The world's longest Sunday

22:20, Mar 25 2013

I write this, a little shell-shocked and jetlagged still, recovering from what felt for good measure to be the world's longest Sunday.

My first taste of this unending Sunday set my fate in place. The day rolled in, finding me on the deck of my parents' house in Kelburn with my dear Mum and Dad, who had recently returned home from a wedding, and a few friends who had been around for the evening for a BBQ and a few drinks to mark my last night in the country (by the time the clock hit Sunday, I must admit, I'd had much more than a few drinks).

My parents went to bed, some friends left and goodbyes were shared. An old friend, Oliver, stuck about and we dug in a little bit longer. There was some blurry-eyed reminiscing and we called it a night a little before 3am.

I woke at 8am. I lay in bed, looking at the ceiling, gripped by panic. My physical pain was eased because I wasn't entirely sober yet. I jogged my mind over what today had in store for me: packing, breakfast with family, a flight to Auckland where I would spend a few hours with a friend and a dozen hours in a plane crossing the Pacific Ocean.

My body felt floppy and my mind was encased in fuzz. If I were to recreate my mental dialogue, it would go as follows: "Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. James.... James... James... What have you done?"

I flew into action, triaging myself like a good TV doctor. Get this man into a shower, stat! Fizzy water, now! I rode this first burst of adrenaline and terror to a mini-wave of productivity and completed my packing in a quick frenzy.


My sister and brother-in-law arrived for breakfast with my cuter-than-thou 16-month-old nephew, Oscar. Oliver had passed out on my parents' couch and we had a little group of seven for the first of Sunday's many meals. I doubled my usual coffee dose, enjoyed a little bacon, but passed on the eggs. I tried to hydrate aggressively.

By 10.30am, it was time to start getting into more goodbyes. Over the last two hours I had felt myself dry out considerably and my physical condition had plummeted. My physical fragility was thankfully (mostly) a huge distraction from the emotion of the goodbyes.

After bidding my mother farewell in Wellington airport and having kept myself mostly together through four hours of hungover living, I had a little wobble going through security to my gate lounge.

I sent my backpack and wallet through the scanner. But when I walked through the metal detector, I set it off. I had forgotten my phone. I took my phone out but the machine still beeped. I had forgotten some coins and guff in my pocket. I walked through again but I was still metallic. I had forgotten about my belt. By this time, I had three Air New Zealand staff members and two people behind me in line glaring at me.

I tried to enjoy the view leaving Wellington and sleep on the flight to Auckland, but neither plan eventuated.

Entering Auckland, I had seen just a third of the Sunday I would experience.

My friend Jon was at the airport to meet me. Auckland was at its humid best. We decamped for a 36-hole, intense mini-golf battle (which I won, continuing a topsy-turvy rivalry that dates back more than a decade). A little Auckland air worked a treat on my soul. I tried to take the vibrant green of the city in. We drove into the city and had fish and chips on the beach in Herne Bay. The grease worked wonders in sopping up the toxins inside me. I couldn't think of a nicer setting for my last supper in New Zealand. For the first time all day, I felt good physically.

As I entered customs in Auckland International Airport a family was tearfully bidding a son goodbye. After a few "up" hours, I crashed at my gate. It took all of the energy I had left to not fall asleep waiting to board my flight.

I slept the first hour of my flight, watched a Gerard Butler romantic-comedy and ate a meal.

The middle six hours of the flight were spent sleeping in 30-minute bites, intercut with moments of staring out into space, groggily. Somewhere in this flight, in my head I had entered into a space where it seemed time didn't exist.

On the ground in San Francisco, 12 major international flights had landed at the same time. The queue for international visitors had stretched back almost to where I got off the plane. I got to saunter up past this, proudly, entering the country as a permanent resident for the first time. My customs officer ended our little transaction with a "welcome back".

LP was there to meet me. It was not yet midday on Sunday. In a tired, fragile state, having come from what felt like the edge of the earth to be here, this easily explainable occurrence was melting my brain. 

We had breakfast on the way home. Presents were shared. I went to sleep for a couple of hours and woke up as confused and disoriented as I can ever recall feeling. We took a walk and ate some Mexican food.

I went to sleep about 10pm but for most of the night sleep only came in strange, tortured 40-minute clusters.

I think it was my mind rebelling against the fact that it had been stuck inside the 24th of March for much longer than it wanted to.

Travel can be very weird sometimes. 

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