Tuesday, November 15, 2011

a more or less uneventful flight

Published today at Orion headlesshttp://orionheadless.com/

I have just complained  to a clerk at the airport newsstand that if Rolling Stone gets any smaller it will be the size of a mass-market paperback.  She gives me a wide-eyed, blank look like she hasn’t a clue what I’m talking about.  A simple “I’m sorry.” would have been nice.  For many years now, on the way to my boarding gate at the airport, I stop and buy the latest edition of W and Rolling Stone, two magazines I read only on airplanes.

 Southwest Airlines charges ten dollars extra both ways (which I am happy to pay) to avoid the boarding procedure that has become more and more like the running of the bulls in Pamplona.  Claiming a window seat forward of the wing, I position my oversized tote bag, magazines and purse on the middle seat as if  I’m saving it for my date at a concert.
This ploy works yet again when an older woman in her seventies takes the aisle seat.  I don’t chat when I fly.  I listen to music on my iPod and read.  She glances my way once or twice and smiles.  I nod, adjust my ear buds, and look down at Rolling Stone.  She gets the message and we’re off to a good start. 
An annoying child is sitting behind me, kicking my seat at regular intervals and I recognize he’s a problem which will have to be dealt with sooner rather than later.  I sigh and push the call button for the flight attendant.  I choose not to have these confrontations myself.  The attendant responds, I explain, he speaks to the child’s mother about the ill-mannered boy and that’s the end of that.
 Half an hour into the flight while listening to a Norah Jones album, I can hear the child screaming above the music.
“Are we gonna die, Mom?  We’re gonna crash aren’t we?”
 I remove my earphones and look up to see what’s going on. 
The older woman seated to my left says, “The pilot just say we make some kind trouble from thunderstorms all around us.”  Her words carry an accent I don’t recognize.
She looks pale and she’s white knuckling the armrests.  I feel a twinge of pity for her so I pat her hand and say, “I’m sure we’ll all be fine.”
At about the same time, we hit the turbulence.  It’s not the sort of somewhat sick-making rocking back and forth kind.  No, instead it’s the carnival ride gone rogue version, where you are bumping up and down, hard and often . . . . for what feels like forever.  I check to make sure my seat belt is fastened and I also check the older woman’s.  She can’t weigh more than a hundred pounds, if that, and she is terrified, bouncing around like sack full of feathers.  My head hits the cabin roof and I am starting to feel a touch of nausea, so I do what I always do when we encounter a rough patch.  I reinsert my ear buds, take a few deep breaths, return to the Rolling Stone article about some newly dead rock person and pretend this isn’t happening.  I’ve just reached the point where I think I might have it under control when I feel a tap on my left hand.
“You Catholic?”  She’s aged about ten years since I checked her seat belt.
“Not exactly,” I say because I don’t think this is the time or the place to go into the whole baptized, lapsed, agnostic. . .maybe even atheist explanation.
“You say rosary with me?” she says, her voice bouncing with the movement of her body. She’s fingering crystal beads.
I think about the inappropriateness of this request for exactly one bump and say, “Uh, no, I don’t think so.
“ Please,” she begs in a pathetic voice.  Damn, I say to myself.
“I’ll tell you what I will do,” I say, because she’s old and frightened.  “I’ll hold your hand while you say it, alright?”
Prying her fingers off the armrest, I hold her hand while she begins the Apostles Creed in a language other than English.  With my other hand I page through my copy of W.  As she whispers her Hail Mary’s and Glory Be’s in whatever her mother tongue is, I peruse Armani eveningwear and luxe Prada handbags and feel her relaxing. 
After a time, I believe we have come through the worst of it.  Except for the lightning still splitting the storm clouds far off in the distance, the bad weather seems to be easing off.
When I pull my hand from hers, she grabs it back and kisses it several times.  “You and me, we have saved us.”  She’s tearing up.  I re-claim my hand, not sure what to say to her.  So I mumble, “Yes, well, perhaps.”
Our landing is uneventful, but as we make our way down the jet way I see that she is still shaky from the harrowing flight, so I take her arm, reluctantly, and only because as each year passes I can see myself becoming more and more like my haughty, distant, universally disliked mother.  Given the opportunity, I remind myself I do not want to become her replicate.
When we emerge into the terminal she looks bewildered as if she thought someone would be waiting to meet her.  I curse the events that prohibit her family from being able to guide her through the immense maze of hallways, moving sidewalks and escalators. 
“Where you go?”  She says to me.
“I am going to get my luggage,” I answer.
“Me too,” she smiles.
 Accepting the fact that I’m stuck with her, we hit the moving sidewalk arm in arm, riding past the long lines of passengers waiting to get through security.  Then we walk for a long time until I see the escalators and turn us in that direction.  She needs my help to get on the first moving step.  As we slowly descend, a roar goes up from the clan gathered at the bottom.  A group of at least fifty people are laughing, crying and reaching out to her.  She is subsumed by these relatives (I can only assume they are relatives) and I skirt the edges of the assemblage, relieved that she is now someone else’s problem and head toward the luggage carousels.
A young man comes running after me, grabs me by the arm saying, “You must come with me.  Bunica, she wants introduce you to family.”
Charming.  “No, no, that’s not at all necessary,” I tell him.  He’s not taking no for an answer, however, so I am thrust into the throng of men, women and children.
My seatmate puts her arm around me and begins to point and pat at me while chattering away in her language.  All at once a cheer goes up, and I find my self in the embrace of the entire crowd.  Feeling hugely embarrassed, I try to pull my way out of the crush of strangers.
Bunica, which I have since learned means Grandmother in Romanian, hugs me and says, “I tell them how you and me keep plane from falling out of sky.  They love you for doing this and for taking care of me.  They want know your name and I tell them I do not know your name.  So you must say.”
“Diana,” I tell her, “my name is Diana.” 
It begins immediately.  Everyone is chanting “Di-an-a” over and over.  I turn from them and walk away so they won’t see the tears tracking through my artfully applied mask of cosmetics.

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