From the outside at least, a post-pandemic Terminal 8 looked just the way it always did, with cars and taxis slammed to the curb, and stretched out arms of loved ones echoing departing words. Pearl jumped out for one last goodbye. I hugged her, told her I'd miss her, reminded her to walk Dobe, begged her not to re-arrange the furniture upstairs, and with a smile, pleaded her not to burn down the house again.
Pearl is a very sweet mother-in-law who believes in me, but she’s also a closeted arsonist.
Danielle and I often wake up to the smell of black eggs and the fire department knocking on our door. They know us on a first-name basis, and like me, they love Pearl's arugula salad. I don't bring this up often, but Pearl's been dealing with random and unpredictable episodes of amnesia since the start of the lockdown. We moved in just over a year ago and it's been a trip of a year. Believe it or not, the fires and the memory gaps are unrelated. Pearl's taken down her fair share of New York City real estate, far back into the 1980s (at least her best friends apartment). That's what I've heard based on family legends and fuzzy recollections. I've learned that when Amensia and Arsony come together in a single roommate, you live life on your toes, and every little errand turns into a game of Russian Roulette where you just never know.
Something hit me as I stood under the red, white, and blue American Airlines sign. This trip to San Francisco, this big adventure ahead, is the first time we're leaving Pearl alone for this long. Ten long days. It should be fine, but I've accepted that everything could be gone - the brick house from 1948, with the upstairs addition for the eventual newborn, and the original back patio with the jalousie windows, and all the things in the basement that channel old memories and spirits, like the Civil War furniture, the reels of ancient family history, the ten thousand rare cups, and dishes, and forks, and the teapots no one ever uses, not forgetting my childhood drum set packed up in boxes - it could all ignite, like a match in a California brushfire, as Pearle tends to the sunflowers in the backyard while Dobe sips probiotic lemonade from a rock bowl.
I've planned accordingly. All my gadgets and all my instruments are insured. My files live in Akashic cloud servers, probably somewhere in the Bay Area, guarded by Dobermans, vulnerable only to catastrophic sun flares. And my wealth? I parted ways with gold bars, and bonds, and under-mattress lunch money. My nest egg is fire-rated, in the form of 24 word cryptocurrency pass-phrases, like "bingo bongo polly wog pitter patter suck mucker sugar flute mountain frog golly bolly squeegie slug glowing pug latte glomo starch bang bang bang" - indecipherable and un-hackable non-sense is hand-inked onto duplicate sets of water resistant card-stock, and tucked away in Hickory trees scattered across the United States, nowhere near the Cross Island Parkway, with the hope that even Johnny Appleseed himself is permanently caught in a YouTube vortex.
This whole daydream of house fires and crypto-babble happened in the course of a hug.
Danielle gives long amazing hugs that freeze time and delay flights. That was my first impression of her, back when we met in that renovated horse stable called Education Hall. I remember wondering, way early on, what it would be like to have her as my wife. Danielle and Pearl's hug lasted a long peaceful moment, before the eastern sun rose and shooed us, on our way, off the sidewalk, to the center of a metal bird, that would hurl across the plains, over the Bay, and just short of the Pacific Ocean, where we were hoping to rediscover what it's like to really live again.