One of the worst aspects of international travel is jet lag and where it leads—the upending of schedules, the loss of moorings, the sense of walking under water. Some people are able to transition seamlessly from one time zone to another. I get discombobulated just falling back into Daylight Savings Time. I don’t know how politicians and diplomats are able to do it, and on a regular basis. I suppose if I HAD to attend a world-changing meeting the minute my airplane hit the tarmac I could. But I’m too attached to my sleep to even dream of it.

I used to fight jet lag. I’d try to force myself to stay awake when my body was screaming for sleep. Alternatively, I’d will myself to stay in bed in the wee hours of the night, even though I was wide awake—and starving! At some point in my travels, perhaps in my forties, I just gave into my body’s demands. If I was sleepy, I crawled into bed, no matter that it was still daylight. If I awoke at 2:00 am, I got up and busied myself wherever I was—reading, straightening, writing. If I were hungry in the middle of the night, I’d rummage in the cabinets or my suitcase for something to eat.

Once I stopped trying to control jet lag, I actually began to enjoy it.

The filmy uncertainty of drifting between worlds can be magical. It offers about the only opportunity I will ever have (I assume) to be in two places at once. While my physical body is certainly in Tokyo, my experiential body floats somewhere else, meandering through the clouds over the Pacific Ocean in no hurry to reunite with my physical self. I fall asleep in Tokyo, but at some point I slip back to St. Louis and I’m there in my house on Trinity Avenue awaiting the morning birds, imagining the green of my garden, planning my day. Until, that is, consciousness overtakes me, and I open my eyes to the darkness of a Tokyo night and the sounds of traffic below my window.

I don’t just travel geographically in my discombobulated state, I also travel temporally. That’s the magic of jet lag. It opens portals in your memory where you drift into moments you have already lived. I think jet lag loosens the tethers on your consciousness and allows free falling.

I remember the first time I encountered jet lag.

I was seven, and my family had just traveled to Benares, India. We had flown from our home in Wake Forest, NC, to England, then to Germany, eventually to Israel, and finally to India. By the time we made it to India, my experiential body was still hovering somewhere over the Dead Sea. I was too little to understand why I was in such a topsy-turvy world. It did not help that the first thing I saw, as we rode by car from our temporary guesthouse to our permanent residence, was men on bicycles wearing what appeared to be white pajamas. So, I thought, people in India go about their day in pajamas. How wonderful. I was ready to put mine on as soon as we reached our house, but Mother would not allow it.

We arrived before our furniture. There was nothing in the wide-flung bungalow, with its thick clay walls, but a few rattan chairs. I grabbed a rubbery blow-up pillow, found myself a place on the floor, and sprawled out, enjoying the cool of the cement tile against my hot skin. My eyes grew heavy.

“Don’t let her sleep,” Mother told my sister, Beth.

Apparently, I had kept everyone awake the night before—desperate to entice someone to play with me. I was wide-awake. Mother thought if she could keep me active during the day, I’d sleep at night.

Beth pulled out her copy of Jane Eyre and began to read aloud. I don’t think she started at the beginning. I think she had been reading it on the trip and just picked up where she left off. None of it made sense to me, the words were English but not English. As I listened, only some of it seeped into my sleep-fogged brain.

Red room, red room.

Crimson carpet, scarlet cloth.

My eyes grew heavy.

A bed with massive pillars of mahogany.

Curtains of deep red damask.

Must stay awake. Must not sleep.

Piled-up mattresses and white pillows.

Red room, red room.

My eyes closed and I sunk into velvety soft bedding. All was red.

“Becky, don’t sleep!” Beth said.

I held my eyes open with my fingers.

Moonlight and gravesides

Cold stone walls.

The story made me shiver. The chill bumps on my skin felt good, like the cold cement floors. I heard just beyond my sister’s voice the whoosh, whoosh of the overhead fan moving the sluggish air. A thick red velvet curtain slowly descended over my face, submerging me in a pool of crimson sleep. I dove in deeper, unable to surface even when I heard Beth call my name, even when she snapped the book shut and nudged my shoulder. I found myself swimming through a tunnel of red into a slumber so thick I was unable to surface.

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

I hear the click, click, click of a blinker. A motorcycle roars beneath my window and screeches to a halt. Click, click, click. And then the engine starts up again. Probably a newspaper delivery. The room is dark. I am lying on a hard surface. Wait, there weren’t newspaper deliveries in India.

I’m in Tokyo.

I check my watch. It’s 1:49 in the morning. June 1, 2023.

I sit up. My head swims. Somewhere, lost in time, a little girl holds her eyes open listening to Jane Eyre.