The Effects of Jet Lag on Play-Worn, Well-Loved Relationships
This time around we chose to travel through the South Island of New Zealand, one of us bearded in that weather-beaten holiday way, the other one 6 months pregnant, dangerously bordering on 7. We had as little contact as possible with our phones, as much as possible with each other — not so much out of design, but as a subliminal offshoot of travel.
We drove up mountains together, spotted baby sheep looking out onto the road from behind their mother’s Merino sweaters. We ( I ) peed in close proximity to one another, in the little crevice created when you open up the front and back doors of a car. We cooked with a few ingredients and ate them dog-tired at the communal dining tables of kind AirBnB hosts as their pets brushed their tails on our aching feet.
On the morning that we had to fly out, we ate a breakfast of peanut butter and toast, along with a generous spread of homemade berry jam, our host Doxy’s goodbye present. We left the remaining of our rations — half a jar of peanut butter, some raw pasta and rice, a few sachets of Earl Grey and Hot Chocolate, a partially used pod of garlic — in the centre of Doxy’s large wooden table. She had told us the next travellers always made use of food gifts gratefully, happy to find a place in the cycle of travel-fuelled karma. Just the previous night we had made a fried rice using the charity of the travellers before us who had left behind a tin of Tuna steeped in lemon pepper oil.
Air borne on our way to Perth a short while later, one flight after the other, the hours piled on and we gained time on the clock. Little babies looked bewildered, older people tottered slowly towards neon-lit bathroom signs. Sid watched 3 movies back to back, in what I have now come to recognise as his air travel routine; how he recharges as we fly over lands with no names, incommunicado, receiving periodic food offerings and ample alone time. Retreating into a world that he creates using the in-flight entertainment screen and a few glasses of Bailey’s, he looks out occasionally, delirious, uncommitted, content to be marooned.
I on my part adjusted my compression socks and took to periodic walks up and down the aisles, looking at little boys with mullets grinning at their iPads, moms nursing little colicky babies, eavesdropping when flight crew spoke to each other about hurting ears and skin care.
When we landed in Perth, it was warm and felt foreign, despite the fact that we’ve been renting a home here for the past year or so. That isn’t a feeling that I’m unfamiliar with, it usually always happens after a holiday, as I board cabs lugging unwashed clothes, sleep-filled eyelids and grey wistfulness. Back home, I immediately put the pressure cooker on with a batch of yellow lentils, rice and four times the water, while Sid beard-trimmed with urgency. Tempered with cumin seeds, asafoetida and ghee for digestion and grounding, we ate lunch from giant familiar bowls after a quick shower burst.
Sid was the first to suggest a quick nap before we head out to watch some Diwali firecrackers at the quay in the town centre, so we slid under the covers, setting an alarm for an hour later. We woke up an hour after the alarm rang, groggy and heavy, me smack bang in the middle of the nightmare of being awake within your sleep. I had to be propped up against my newly-procured memory foam pillow to be awoken, firecrackers now seemed like a preposterous proposal. After mindlessly circling the apartment like an unsettled feline going into labour, I stood at the side of the bed, knees bent and bobbing like a toddler, begging to be allowed to go back to sleep. Sid distracted me with the promise of a reset sleep cycle if I can only resist for a couple of hours more.
I’ve always been vocal about how jet lag plays out on my life skills. I usually don’t give back proper change, mess up elementary social responses, wake up at odd hours to wolf down leftovers covered in beeswax wrap. I glaze over entire chapters in conversations, coming to towards the end, slack-jawed. But tiding through jet-lag together with someone who isn’t as moved by the experience of it as you are can be strangely bonding. We’ve been living in different country from our hometown one, each other’s nearest source of comfort, frustration relief and friendship. No parents’ homes or old friends’ cavernous couches to disappear into to process emotions, sleep starvation or food cravings, we’ve become each others’ single point people in a larger way.
As I blankly inhabited various corners of the house, he got me my jacket and convinced me we should step out to stay awake. As his eyes glazed over, I reminded him we needed groceries otherwise we will wake up at 2 am and eat cardboard boxes.
When finally it was time to sleep, we collapsed into a deep drug-induced kind of sleep, slack-limbed and contactless, faced away from each other, taking turns to drool and snore. We kept waking up through the small hours of the night, sharing funny stories from the trip or blurting passing observations, not entirely lucidly, sometimes simply staring outside the cracked window at the party of stars.
I woke up for the day at 4:40 am, tossed around a little bit, before sneaking out to fix myself cereal and fruit. The early morning stillness felt like a balm, an elite private privilege. As I ate in silence, the holiday came back to me like a documentary film, and I was able to savour it without despondency. The day was slowly unlacing outside, sleepy chirps escaping from trees and the light glow of an early sunshine filling the horizon.
By the second morning, 4:40 am had become 5:40 am. As we lay in bed, I told Sid about some feelings I was coping with to do with a professional disappointment. We worked through some of it in between poorly-timed laughter. We fixed more cereal and fruit, ate it in bed as we played some Leon Bridges and spoke lazily about the day’s tasks. Sid announced he’d be working from home until his 2pm meeting, and I saw that as an excuse to make masala omelettes, buttered toast and hot tea.
The next few days, as we inch towards a previously established ‘normalcy’, are an exercise in mindfulness. Discomfort has so many hidden magical properties if you can just bear to pay attention.
Dinners have been reaching us earlier, one day at 5 pm. Either of us was too sleepy to cook an adult meal, so we ate a simple childhood staple of mine, tomato pulav and added to that cauliflower hand-shorn into large florets and oven roasted with smoked paprika and sea salt. We don’t have a dining table at home, so we set up the outdoor two-seater table indoors, laid out the meal and ate in complete silence, kind of bug-eyed from exhaustion.
Normalcy, I repeatedly discover, is over-rated.