A. Kathleen Collins
The Moment of Our Journey
Official paperwork required: this differs from our previous journeys. Having dated for six years, together we traveled many, many times before: overnights on his sail boat, weekends along the eastern shore of Maryland, cruises to Canada, week-long getaways to south Florida, our annual ten-day Christmas holiday in France.
The journey he invited me on, the one we have agreed to coordinate together, will be much more lengthy, much more unpredictable. Sometimes, I have imagined what a momentous journey would feel like, but I have avoided allowing the image to become a reality. Until I met this wonder-lust man when I was thirty-six years old, quite contentedly I lived within the comfort and security of my own home.
I have always been ambivalent about journeys. During their college years, or immediately thereafter, many of my acquaintances had already experienced their momentous journeys: studying abroad in England for a summer, sitting a semester in France, earning a doctorate in Germany. Some of those acquaintances chose journeys of elective inconvenience: cycling tours, hiking, backpacking and kayaking excursions, pony trekking, horseback riding or fox hunting weeks. Most often, their parents paid for their extravagance. Wondering whether or not their early journeys proved satisfying, I perceived myself too immature to consider such a commitment. We are middle-aged; the journey we have envisioned will be much more luxurious, more formal, more comprehensive.
En route to JFK Airport in Queens, an arduous three-hour drive on precarious and snowy highways from Pennsylvania to New York, at mid-afternoon the first segment of our Christmas Eve adventure began. Well away from the check-in desk across the desolate corridor, in the eerily deserted international terminal with our luggage, I waited alone. Glancing up now and again from my weary boredom toward a cluster of equally unenthused airline ticketing agents, from their counter I noticed my boyfriend gesturing toward me; they grinned, they nodded and waved.
For my presumed inattentiveness toward our assortment of luggage and carry-on items, as he rejoined me after checking us in, uncharacteristically he scolded me by insinuating, “I asked you to keep a close eye on our belongings; please keep a hand on my bag at all times; the entire success of our trip depends on it.” Through the ebony shoulder strap of his leather backpack, dutifully I slipped my unoccupied left hand.
During our pre-flight concession stand meal, equally notable his obvious distraction, and an uncomfortable silence between us; but after all, he had been responsible for juggling our airline tickets, parking arrangements, hotel reservations, and when we arrive in France, the rental car; and through the cumbersome barrier of a foreign language, it was stress enough to cause travel jitters.
Settling into the welcomed ambience of the Lyonnaise, the austerity of a single steady taper illuminated our table; the rest of the holiday glow cast by the contented murmur of the French at neighboring tables. On a wet and wintry evening at Cafe Nord in Lyon, as we celebrated our arrival with a flute of crisp Champagne, it seemed for us like gathering into our souls, the sleet tinkling outside on the window panes. Is there anything more conducive to the planning together of a future journey than indulging in the enchantment of the immediate?
In traditional gift-giving spirit, secreted in my coat pocket into the restaurant, I offered him a token of my affection. With his monogram stamped in gold on its leatherette cover, I gifted him a gilt-edged volume about wine. Over a sumptuous Christmas dinner of Bresse chicken, with the warmth of tawny rich sauce, he encouraged us to plot this journey.
After accepting his glamorous challenge, I realized I have spent much of my adult life organizing; I can’t be bothered with the minutiae of agendas, itineraries and contingency plans. Since the prospect of his journey had a certain ring of intrigue, and he, an irresistible gleam in his eyes, how might I legitimately have refused him?
Being female, and self-employed as a soft furnishings and floral designer, my organizing efforts focus most naturally on those singularly feminine concerns: fashion, fabrics, flowers and flavors; this is how I have always approached events and journeys: what am I going to wear; which fabrics are appropriate, where will we dine; which colors, scents and styles of foliage and flowers will I encounter? My existence revolves around these aesthetic considerations: dresses, shoes, handbags, head ware, and jewelry. He has assured me this journey will embrace the beautiful; and so, I begin to dream.
With dresses of silk and chiffon for evening, my imagination conjures fabrics with sequins and beads. Bemusing other pastels that would flatter it, peach is my favorite color: its shimmer at dawn, its scintillation at dusk. Fragrant English roses, lily of the valley, and sweet wild honeysuckle are the scents I adore; and apricot, rhubarb and strawberry, the flavors I fancy; this exciting Christmas night, I ‘m unable to fall asleep.
Drawing up a short list of people I will need to notify, I also begin to study the language I will need to enjoy our journey. Like learning any other language, I begin by memorizing a few key words, moved on to the most important phrases, and just pray that I will be able to mumble through enough of the rest to be understood.
Our departure day has finally arrived; sheer white clouds seem to billow all around us, and my train appears longer than I remember. With my left hand occupied by the promise of an unforgettable bon voyage, “Do you, Amy Kathleen Collins, take Anthony to be your lawfully wedded husband,” begins what becomes our momentous life journey together.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
Increasingly elusive amidst American culture, beauty be those most cherished of personal freedoms: peaceful and uninterrupted relaxation, contemplation, appreciation, recreation and conversation.
While most people have spent their summer dipping in and out pools, A. Kathleen Collins has nipped in and out of various online schools. In mid-summer she dove into a course with the University of Cambridge, waded over toward Ireland in August, and surfed the net for a course that would begin in early Autumn. Most recently, as A K. Collins, she has published as a micro-memoir an Amazon eBook titled In the Heart of Shame. A. Kathleen Collins and her husband spend their lives between two diverse heavens: Bucks County, Pennsylvania and Collier County, Florida.