Schuff’s Piano Showroom, the site of my very first job in Nashville, and now the last building in Franklin I would see. It was like I was right back where I’d started, and nothing had changed.

 

“Can’t disguise the livin’, all the miles you been through...”

 

     The morning came; I was alone in Sharon’s condo, save for her sleepy Old English Sheepdog, Alfred. He watched uninterested as I made my last inspections, zip ups, and oh-my-God-is-this-really-happening?’s. He watched me as I tried to take a timed picture with my cell phone, before giving up, locking the door, and asking my Uber driver to take one instead. “I’m moving to Switzerland today,” I told my driver. As everyone else had been for the last two weeks, he was surprised, quizzical, and possibly a little confused.

 

“Looking like a train wreck, wearing too much makeup; the burden that you carry is more than one soul could ever bear...”

 

     When I got to the airport, despite having already texted my family that everything was a go, my flight had now been delayed an hour due to mechanical issues while coming from Chicago. The women seated around me noticed my look of horror, and asked if there was anything they could do to help. As if everyone on my tiny, puddle-jumper plane was rooting for me, we proceeded to board with breakneck timing, and some even offered to let me take their seat closer up front. Then, with a collective wave of sadness, they all watched the hope of making my connection to Geneva drain from my eyes as we sat still on the tarmac for an additional 30 minutes. I had missed my long-awaited business class direct flight to Geneva by less than half an hour. As I was fast running out of options and now stranded in Dulles airport, I raced off my plane and ran straight to the nearest ticket agent. 

She was a really sweet woman, about ten years my senior and with a thick islander accent and perfect, sky-blue eyeshadow. At first, she and the other ladies behind the desk pointed me in the direction of customer service, but after seeing my frightened expression, she asked why I was going to Geneva.

“For bizness, or for pleashah?”

“For love,” I replied.

This got a big reaction. The ladies, my accented friend chief among them, proceeded to do everything in their power, up to and including breaking the rules to book me a first class seat on the 10pm to Frankfurt, in order to get me to Geneva on Saturday night, come hell or high water. After bending over backwards and earning my eternal gratitude, the woman came around the side of the ticket desk, gave me a big hug, and told me to “go get married”. I ran to the C terminal with a first class ticket in my hand.

Just as soon as I arrived at the gate with my ticket, elated and feeling saved by the grace of others, it was snatched out of my hand by another, less benevolent employee who proceeded to scold me and the other agent for booking and accepting a ticket that I had not paid for. She then booked me a business class seat on the 10pm to Frankfurt. I had been texting Sharon throughout this entire ordeal, who informed me with a screenshot of my new plane’s layout, that despite having booked a seat on my direct flight that was an individual cubicle, I was now in a row with three others, with the first class of this new plane looking exactly like my previous seat in business on the direct flight. This was relayed to C in Lausanne, up at 3am and unable to get rest until he knew I was safely on a transcontinental flight, who completely lost his cool and demanded that I complain. When I told him how rude this new gate agent was, he got on the phone with United and chewed the ear off of the first person who picked up. 

Meanwhile, I remained dejected at my gate, looking like an unwatered house plant. I was approached by a fashionably dressed woman who was on my previous flight from Nashville and had also missed her connection. She was happy to see me, and though no one forced her to, she still took pains to comfort me. Her hands on my shoulders, she said:

“Honey, buck up. It’s just the way it is. I have a really good standing with this airline, and I’m in business class. There is no first on this plane.” 

I looked up. “No, there is. My friend sent me a diagram of the plane.” I showed her Sharon’s message. All at once, her face turned a bright crimson, and she marched herself (and me) to the gate to confront our angry agent.

“She and I are supposed to be in first,” She said, “and you told me there was no first on this plane.”

“There are seats, yes-“ She said, “-but we are not servicing first class on the flight.”

“And may I ask why not?” She was livid.

“We do not have the staff or resources...” she trailed off, obviously embarrassed by her baseless answer. It became clear that the flight crew were going to be sitting in the first class cabin. She landed on a stony expression directed at us both.

“Alright then.” The slender, elegant aristocrat said to the bitter individual before her. “You can be a bitch about it then.”

She said that. To her face. My jaw was on the floor. The woman who I now will refer to as ‘Victoria’ turned on her heel, and asked if I was coming. I followed.

“If you want anything in life, anything at all,” she said to me, resolutely, “you’re going to have to stand up for yourself.”

 

“So sad, don’t look so sad Marina,

There’s another part to play

So sad, don’t look so sad Marina

Save it for a rainy day,

Save it for a rainy day.”

 

     Victoria and I walked and talked together after the overnight flight, her Cartier panther jewelry glinting in Frankfurt’s mid-morning sun. Having just experienced my first business class ticket, complete with lie-flat seat (more about this later in its own separate entry), I was elated with my new, glamorous lifestyle. Victoria on the other hand, a seasoned traveler and unabashed fancy person, told me that the food served to her was inedible, and the flight was appallingly sub-par. I don’t know why, but nothing about this woman and her flagrant criticisms annoyed me; rather, I was amused by her frankness and enjoyed her company. To me, she offered a window into a rare viewpoint: that of one who has seen it all and lived to tell the tale. For her part, she was taking great pleasure in seeing things from my perspective: that of one who has had limited experiences, but shares her same passion for the finer things in life. 

As she escorted me to the first class lounge, making sure that no one dared turn me away, she imparted as much wisdom about moving to a new country as she possibly could:

  1. Have your own friends apart from C.
  2. Don’t let anyone treat you less-than.
  3. All of it is possible. It just matters how much you want it.

Sitting with her in the Frankfurt business class lounge, loopy from only two hours of sleep, a 7-hour-forward time warp, and a now 24-hour emotional roller coaster of will-I-or-won’t-I-be-moving-to-Switzerland-today, Victoria left me with the story of Jerry Hall, an actress and model from Mesquite, Texas who had moved to the south of France with a suitcase full of clothes bought from Frederick’s of Hollywood with car accident insurance money, for the soul purpose of being discovered. And she was. She later went on to have a 20-year relationship with Mick Jagger, before marrying Rupert Murdoch in 2016. “She knew what her strengths were, and used them to get where she wanted,” she told me, matter-of-factly, about her friend Jerry.

 

“You never make your mind up, like driving with your eyes shut

Rough around the edges, won’t someone come and take you home?”

     

     The time came for Victoria’s flight to Dubai, and as she turned to leave me, she said:

“You must come to visit me once I’m settled in Lugano this fall. You must.”

I told her that I would love to, and although it may not be as nice as her digs, she was welcome in our Lausanne guest room anytime. Another long hug. Another goodbye.

———

     Before long, I could see my new home through the tiny window of my connecting flight from Frankfurt to Geneva. Bedraggled and slightly crazed, I was arriving a full twelve hours and an additional flight from my planned commute.

Walking briskly along the rolling paths that drug me through the Geneva International Airport, I began to hear more and more French being spoken, as my English began sounding more and more out of place. When I reached baggage claim, through a sea of faces waiting excitedly outside a sliding door behind a red line, for the first time in three months; I saw C.

 

“Waiting for a breakthrough; what will you set your mind to?

We stood outside the Chinese restaurant in the rain.”

 

     Around 4am I awoke with a start in a dark room. I could hear the low hum of moving cars and the high-frequency white noise that fills any bedroom during quiet hours when there is no other sound to choke it out. I got up, stumbling past my unwashed clothes, trying not to wake my peacefully sleeping fiancé. When I returned to the bedroom, my eyes adjusting, I noticed our wide open balcony door, a cool breeze streaming through it, and the twinkling lights of the French shoreline across the lake from us so clear and magical, they danced like hundreds of fireflies, or like an opened chest of shimmering jewels: offering abundance, mystery, and a future wild, captivating, and unexplored.

 

“So sad, don’t look so sad Marina,

There’s another part to play

So sad, don’t look so sad Marina

Save it for a rainy day,

Save it for a rainy day.”