The phone rings. Before it rings again I have it in my hands pressed to my ear. "Hello," I say sleepily. "Whatcha do today?"
That’s me in Sydney, waking at 7AM to Scott in New York City recounting his day. He’s finished the rewrites on his new novel, is about to go drinking to celebrate at Veloce—do I remember Veloce with the cheap but good Italian sparkling wine and wonderful panini? Sure I do. We both smile. Or at least I imagine he’s smiling because I am. I ask. He is.
In NYC it’s 5PM, but Scott’s kind of sleepy so he’s calling me lying in bed, phone cradled, whispering into it. I’m lying in bed at the beginning of my day listening to his whispers. As his voice gets sleepier so do I. Just before we both fall asleep we hang up. Later, we say.
I wake up 3 hours later feeling groggy and confused. It’s 11AM and the phone’s ringing, Scott again. He fell asleep and missed his drink date; I fell asleep and missed a meeting.
Welcome to the land of romantic jetlag.
Scott and I met while I was living in New York City. I was there for two years researching a book about the city. He’s a writer too. I’d see him at readings and other writerly places. I thought he was kind of cute; he thought I was kind of cute. We have some mutual friends so eventually we were introduced. We never got to know each other very well, but when we ran into each other we’d have amusing conversations, make each other laugh.
It never went any further than that. That is, until my last weekend in NYC. On Monday I was to fly back to Sydney. He came to my Friday night farewell party. We spent all weekend together.
It was wonderful, my NYC fling: neither of us looking any further ahead than the minute we were in, just concentrating on the fun we were having. We didn’t think anything would come of it. How could it? Him in NYC, me in Sydney.
He called me four hours after I got off the plane in Sydney. It was 11am; 9PM in New York. He’d never phoned anyone in Australia before.
"You said it’s a fourteen-hour time difference, right?"
"That’s right. At least it is when you’re in summer and I’m in winter."
"Is it cold there?"
"Let me see." I walked outside with the phone nestled between chin and shoulder. "Yep. It’s like 60F."
"Eww. Must be a shock after NYC. It was 95F when you left."
"Yesterday," I said.
"I guess that’s right. It was yesterday for you. Two days ago for me."
The street was quiet. Rainbow lorikeets flew by in their greens, reds and blues. Some wattle trees were in bloom. I described the scene. Told him I’d heard a kookaburra not long after I’d gotten home that morning. He couldn’t quite believe all that flora and fauna so close to Sydney’s downtown. "Sydney’s very green," I explained feebly.
We talked for over an hour, about how I felt to be home after two years away, about writing, the projects we were working on, New York City—had it changed in the more than 24 hours since I’d last seen it? I arranged to call him in a week’s time.
"Is 8AM okay?" I asked.
"My time or your time?"
"My time. It’ll be 6PM your time. I’ll call on Thursday."
"You mean Wednesday?"
"Er, yeah. Your Wednesday; my Thursday."
In the first few weeks, when we still didn’t know each other that well, there were many emails and a phone call only once a week. We’re writers. It seemed natural to get to know each other better through the written word.
As the weeks wore on, we started to call each other more and more, living our lives in a kind of hybrid NewYorkSydneyCity time. Confusing time. Can’t tell day from night. Or tomorrow from today from yesterday. Winter from summer. "Is that your tomorrow or my tomorrow?" I always know what time it is New York but am hardly ever sure what time it is here, in Sydney, the city where I was born and bred.
I’m tired most of the time, out of sync with where I am. My friends snap their fingers in front of my eyes and ask if I’m here or back in NYC. It’s expensive too, eating up time even more than money: mornings and evenings on the phone, hours and hours of sleepy conversations.
During those few moments when we’re not awake at the same time we write emails. If I’m not near a computer I write them in my head. Describing things that are happening to me as they happen. Everything except talking to Scott is at second hand. Like living in a dream. In our first month apart we exchanged 250 emails. More than eight a day.
At any hour of my waking day I’m wondering where he is, what he’s doing. I can imagine it clearly. I’ve been to Veloce, Veselka and alt.coffee. I’ve walked through Little Italy, Chinatown, over the Brooklyn Bridge. I know what Second Avenue looks like on a Saturday morning in July as you walk home from a night out, with your friends slowly peeling off as they disperse to their apartments, till I get to my place on the corner of 2nd and 6th . . .
Except that I never lived in the East Village. That’s Scott’s place.
Me, I’m back home in Sydney living with something that tugs at me throughout the day. A fine cord that extends across the Pacific, across the US, into NYC, to the East Village, to the apartment on 2nd and 6th, to the chair overlooking his view downtown where he’s sitting drinking a beer and just about to call me.
The phone rings. It’s 2AM in NYC. Four PM in Sydney.
When he starts to drift off to sleep I put the phone down, fall asleep and wake up hungry at 6PM. Shit. I was supposed to be having dinner with Catherine at 8PM. I haven’t done any work. I phone her, full of apologies.
I get to work, able to focus now that Scott’s asleep. I’m on Sydney time for a few hours. When I look at the clock it’s six hours later. Midnight. I still haven’t eaten. I have some granola, yoghurt and an apple. I feel weird, like something’s missing. The dark outside the window is strange. It’s 10AM in New York City: time to call Scott.
"Hello," he says sleepily.
We talk for hours about my work, his dreams, getting tireder as we talk. He’s sleepy; I’m sleepy.
"It’s late," he says. "I gotta go to sleep."
"No, it isn’t." I remind him. "It’s morning for you."
It’s 2AM in Sydney, noon in New York City and we’re both falling asleep. Unable to shake free of romantic jetlag.
Scott has decided to move to Australia. I begin to imagine him here in Sydney, rather than me there in New York. I think of all the places I want to take him: the sea cliff walk from Bondi to Clovelly, I imagine how amazed he’ll be by such gorgeous beaches so close to the city; the Botanical Gardens where I can show him the flying foxes in near-plague proportions. I wonder if he’s ever seen a flying fox before. I can’t wait to introduce him to the noble game of cricket. I think especially of all the food I want him to taste. He’s never eaten mangosteens or rambutan or custard apples or longans before. He’s never had proper Thai food.
While Scott is on the plane, flying to me, the fine cord, the tug that has been pulling me back to New York, begins to lessen. For the first time since I came home I feel like I am home, all the way home. It feels good. It feels strange. I’m starting to wake up.
And then Scott is here in Sydney too. He gets to see the wattle trees and rainbow lorikeets for himself, hear kookaburras, meet my family, my friends, eat fruits he’s never seen before. We’re on the same time and in the same place. We wake up together and go to bed together. I don’t have to imagine touching him, brushing his eyebrows straight, kissing him. I can. We do.
We’ve never been happier, together and in synch, but sometimes I have just the faintest twinge of nostalgia for those soft confusing waves of romantic jetlag. For that short-lived life inside a dream where time and place were blurred and there was only his voice and mine, pressed close to our ears, whispering our ideas, aspirations and longings. Then I reach out and touch him, warm and there, all nostalgia gone.