At the airport, we check my bags outside. It's raining, and a woman with red hair and two large suitcases and a couple large boxes taped together stands in front of me at the check-in counter. She's looking around with a breezy hurried look on her face.
My mom looks around to see if anyone's going to come out, and I check out the lady's outfit: teal capri pants, black shirt, teal beaded necklace. She's pretty for an older woman, face like a teenager. My mom asks her if there's someone here, and she says there is. A man comes back and the woman tells him how many bags she's checking and then I hear her say she has a baby with her, and I say to my mom, Maybe it's in one of those boxes, and she looks at me and smiles but I can't tell if she knows I'm talking about the baby, or if she's thinking of other things. He takes her bags and tags them, and then she says, Can I get my baby out of the car now? You left your baby in the car? I think. The man laughs and says of course! Bring the baby! Then she says, Steve, it's okay, you guys can come, and this big cheerful-looking guy with blonde hair and a bald spot comes out of the car with this thing the size of a softball cradled in his hands and it's the baby, and they're sticking it in this tiny stroller the size of a small bag from a convenience store. They walk into the airport and I don't care anymore, and after I check my bags and I say goodbye to my mom, who looks like she might cry, though not as bad as when she left me in Tallahassee; I remember being in the parking lot with the rocks under my feet and the searing mid-day sun, and her face crumpling as she and my dad got ready to make the drive to the airport, and me kind of getting upset but thinking, Oh, I'll be home in a few months, which I was. This morning I had already cried: sitting in front of my laptop in our family room, and I had felt this wave over my heart and then the tears came, and she had been standing in front of me asking me some question and I didn't even try to hide my face. I was anxious because the flight was delayed due to weather, but I remember thinking, at least I got that out. Now I don't have the tears, which is good because then she might have cried even more. I walk inside the revolving doors, feeling relieved to have gotten ride of the suitcase.
Upstairs waiting in line for the security check I am preoccupied because my pants are too tight. In line I see a young guy with blonde hair whom I think I recognize. Of course he is looking at me, so I can't stare; I have to look away, and then when I look back, to really get a focused look, he looks back, presumably to do the same, then I have to look away but this time I am sure; I know him. Who is he? I am nervous about the trip and preoccupied about the pants and now I'm thinking: where do I know this kid? I list big chunks of my life in my head: Council Rock High School. I picture him vaguely with different groups of kids, but he doesn't fit with any of them. Penn State. I picture him with my slightly nerdy but awesome friends and still he is not fitting. For some reason I keep thinking that he is too short; that the version of this kid I know perhaps was taller? He looks like a miniature version of someone who might fit in these slots. I don't know what this means. Tallahasee, where I go to grad school now? But he's not even short. And a guy walks up to me and gives me a yellow sheet of paper. He tells me to give this to the next person I see, the person behind the guy at the metal detector, and then I'm like, okay, wait what? And he stops and explains it to me, and nobody's even looking at me like I'm important, because nobody cares, everyone is concerned with their luggage and getting through.
Follow this line, he says, and give this not to the first person, but the person standing behind the metal detector. Okay, I say, and repeat it back to him: So give this to the second guy I see, the one behind the metal detector? Yes, he says, and walks away. I look at it; it's a time card, so the airport workers know how how fast the lines for security move. (What's funny is that as I'm writing this, the next day, I realize that I had a dream last night about the yellow time card; someone says, Oh, the time card was returned, and I realize that things have come full circle). So I read the card and it tells you pretty much what to do, in a way that's a lot more simple than what the guy said. Now the line has moved and the boy I know is farther ahead, but I can tell he's still trying to get a glimpse of me. Where the fuck do I know him? Whatever.
I take all my shit off and throw it in those little boxes. The girls in front of me are just slow off enough to get me agitated, but soon they move through. At the end of the line I get all my bags, my laptop and my shoes, and I am free to move about the airport, to go shopping, to stare at people, to sit sullenly at my gate and watch other sullen faces of people trying to please their children or eating something quick and bad for you and trying to make the best of being in an airport. I decide to go to my gate, which is A13. I walk in the direction I think it is, which turns out to be the wrong one, and all of a sudden the boy from the line comes up behind me: Are you friends with Alan and Todd, he says, and instantly things come together. Though my brain moves slowly, not fast enough to catch up with his conversation: Yes, he's saying, I've hung out with you before, and I know who he is, but still it won't come out: Oh, I say, after he's already explained how we know each other: Oh, you're friends with Alan's brother, right? And he says yes, and now we're walking. Oh, I say, you were in their frat in Penn State, right? And he says yes, and smiles and nods, and I'm still confused for some reason. By the time the realization has settled he has already told me he is going to get food and I say how I wanted a drink and he says there are food places down here, and I say, what gate are you at, and he is also at A, and he's leaving five minutes ahead of me. So this works.
* As we're walking I have to make small talk: where are you going? He's going to Ecuador, to visit his brother. Shit! I'm jealous. Yeah, we're going into the amazon and stuff. Wow! I say. He has blonde hair and is kind of cute; seen in this context, he is less threatening than the older frat brother person I knew him to be. We walk up to a Dunkin Donuts and he gets food and I stay in the back of the line because I'm not hungry. Then I go check out the screens with departures and arrivals and see that Tallahassee is not listed. What? Where the fuck is Tallahassee? I check my ticket: yep, that is still where I'm going. I check the screens again, even think about checking arrivals but don't. Syracuse, Tampa, T*. No Tallahassee. At this point I am worried and I think to check the earlier flight, the first one, the one that is just to Atlanta, and it's there, 999, but still. I had thought they listed the whole flight.
Chris walks up and I tell him that my flight's not listed. Are you connecting? He asks. Yes, I say. He's drinking something frozen and pink and has a bag of something. It won't list your full flight, he says, it will just list the first, and I say, I didn't know that, and I'm still not willing to believe it. Yep, he says, in Atlanta it'll list the one to Tallahassee. Fine, I think. My first one is there, with the delayed time and the right flight number, so I let that be that. Then we decide to go back to find a bar near our gate. As we're walking I ask him, are you engaged? No, he says, and I said, Oh, I thought I heard that. I must have heard wrong. His friend, my friend's brother, is getting married. They're both in med school, and on vacation, and when they get back they start their residency. Are you in the wedding? I ask. No, he says. Are you going? Yeah, he says, of course. We've known each other for ever. That's nice, I say.
At the bar we get a table inside. It feels strange to be sitting at a bar this early, at an airport. It feels like a fake bar; there is a mother with her kid feeding him tiny cereal pieces; other people are sitting on stools alone, on their phones; some are just waiting. I put my bags down next to me an then rearrange them several times for better visibility. I don't think that perhaps there's no cocktail waitress at 11 AM and that I need to order at the bar; this hits me after Chris and I have been talking for about ten minutes. Do you think I have to go to the bar? I say, and he says yes, like he had already figured this out. This is gross, he says of the pink drink, and I think, of course it's gross. I get up and go to the bar but keep looking back at my bags for fear that somebody's going to run off with my laptop.
There is one lady bartender with short brown hair, running around behind the bar. She too appears fake; she is a stand in for a bartender, like we're at Universal Studios or Orlando where everything appears to be part of a "set," even restaurants and bars. People are sitting all up and down the bar; one lady dressed in a suit drinks a large cup of dark beer. Most of the other people have beer, and a few are drinking something I imagine has liquor in it. There's a little window on one side of the bar where the airport looks in, and two guys look anxiously through; one of them has a styrofoam container in front of him, the other people behind him probably want to order. I lean as far as I can over the counter. The bartender talks to the guy who wants food or wants to pay and then runs to the other side and gives an order through a door to the people in the back. I see a white countertop, a mauve rag, a black guy moving around. Nothing ever looks good "in the back."
A man in a suit sits down next to me and the bartender tells him it's going to take a little bit because she's busy, and I think that bastard better not order before me, but she sees me. In a moment I am able to order: screwdriver with a double shot, I say, and she doesn't card me, and I think, she doesn't care, it's not like I'm driving anywhere. I briefly envision myself driving an airplane, and think of the time my senior class flew to Florida for our trip and the take-off took so long I made the joke that maybe we were driving to Florida. I watch the bartender pour even though I hate that I do that and I'm sure they do too; two shot sized glugs from the spout of the vodka and the tiniest splash of orange.
I sit down with my drink. As I start drinking I'm not even sure I want it. Chris seems more relaxed than I am, talking with a man sitting behind him who'd asked if Chris thought it'd be okay if the man brought his saxaphone on board with him. Sure, he says. Then they make small talk and I push my straw around in the ice. Chris gets up and comes back with a brown drink. Crown and coke, he says, and I say, how can you drink whiskey that early? I can drink whiskey at any hour, he says, smiling. That, I think, is a feat.
I take a few sips and the pungengy of the vodka is pleasant. The morning starts to look a little better. I even send a text message to our mutual friend, Alan, who texts me back: Tell Mosebach I think he's lame and tell him to tell his brother I think the s—and then the next message, -ame of him. I tell Chris this; he laughs. I ask him what he's going to be doing in Ecuador—he tells me about all the shots he had to take to be able to go there. Right now he's on a malaria pill, which he has to take three times a day. And I got a shot for yellow fever and typhoid, he says. Sounds pretty fucking scary, I say. I keep asking questions about all the diseases, not realizing that perhaps it's not the topic that Chris wants to be talking about the most. I tell him again what I'm doing in Tallahassee—grad school for creating writing. Oh, he says, I'm actually writing a book, and in my head I'm thinking, oh this is going to be good. It's always good when someone says that.
What's it about? I say. Different things, he says, science, politics, religion. Basically it's just things I think on a variety of different subjects. I ask him, how do you think, or why do you think, people are going to consider you a credible subject on these things, because you're not a doctor or anything, and he smiles and says I thought of that, and I think, good. Then again I start to think that he is a little bit cute—this is a boy I've known for several years, having spent many a night in his frat house in his best friend's brother's bedroom, smoking pot, drinking or watching a pearl jam DVD or just hanging out, doing nothing, and his brother and Chris would walk in, dressed up, good-looking, taller, or so they were in my mind (and that was it!), all ready to go out to a bar, and Brett's brother chugging a gallon of milk or pepto bismol so it'd coat his stomach. Chris I must have met fifteen different times; he never remembered my name. For that, I always thought he was an asshole.
Are you thinking about getting this published? I ask. I hope, he says. You need a way to market yourself, I say, and different ideas start to flit around in my head: he could go to one extreme, "a guy from Penn State," or "an ex-fraternity brother." Thoughts from a Penn State grad Lambda Chi Brother. At least nobody's done that. I just want it to be that good, he says, and I nod and don't say anything. I ask him more questions about what he's writing, what types of things he's interested in. Oh you know, he says, I've been studying a lot of physics. *Some of it's about different religions. Like my parents were **. Wow, I say. Yeah, he said. So I had to go to church and see people fall down with the spirit of the lord, and I think, he seems a pretty well-rounded kid to have gone through all of that. Yeah, he says, pretty crazy stuff. So, I say, half-jokingly, are these just thoughts you wrote down while you were stoned? Yes, he says, also half-jokingly, and again I don't know what to say. How are you organizing it? I say. Well, he says, I just wrote the intro. Oh, cool. I say. I pretty much lay it all out there, he says, why I'm writing the book. I think that's a good thing, I say. I look at my watch a few times and worry because it's getting close to departure time. I was actually starting to have fun a little bit. Now I'm thinking, I hope this flight goes okay, I hope I feel a little more relaxed for drinking this (which turns out not to be the case, because the continuing delay makes me so anxious that I'm not at all relaxed by the time I get on the plane. Then I also realize I'm in the very last seat, all the way in the back, and I become angry. I think, dammit, airports are always screwing me like this! Which I don't think could be true.)
I look at my watch again and Chris says When do you want to leave? I say in like five and he's says I'm ready whenever. He downs his drink and we walk out and I'm feeling we bonded; I even think, maybe I"ll put his number in my phone and call him sometime when I'm in Manayunk. But I don't, I say bye, and have a nice trip, and that I'm sure I'll see him, which I actually am; that summer already I'd probably seen him two or three times at my friends' house in the city. So he walks away and that's that, and now I'm left to alone for my flight.
At my gate there are a good deal of people sitting or standing around, none of them looking particularly pleased. I use the bathroom, and when I get back I see that it's fifteen minutes before boarding and we haven't boarded yet. I take out my magazine and begin to read it even though I'd have liked to save it for the flight: John Mayer and Jeniffer Aniston are now a hot item. I love reading about stars. They really are just like us. I'm also thinking that if John Mayer ever met me, we would be a match. I imagine John Mayer at the airport and what I would do if he were on my flight; at first, I think, I would be nervous and not know what to say, and then, after we had a few drinks, he'd realize that I am very much the dream woman he described to In Touch magazine—dynamic and safe. And after the flight, he'd look at me seriously, and take my number, actually with the intention of calling me, because it wouldn't be anything for him to fly to Tallahassee. He'd probably send me flowers every day like he does Jennifer though maybe not because I am not that easily romanced (lie). Jennifer, at her age, might need to maybe be a bit more skeptical.
I look at the lady standing in front of the gate who is supposed to be announcing and directing. There are people standing in front of her with babies and wheelchairs and other unwieldy things looking like they have no where to go, which is disturbing. I start sighing loudly and put the magazine back in my bag with only a few pages left unread; now there is nothing to distract myself with on the flight. A woman next to me is on the phone: yes, she says, we haven't left yet. She has a small brown mouth which frowns down, and I wonder if this is the person she's seeing, or leaving. I think about other flights I'd been on—the one home from Italy, when all the relatives showed up at the airport and we took pictures, and the ride there I was nervous because the guy I was in love with, not related to, would be there, and I thought that maybe he would profess his love to me which never did happen. Then, the flight home from Spain, when I sat next to this German dude who was really nice and talked with me the whole time; he was married, and whe atched some sad black and white movie about a little boy soccer player who I think got beat by his parents on his laptop. I kept watching the little mini plane on the screen and hating it's cuteness.
I think to call my parents to bitch about the time, but I don't. Instead I sit back and think of what it'd be like if we didn't fly out at all. Or if I got stuck in Atlanta and had to stay overnight—I would be superiorly pissed, and not know what to do with myself.
The lady announces that certain zones can start boarding, and I jump up even though she says people in the other seats should stay clear. I am in zone 3. When I'm allowed to board, I stride onto the plane, and then there's a back up in the little walkway, that place that I hate the most. I think that would be the walkway into hell, if there is one. It's so grimy and the temperature is always exactly what it is outside and you’re thinking, fuck this thing really does have to fly. And you want to get out but where you're going you don't really want to be there either. I look behind me; an old man smiles at me, and I can see he and his wife have their boarding passes in little plastic things that hang around their necks. Finally I'm allowed to get on the plane. The first guy I see is a flight attendant pouring some coke. His nonchalance puts me at ease. Then, in first class, there is the red headed lady with her husband and baby. The man is holding the baby, the lady still has that hurried look on her face, like things are not quite right. And the man in front of me, who'd said something earlier on the walkway that was stupid or questionable and I don't even remember what it was, starts cooing at the baby and smiling. The baby looks just like the dad—chubby face, flimsy grin. I think to look at them and smile, though I don't think the red head would remember me. The dad is looking at the baby look at the dorky guy and I feel bad for every time he has to pander to weird strangers using his baby like this. I walk past them, all the way back, all the way to the very back, and strap myself in. This is going to suck, I think. A man sits next to me with tight jeans and a nice smile. He looks about forty. He has dark hair and he might be Italian or even Mexican though he looks mostly American. I think how ordinarily I would talk to him but at this point I just want to get the flight over with. And then we're up, and every time we hit some kind of bump I turn my head to the side, as if I don't want to look at it head on, though it's just the back of someone's chair. I take deep breaths trying not to breathe on the guy, who turns out to be very nice. When I get up to use the bathroom he moves his drink and food and magazine amiably and stays sitting on the ledge of his seat, talking with the flight attendant as if they're old friends or in-laws and this is Thanksgiving dinner. After the flight I have to run to my other gate: I get ready to plow my way off the airplane but that same brown haired lady with the frown stops me and says she's connecting too, and I think, oh, could you hurry up? When I get off, I start walking quickly, and then I think fuck it. I run. This other guy in front of me is running, and I see a girl from my flight running and even though I have more stuff than her I think I can keep pace. I let her kick all the people to the side of the escalator for me. She turns out to be on my same flight to Tallahassee, and when we get there, the lady checks our tickets and I get on, sweating, stripping off everything I can in my seat. The woman next to me is equally nice as the man had been; at the end of the flight, as we're landing, she sees me almost hyperventilating and says, you're doing great, and I think, oh my god, this is cheesy, but I appreciate it. And then we land, and I have no clue what's going on because somebody's got some weird cover over their window across the aisle which I had been looking through and I thought it was still cloud. And now, on the ground, I am tired, and I am back in Tallahassee.