No Town Like Johnstown: Missing in Action Again

If you travel for work, people will often call you lucky. And really, you are. You’re getting paid to travel and that’s a beautiful thing. I once went to San Diego for a weekend. It was snowing in Philly. Just a day of southern California sunshine was a welcome sight, despite the sickening and cracked out feeling that came with the red eye flight back home. But there is a down side to traveling for work- one that someone who doesn’t have to bounce around the country on the company’s dime would never quite understand. There is nothing glamorous about keeping a suitcase packed and you don’t get any kind of points or extra credit for multiple cab rides to the airport. But those are trivial thing- collateral damage.

The real down side to traveling for work comes when emotions are involved- when something happens to a family member, whether it’s good or bad and you find yourself miles from where you want to be, where you feel you should be, where that when it comes down to it, you need to be. It’s when something like that happens that the true cost of traveling for work rears its ugly head.

I had an unbelievable streak going for a stretch there; a streak of painful tragedies happening while I was somewhere in America chasing that paper. I was in San Diego when Uncle John died, Vermont when Gram died and then State College, Pennsylvania when Jay died. Two of those deaths were unexpected, one wasn’t- but it didn’t make any of them any less painful or easier to take. In the end, I was somewhere far from where I wanted to be and there was little I could do to fix it. These tragic turns made me uneasy about traveling. It was feeling like a jinx. It was feeling like a suggestion from above that maybe I should look into a different line of work.

Currently I’m in Johnstown, PA. You’ve never heard of Johnstown? Here you go: Wikipedia: Johnston Flood. Their claim to fame is a massive flood that nearly wiped out the town in 1889. It’s a depressing place, especially in the middle of winter with the wind ripping through the quiet town’s streets and the confusion that comes with not being sure if it’s snowing or just windy- with the wind blowing the snow in circles and making it appear as if it is snowing. Johnstown is a little over four hours away from Philadelphia, where right now, at a hospital just outside of the city, my sister is holding my newborn niece. Little Keridan was born at quarter after 2 this morning while I was tossing and turning at the Comfort Inn.

Admittedly, it’s refreshing that it’s something good that is happening while I’m out of town and not another family tragedy, but it doesn’t make it any less hard or easier to take. The feeling is ultimately the same- emptiness. I want to be somewhere that I’m not and it sucks. I want to be in that hospital, I don’t want to be in Johnstown- and that has nothing to do with the weather, the Comfort Inn, the plaques marking the high water marks of the flood or the terrible food options. I want to see with my own eyes my mom holding my niece. I want to hold my niece. I want to see these big eyes I heard about. I don’t want to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday- I want this all now.

But I can’t.

I’m in Johnstown.

You can tell me that I’m lucky and that I should felt fortunate to have the opportunity to travel for work. That’s fine. You can say a lot of words right now, assembled in the most creative of sentences. I won’t listen. I won’t listen because my head isn’t here. Traveling for work means separating yourself and dividing yourself in two. The lucky one is the isolated nomad who is in my position, the person with no ties to a place called Back Home. The unlucky one is always leaving something behind, missing something, missing someone.

I didn’t need something to happen to make me think that a change might be needed. I didn’t need someone to tell me how much I am missed.

I just needed to wake up, in Johnstown to know that once again, I’m not where I want to be.

See you soon Keridan. I’m going to make you laugh.

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