Relational Ghosts. Limi(ted)nal Possibilities
The shuttle stops, but you get up slightly too soon resulting in you, and your luggage, bouncing back hard onto the nestled in, carpet covered, bench. Thankfully, you are alone. You walk through a tunnel-like hallway, made of cement, realizing half way across, this is a walking bridge, here as a threshold between the world you knew and the world you will get to know (Turner 25). Your butterflies have set in, not because you are petrified of flying, but at the anticipation of your favorite aspect of visiting the airport. You arrive at the main terminal in time to witness what Kilgard refers to as moving through “the spaces between people (218). A performative act allowing for the recognition of the bodies surrounding us, as well as the people in them. Being able to see the spaces between the spaces, between people (218) helps you to understand your own relational behavior, desires, and weaknesses. While squeezing through you begin to hear the predictable utterances of grief, love, and loss. You examine the looks of the faces of those covered in tears of joy, disbelief, and you spot those dry with denial. You feel a fleeting amount of jealousy that no one is here to see you off, but you have never been the sappy type anyway, besides, you have all intentions of returning soon. The line approaching the trams to “airside A” are shorter than you anticipated, and you walk unencumbered toward the area where you wait in limbo, to be floated one step closer to your destination.
What is different between the tram and the shuttle seems to be the proximity of unknown bodies, operating on the typical “elevator” or “bathroom” rules requiring not a word be exchanged, leaving the possibility for relationship in limbo. You often think to yourself in these situations: Am I the only one who wants to talk? The tram arrives in its typical 50 second fashion, and you exit the direction the talking doors and red lights demand you to. Making your way toward the gatekeepers of the Earth, otherwise referred to as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), you are shuffled back into the Florida themed tiled space between the two trams that face one another. You are able to look toward security in an effort to judge their intrusive, and often racist practices, or gaze out into the horizon reflecting through the large window looking back toward the main terminal you had just arrived from. You choose the latter.
A new crop of passengers arrive by tram, all of which just like yourself, are directed toward the back of the line. You are getting closer and closer to the doors labelled “emergency exit” situated between two green, plastic, potted plants. Still gazing out the large glass windows, you realize you have never noticed with such clarity before the uncovered walkway leading from the airside to the main terminal. Just as quickly as you make this seemingly inconsequential discovery, a man you have never met before, though you do not get a good look at his face, pushes open one of the emergency exit doors. You are startled at the absence of an alarm sound you instinctually expected would be there. Why else would the doors be marked that way? Figuring this man just simply knows something you do not, and perhaps just needs fresh air, you continued your blank staring forward, the predictable and monotonous waiting to cross over the security threshold (Turner 25). You hear an abrupt hum of what you gather is confusion and concern from those around you. Though no one moves, your eyes are drawn to what feels in the moment to be a rupture from the typical airport experience, to that same man standing atop the metal bars protecting the walkway from the magnet powered tracks of the tram, as it is approaching.
It feels like slow motion. It must be because no one is moving, including yourself. You tell yourself he is just being silly, dangerously playing a prank to get the attention of the public, and it is working. His seemingly intentional attempt at generating visibility, perhaps due to feeling invisible in his everyday life, in this way seemed to make him less real than before, if not for the surreal atmosphere of the event (Mcgeough 375). As the tram got closer as did his body bent over the side, looking as though he is preparing for a summersault. At this moment TSA has decided to intervene, walking through the crowd calmly saying into the walkie talkies mounted on their shoulders “a man is going to jump in front of the tram.” Moments later, he jumps, involving all those riding the tram at that precise moment (Walker 127), plummeting three stories, his neck and head crushes, and he lands face first on the pavement. He lost control in a highly regulated environment and engaging in a performance that many consider unholy and unacceptable (123).
Kilgard may suggest in this moment that the space has changed, that his rupture in the ‘script’ of the airport experience, his use of the space in “alternative ways (222), has changed the way all involved now feel about that space. Your experience prior to this moment, while moving through the spaces between bodies in the main terminal, hearing and seeing the tears, of joy and sorrow, hugs and kissing hello and goodbye, make you wonder if this act did, in fact, rupture that script. He left us, in a liminal space, a space that is “supposed to be a space for” departure (224).
Looking down you see a blue tarp covering him, though occasionally the wind would catch it, for a brief moment. You feel as though the wind is trying to show you his humanness. That he didn’t just disappear after he fell. People who did not witness the event spread rumors about his identity quickly throughout the airside. They believed an elaborate story of a prisoner, shackled, who would rather die than be locked up again. So, still handcuffed, he pushed open the shuttle doors, and jumped. You feel a need to set them straight, to tell them all about a man you do not know. You know nothing, but somehow you know, they are wrong.
You cry, though unsure in the moment for what. Are you crying for yourself to have just seen something so traumatic? Are you crying for him, to have been in such a place to have made that choice? Are you crying for his family, who now will live the rest of their days without him? Perhaps you are crying out of hopelessness, of helplessness, feeling as though you have been a responsible participant in this man’s death (Taylor, 167). Diana Taylor understands this as our instinctual need to make other’s dramas our own, sensing a lingering presence (134), as a result of our inability to control the situation, as well as our urge to connect in relational ways to the bodies around us (243). For weeks after that even seeing something fall from your hands will give you a flash of his body falling to the pavement. You will get medication and cry, a lot. You will get therapy and still cry, a lot.
Each passing minute “pulls [you] closer to the messiness of [his] death (Pelias 101) and on your next time at the airport only 6 months later you hear once again the familiar utterances of relationship’s push and pull. However, you now hear something much louder. Chris McRae’s experiences with the potential of a location to exude emotions of past memories associated with that location, reminds you to listen (343). Just as McRae listened to a brick that had fallen, you listen to the man who had fallen. You listen “between the lines” of the ordinary script (Pelias 133). You listen to the silence. You listen to his absence. Essentially, you strain to hear his ghost, and all possibilities that lie in that liminal space he resides. You will feel that “phantom limb” of the relational lack you reach for (Taylor 247), as you look for residual traces of blood on the tram. Not seeing any you will look down with the unrealistic idea that maybe he would still be there. He won’t be (264). In your hotel room in Champaign, Illinois you will wake up every hour on the hour that night from nightmares, you have been having for months. Later the next day in the hopes to understand your emotions you will search for the news story. It will take some time but you will find one brief article.
You will be relieved to finally know his name. This archive can serve as his memorial, one where he perhaps transcends through that liminal space between life and death, coming and going (MacDonald 45). However, as you sit there reading the ways in which this article memorialized, Johnathan, it becomes clear through its language, he may never leave that space. Here the author focuses mainly on the tram, the emergency exit doors leading to the walk way, his flight time and destination, etc. These are the spaces he will haunt, seeking the echoes of relationships that never existed (Berry; Taylor 249).
Airports are inherently liminal, both physically and relationally. We travel on vehicles (cars, trams, shuttles, planes, etc.) from one place to another, we greet those who have been absent from our lives crossing back in, and we grieve ones we are losing, into that liminal space. In the same way as airports are an ‘in between,’ so is the act and study of performance. Diana Taylor asks us, “For whom is the border a friction-free zone of entitled access, a frontier of possibility? Who travels confidently across borders, and who gets questioned, detained, interrogated, and strip-searched at the border?,” To that Conquergood adds that these borders are more translucent than solid, “more of a membrane than a wall (145).” If we look at a liminal location like the airport as unchartered relational possibilities for (re)connection to ghosts we may have lost in that space we may understand better that “flight is not the same as abandonment (Banazek 105).” That perhaps, we as performers should open the emergency exit door, one that we did not know we could.
Jill Dolan may account for airports being a space for “perpetual reinvention,” of personal and intimate relationships between bodies (435). After encountering Johnathan, I know this to be true, however Dolan also argues that a world “has to be inhabited by flesh and blood people (438)” Karen Barad would call this “Thingification” or turning the relational into the physical in a way to prove that there is a distinct difference between life and death, and there is no overlap (812). My experience argues the contrary. I believe the performance of Johnathan taking his life on that walking bridge resulted in an absence of not just his flesh and blood (once removed), but all possibilities for love and companionship, an absence that does still reside, as ephemeral in that space, a world of ghosts, with no flesh or blood, but very much alive. Johnathan’s silence is alive, well, and haunting.
Matthew Goulish encourages us to go forward with judgement and critique with the knowledge that we, the critic, will change as a result of our gained understanding (44). He also says however, that it also, “relates to all human endeavors (43). If I approach the liminal space where Johnathan resides, where our relationship haunts, as often as possible and with the knowledge of the “exhilarating creative possibilities (44)” of our silence together, then maybe, I will begin to understand what Pelias (2014) refers to as “the consequences of the fading, the tangible in the missing” (74). As well as acquire the wisdom that we are always already losing, always already finding, and always already in a space of relational uncertainty and possibility.
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