Between Two Homes 5: Airplane Bathroom


It is a few hours into the flight and I’ve just woken up from a very fitful sleep. When I woke up everything in the airplane was gentle with the quiet shifts of people in light sleep and quiet engagements that cut small shadows out from the soft light. My head had ran up against the arm rest and mussed up my hair pretty badly. For a while I did not notice but eventually my hand ran through my hair and something did not feel right. In the reflection of my phone I saw the full damage and quickly decided to go to the airplane bathroom to fix it.

The plane had no turbulence and no one but some flight attendants were paying attention. It crossed my mind that I could maybe just pat or comb the hair down in my seat and not draw any attention, but I was bored. The airplane was dim, littered only with little movements, and my long arms wanted to yawn large out on the open of the dark blue aisle carpets. I pulled out a bag of product and swiftly slipped out from my seat and into the aisle. My eyes flickered toward the attendants and a few other sleepless people to see if I was being noticed. I clutched my bag tight. My memory is spotty and sometimes I think some people looked at me, but only in that passive way that people use to track some new motion – besides, I wondered why it mattered anyways that I caught any attention.

Hair is an odd thing. Recently I had got mine cut into a shape entirely new for me where the sides and back are short and the top is long meaning it requires some kind of product to maintain. I know that this is a pretty normal style but I have always cut my hair short then let it grow again. My hair is uncooperative generally, forcing itself to fall straight in one direction so that it sproings up against any product and challenges what I try to do with it so I was hesitant to have to make a working relationship with it where I actually asked something from it. Maybe two months prior I’d not known how to use hair gel and in the small space between then and now I’d had my eyebrows trimmed and a quick routine with hair wax down pat.

Hair is an odd thing because of how core it can be to identity. Even just a bit ago I’d had different standards for my hair; I hated for it to be dirty and coarse and generally wanted it hygienic and conditioned but I never dared step past cleaning; the path seemed treacherous and time-consuming – which at first it was. Now I was working with two tins of product and trying to make it stand in a way that wouldn’t hide my features and my hands plied fast to the management of the unruly strands. I dipped into one tin of styling clay meant to stem rebellion and swiftly after into another tin meant to style follicle society into something smooth moving and sweet smelling.

I used to simply not want another thing on my hands so I kept on an easy pattern with my hair that involved about as much laziness with comb as you could manage. To be fair, the adventure into styling is a bit risky and I feel unless you have the compliant wires of some kind of a celestial model shining in the disgustingly kempt way a distant star does you are bound to have a bad hair day at least once while learning the ropes. Hair products exist in plethoric abundance fit to all sorts of niches and designs. When you first wander into their aisles odd names strike out in italics laced fonts focus tested to get your attention – they say hello. You say hello back but it’s an abortive greeting – it is not exactly what you want to say! Who you are? What do the words on you mean to me? You’d ask all that but the words are upfront and ugly in front of pretty things.

At the start most folk only know about a sociable fellow named gel and that was my only point of contact too. Gel, if you’ve never made the acquaintance, is a nasty and formidable beast that can do perhaps more than you want it to – a creature that you know to seek out for the same reason others know to avoid and treat with caution. In my first reckoning with it I knew nothing of it but what it did to the aforementioned blazing celestial model bodies plastered on the packaging, so I smacked a dollop into my hair without even rolling it into a thin layer across my palms and fingers first; this is a recipe for disaster. I tried in earnest to spread the clear and heavy solution across the outer ends of my hair and lace it into something and it turned out a half-organized mess of lopsided strands hardened into odd directions. Only after a few hours eagerly listening to words of YouTube-based hair sages did I realize all the other strange materials you could spread in your hair – I picked up some conversation topics for when I returned to all the brand names; I knew how to cut the curves of the question marks so they were smooth. I realized there was a whole weird world outside of gel – which was good because even when spread right, my gel was a thick and all too forward kind of slime; even when my hair stood up just right, it felt wrong.

In the airport bathroom I felt confident in slicking the styling clays – that I’d come to know on my own and through mutuals – from root to tip across hairs and riding it all as it were a wave toward a tight end at the back of my head. In fact I had come to love the pure motion of it; there’s a pleasant smoothness to swishing all those individual threads into a single fabric with one loose pull toward an end. I’d always liked running a hand through my hair to feel the smooth sensation of several separate things entwining together and I had worried rightly gel wouldn’t allow that; gel does not allow it, but all the other shadowy figures and strange foreign names in the hair aisle do.

What still vexes me a bit is how I got here, to this conversation. It was a bit dizzying to jump from lowest effort hairstyles to one of these low cut back and side modern things that extend out from a wider whirl occurring deep beneath hair follicles. I could apply that same question to where I stand generally too. I’d picked up a lot of things I never worried about before – applying past hair; Collagen moisturizer for my dry shoulders that itch on winter nights showed up in my bathroom one day; right next to it a sleek and futuristic looking black and blue container repairs the damage done by facial cleansers and razors; my two blade razor had retired quietly and a fancy orange striped five blade one replaced it. Something behind all of these things felt curious and fun; I chased these things ultimately because I wanted to. Had I always wanted to? If so, what stopped me?

The chase at first felt a bit heavy, leaving dripping thoughts on the proper masculinity of moisturizers. Perhaps the roadblock was as plain as that. At this point I probably still give a damn how things seems, but a sizably smaller damn than I used to give; why not look the cashier in the eyes while I buy two flavored lip balms? What’s there that I can dodge? Would I dodge it by getting a ChapStick with MEN plastered all over it? That’s entirely more homoerotic… I had one of those flavored lip balms in my hand now and applied it easy, in that same smooth motion of pulling hair into place. The moisturized feeling is plenty fine and so is the shine that comes around the lips.

So how did that barrier go down? Masculinity is a tricky thing to wrangle. It’ll kill you if you aren’t stern and careful with it; I am genuine – it has sharp and phallic horns that penetrate and gore. My bisexuality’s a generic answer but not one I discredit; I can’t deny trends began changing when I started stating plainly to myself and others that I liked sex with men; first I stated that to myself and then spread the news from there where it felt natural – or just awkwardly obligated. There’s a bundle of nerves and oddness that goes in taking on that identity and it’s a bundle I’ll write on when I’ve untangled it (hey – maybe never). Even now it feels a little foreign to claim it – a social contact I definitely know but can’t quite tell what to call when I cross it on the corner. No matter how many alternating romantic fantasies of each gender I indulge, no matter how it goes in reality, it feels in an instant I could fall to either side of the line. After tipping over to a side I’d regret ever saying I straddled the middle line as I fed old sayings I’d heard: “rooting for the other team” “looking for attention,” etc. It is all tired words that make me tired too. Well, one thing I can say early was that something about slipping on the moniker made adding some trappings that went with it easier.

Adding the trappings was a somewhat unconscious action with only correlating relationships, which makes the precision of it harder to detect. I asked a gay friend why men put on the kind of lispy affectation – the stereotyped gay voice – and he said he didn’t really know. Now that I stood with an I-give-a-shit hairstyle and clothes that I had selected based on whether they actually match, I couldn’t say why any bit of gayness made that – or the pairs of paints that fit slicker to the long slimness of my legs – more compelling. Maybe it was always compelling but now it was easier to admit and become swallowed up in; maybe it was not even fair to lay it out in that way, with that kind of question to him or to myself. There is nothing inherently homosexual in a sleek and clean of a tight-fit image. All I could really say was that I made changes out of enjoyment, a sort of fullness of embracing outer as well as inner and I want to make more changes as the same enjoyment arises.

As I sized myself up and smoothed out my shirt so it could get crumpled up against the airplane’s seats again, I’d remembered what my Mom said. When friends asked about the new style or when I told it, I’d often blame it on the bisexuality. Only my Mom challenged that laziness in slipping into a generic thought. “It is also because you are growing up.” She said. And I realized how my haircut resembled my Dad’s, how he’d apply ChapStick in the car, or even employ a mouth spray; I remembered buying him cologne one holiday – though that’s always been a masculine read for perfume. If all this primping existed as a manly thing to hover inevitably toward, why did it feel so disguised? Was it just me missing the new issues of GQ? Maybe the memo was there in my inbox and I just never read it. It is obvious now as I grow up that apathy’s a great path to a crap end and you ought to put your image together for yourself if no one else; I am not exactly sure why it wasn’t obvious then.

Stepping out of the airport bathroom into the quiet airplane I felt unsure of exactly how I arrived at the conversation I was having but I felt as sure as ever of what I was saying. With my black flip comb stuffed neat in my pocket and a hand running along the swivel in my hair. At the end it boils down to the feeling of dragging all those hairs together, patching all that dry skin into one smooth surface – a feeling I like. In the end it is just the look and feel of things in the odd low-light glow of a sleepy international flight.

~Austin R Ryan

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On the eastside of what west lies


Pardon me
For my sentimentality
Not a shade off from
Some form of
Emotional brutality

I feel far enough
That sad songs
Sing relevance

I wanted to move in a way
I used to
And I wanted to be in the skin
I felt comfortable in

I’ve stretched my arms
And bore my abdomen

But I only feel hungry

I’ve made my bold step
Right here at the gates of civilization
I’ve brandished my meticulous mind
On the details of book learning

Pardon me
For not feeling gratitude
Not a hue off from
Some need for
Inescapable rectitude

I’ve stitched it together all wrong
And wondered if it was because
you never taught me to sow

I’ve filled my ears with urgency

I’ve lost my hands holding on
To things I never needed
And I cannot think of how to communicate
Without using sign language

I am marking the page each day
Out of numerous hopes of vanity

I never wrote for you
And still I hold you to read me

I am perpetual
In my fear of pink and baby blue
I am flippant
In my wanting the broken shower back
I am certain
In that those trees will bear the weight I tried to keep from your shoulders

I never wanted to be carried

So I placed myself on high
And all day and all night
I can only imagine
The confrontation that would
Set my effervescent isolation
Right

I looked at my phone
Thought to set the record straight
But I wanted to be alone today
So I turned it into a shovel
And I told myself
That if I kept digging
I’d break new ground.

~Austin R Ryan

The Grand Send Off


Bit by bit my travel plans materialized. Each step steepened their reality. At the start of the summer I told people I planned to go to Beijing. I did not feel the meaning behind those words. In life and in travel we head to destinations we have an idea of. I longed for that idea. We do not know the exact of our endings. Rarely do I long for something I’ve never glimpsed.

I remember my beginnings. I hope not to forget them. I began this trip with the summer. I did not acknowledge it then, but I started the trip to Beijing as soon as I got back and got a job. My family could have generated much needed revenue for my living in Beijing. I wanted to contribute. I wanted one less thing to worry about, but I got much more.

The pink and baby blue color scheme helped me find my way back.
My old home

The beginning gave me more to think about than I bargained for. In the first month of returning to my home town of Indianapolis from my university in DC I realized that I would not want to return to my old hometown. DC beckoned with its full list of opportunities and events. I love my hometown but it lacked. No one told me what going to DC would mean. Maybe I ought to have known. I believed it meant space and nothing more. I believed I would return to old friends and family and live in Indianapolis. New friends and interests run deep in DC. They feel like currents carrying me from home. Going to DC meant living far from home and learning to give control to the currents carrying me. Living in DC meant missing friends in Indy. Moving to DC placed me in a tidal flow much harder to enter than to leave.

The idea of home started to shift. Home felt far away during the summer, bottled up in a university and town I knew only for four semesters. Indy no longer meant the same thing to me. My old Hoosier social circles percolated out across the states. I still see many an old friend during the summer but by the day that I graduated less and less people would await me in Indy. Naptown lacked the attractions to keep us entertained in our wild 20’s. We had to scatter to sow wild oats. These Midwestern suburbs raised children. So many of us thought we needed more to become men, be it the distance of an hour or ten.  How it surprises to lose a hometown.

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Early on in the summer I did not consider what going to Beijing meant. The physical distance of my travel symbolized the length of reality that separates the old and new. I would find my family for Christmas again and again. But my time with them dwindles from summers, springs, and autumns to the winters. My family and I would never diverge. My friends and I will. In the limited winter breaks, I never know who I will see and for how long. Lost friends loom like a monsoon flooding out currents old and new.

Just days before departure I dropped by two friends. We headed to my house to relax. Over the years we developed a habit of taking night time walks through my neighborhood. The neighborhood featured three blocks, three esplanades, three large fountains, six rows of houses, one town hall, and a veil of ancient trees. We stepped underneath the moonlight pouring through the cracks in the veil of leaves above us. The fountains poured away as we talked. I wanted to fall fully into conversation and empty every inch of me. I could not. Fear gripped me. It created a harsh irony. I wanted to say goodbye to so many people, but every time I tried the muscles in my mouth froze. I was moving on. I was moving on and I chose every step. Grief and greatness arrive in the same strokes. These steps lead to the edge of a cliff. So we plunge.

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My friends and I trekked to a gas station down the street. We bought unhealthy snacks and soft drinks and ran amuck on sugar for as long as we could. It threw me back to the way I used to be in high school. Looking back could not distract me from the path ahead. Beijing dominated my mind. Studying in such a foreign land felt like distraction enough. I chose to layer it with the thought of slowly shifting into a new life.

The Open sign at the gas station buzzed to life letter by letter. The word tried to flourish all in one glow, but did not coordinate properly. I knew things were still open. I knew I could change paths after Beijing, DC, or elsewhere. The old signs just did not glow with same life.

Perhaps I should look for symbolism in more important places
The old Open Sign

My journey starts with goodbyes. I start with a broken down open sign outside of a gas station and drive to O’Hare international airport. It feels dramatic to me, but I am not putting on a production. This is just what happens. This is how we grow and fall away into new currents and flows. People do this every second, every day. All the while they think as madly as me. Not everyone goes to Beijing, but we all travel and we all reshape ourselves around newer and newer settings. I have got no claim to a great story. Likely, you won’t uncover anything crazy, different, or worth reading here. You’ve only got my eyes here. I will give you what they have to offer as I go. If you truly want a good look, you’ll have to brave the waters yourself.

~Austin R Ryan