Did I sleep? I think so, but they were quick-mud moments, and pulling out of them was delicate work. Sometimes it felt like I had fallen so deep I’d never be able to pull myself out; other times, the dreams were as shallow as a mud puddle.
Sleep is not a bad thing in an airport terminal if you’re in no hurry to get home. Uncomfortable, yes, and a little over-bright, but if you’re tired, you can adjust.
I slept with my back to my chair, my carry-on behind me. I pulled out a sweater and wadded it up as a pillow for my back, but the sharp plastic edge still dug into me.
Collie stayed beside me. He watched over me, protectively, for what reason I don’t know. I wasn’t overtly friendly towards him, but I tolerated his colloquialisms and twitches. I don’t know that he slept. He dug a pillow out of his knapsack and put it behind his back. And he took out a battered old notebook and drew squiggles and narrow patches of words. His eyes were alert, and he offered to watch my bag if I needed to get up and stretch. For another unknown reason, I trusted him, more than the hundreds of others who wandered aimlessly from chair to chair. Maybe it was because he did look a bit like a Collie… loyal, alert, trusting.
I said, “I had my first sexual experience when I was 15 years old. Notice I said had and not enjoyed, because it was over so quickly. But the memory has stayed with me, fresh, for sixty years. It shaped me and formed me into the kind of man I’m not sure I ever wanted to be.” I felt a little punch drunk and over-tired. The story was so antique and fragile I was afraid that if I dropped it, it would shatter like a vase. Collie was a stranger, and even if he told everyone that an old fella confessed his original sin to him, it wouldn’t reflect back on me. I wasn’t famous or renowned, and the story had been digging into me for so long – like the back of the plastic chair into my back – that I needed to unburden myself to a stranger. The opportunity might come never again.
Collie’s eyes were wide and curious, but he said nothing. He did not encourage me to continue, nor did he ask me to stop. That was all the prodding I needed.