I just got back from a trip to Portland Oregon as part of the winter intensive for my graduate studies at MECA. It’s a beautiful city and we got to meet some cool folks. Unlike many of my classmates I am merely a willing traveler, not an enthusiastic one. I like my home and my bed and my critters. It’s a flaw perhaps. So I tend to get pretty nervous in anticipation of the unknown, convinced that all the bad possibilities of travel will come true (that I will catch swine flu from a mugger while my plane crashes). Writing helps focus and calm me. I thought I’d share what I wrote on the plane from Raleigh to Minneapolis. As with all of my writing on this blog, this is completely unedited and I’m cool with that. Some of the thoughts in this were inspired by something my husband Carl wrote recently.
The man sitting across from me in the plane looks like my dead father. He sits under his overhead light holding a book in his hands. The expression on his face—lips kind of pursed downwards, eyebrows raised—is familiar.
I’m writing this and remembering the funeral, remembering the body in the coffin wearing his work clothes. It might have been the first body I’d seen.
It didn’t stir that feeling that later bodies would of disbelief and confusion that this ‘thing’ was a person and now it isn’t. Maybe it was because he never felt alive to me, not fully anyway. His absence flattened him—reduced him to a sum of parts and small, specific memories. He was a buzz haircut, green work clothes, a blue truck, a scrunched up nose, an affectionate look, dirty hands, heavy eyelids, a work bench, a livestock trailer.
He was all of those things and not a person. And now he’s sitting next to me, waiting on the tarmac while the plane is de-iced. Clearly a sign that we’re all going to die.
A girl behind me, a teenager, has a high annunciated laugh like a television character. It is filled with vanity and self doubt. I can’t hear the person she’s talking with and I don’t know what the joke is that has her tittering.
Closer, a man and a woman are getting to know each other. Her six year old just started taking riding lessons—the most expensive hobby in the world they agree. But she loves it and has real talent. She even showed at the state fair this year. Impressive, they agree.
We are airborne and they make haste to distribute the snacks. The sunrise makes my half of the plane glow hunting vest orange. I get OJ (sans ice) and a spice cookie. My father also chooses the cookie, which turns out to be a glamorous graham cracker. Crumbs are falling on his book and down my shirt.
Ahead two men are talking business. One of them sells something the other one buys. What a coincidence, they agree. There is talk of pulling out samples once the seat belt sign is off. The seller says that this is actually the second time this has happened to him, if you can believe it. The first time he didn’t have any samples. What are the chances and that was some bad luck, they agree.
There is too much chewing and the cabin now smells like mouths.
I’m thinking of Carl—hopefully home and back to sleep with cats lying on his legs and on my side of the bed. Probably my pillow too. I’m remembering how he had me stand on the curb with him on the street to kiss me good bye. Its fun to kiss level like that, to even out the height difference so we’re face to face.
They are collecting trash now—holding open plastic bags like trick-or-treaters with low standards.
The kids on the plane are getting louder as their fears subside and they adapt to their new surroundings. Whenever the plane groans, bumps, or whines I hear them inquiring ‘what’s that’? Speaking out loud the question everyone is asking inside their own minds. When did we stop asking questions out loud? Probably when we started feeling like we had something to lose by not knowing the answers.