Only at 27,000 feet did I finally feel the electric bolt of lightning strike through the crown of my head and finally ground deep into the earth. The past week in New York was stormy, for this time of year, and the thunder rumbled and the sky popped without rain or those telltale white hot forks shooting through the sky. I finished a bottle of wine because I’d missed the sunset that night and I couldn’t take more people coming into my space, taking my energy. You don’t realize how much of yourself you put into two neat – mostly – rooms until strangers fill it with their curiosity and their presence and it doesn’t feel like your home anymore.
I packed one suitcase, drunk, on wine from Italy with a pretty label, and also made with expensive Spanish grapes. I ate without tasting because Fear was hungry and, ashamed, I beheld what I’d allowed it to consume. I didn’t stop, didn’t sleep, tried new things on a day when new things should have been left alone, and floated despite being bloated: this wasn’t salt water and the lake was frozen.
And then the airport and the dry, impersonal space about which people complain and forget about the wonder that human beings are whisked up, up and away. His brown eyes were clear as he looked back at me, “thank you, ma’am,” he said. “Only you and one other person thanked me, and that guy bought me a sandwich. He said ‘it’s the least I can do.”
What else could I give but my thanks to the boy with a camouflage backpack and us army-issue jacket? He was off base for four days and his cowboy boots belied his impending departure to somewhere more interesting than the barracks. “I’m getting married in three hours, and then back South,” he said.
“And then what?”
He looked at me seriously, swallowed, and quietly: “I’m getting deployed to Afghanistan.”
I swallowed and looked back into those clear, brown eyes and I knew that he knew we thought the same thing. My heart squeezed. “I’m sorry,” I said, and thanked him again. It was the least that I could do.
We were late and then later and the plane heard about his fiancée who would not be able to meet him, happy, at the airport. He told me he wanted to pick up his 15 years old brother from school. “He’s autistic,” he explained. “But I’m too late now.” We all sat, silent and expectant and finally soared into the air.
Then, at 27,000 feet, the lightning was tamed through a pair of doc marten boots that were grounded into the plane floor that wasn’t earth but it was solid and light at the same time. He was getting married in an hour.
I was going home.
“I didn’t need these things. I didn’t need them.”