At the Gate

Los Angeles to New York this Easter Sunday.  He is Risen!  And I am rising…above the Sierras and the Rockies and the self-proclaimed fly-over lands.

I love to fly.

Airports are always full of such promise and heartbreak, and the contrast is perhaps what I love the most.  Hellos, goodbyes.  Chance meetings.  Near misses.

I make phone calls.

Hi Mums.  What did you think about last night’s wedding?

I loved the tamburitza band.  I thought they were really talented.  Then Dad had some slivovitz with them…

And as I talk, I walk.

Look at families; solo travelers; places I have sat on previous trips and thought about…things.  Try to remember the things I have thought about.  I hate LAX.

I remember being twenty years old and flying to Washington to be an intern.  United Flight 1.  Back then, you could walk someone to the gate, and my moon-faced college boyfriend walked me through the industrial-tiled halls and said his appropriately romantic goodbyes.  My aunt was on the other side.

I was glad to leave.  It was the beginning of my pulling up the Los Angeles stakes; the beginning of the end of that era.  I never looked back.

Take offs and landings; at the end of the LA runways it says, “No Turns Before Coastline.”  And I used to hate that; used to be an anxious flier; biting my cuticles out there over the eerie blue.

Mere, Mere…what are you doing?

I’m buying a water, Mums.  Just buying a water.

Are you going to remember to call me when you land?  You always forget to call.

Maybe.

Now I fly like the regular that I have become.  See the same people on the same routes.  LGA-DCA; JFK-SFO.  Less regularly; EWR-CDG, CPH, CYOA–choose your own adventure.  I know the sounds of equipment and engines.  Know the different rolls and flexes of an Airbus versus a Boeing; have memorized the various seat configurations of every type of plane currently in service.  I know a Rolls-Royce from a Pratt & Whitney.

It’s not always so mundane.

I remember heart-attacks en route; emergency medical landings; shots fired on a runway in rural China.  Standing on tarmacs ’round the world inhaling jet fumes, waiting to board.

I remember the tightly chignoned Air France stewardesses who couldn’t wait to get my ex-husband off the flight where he’d gotten food poisoning in Paris and had gotten on the plane anyway.  Then landing and rushing to that hospital on Long Island.  Me, 32 hours awake when we landed and in no condition to pose as someone’s attentive spouse.  I sat in the ER, answering questions en franglais while Andrew’s aunt tended to the actual work of care.

Well, what time do you think you’ll get in?

Late.  The flight is delayed.

Are you sure you’ll remember to call.

No, mother.  Not sure at all.

Well, I guess if you don’t make it, WK will call looking.

(The comment strikes me.  How would he have her phone number?)

(Moving on.)

Then take-off.

Los Angeles disappears below me.  First the ocean then, aller-retours, back over the Basin.  Tract homes become tracts, snaking footprints of cul-de-sacs and endless red terra cotta rooves, lined up like military headstones.

I do not miss this place when I leave it.

Five plus hours of misery.

Then touch-down.

From the days when my life was in chaos–sheer chaos–and I was between the moon and New York City, airports were my only constant.  When my belongings were scattered up and down the Eastern Seaboard, the only thing I could count on was the routine of take-off and landing.  All of my furniture was moving with my ex and I had nothing but a mid-century Lane coffee table and two end tables that I had painstakingly refinished by hand when I was twenty-one and bored.

They were the first “nice” pieces of furniture my parents had bought as newly-weds.

They remind me that marriages in my family begin young, and that they last.  They remind me that my marriage did not.  But more importantly, they remind me of what I can do on my own; have done on my own.  They remind me that I am enough to fill my own house; that I, alone, can make a home.

I still cry when I touch down in Queens–it has become a part of the routine for me; chaos-into-catharsis.  The sense of attachment and belonging; of the welcome embrace of the city that loves me.  I love you New York, my home.

Then, down another jetway, preparing to cross into another night in a brightly lit cavern of a terminal.  Anticipating the bustle and jostle of a sea of weary travelers.  I brace for the usual; the inevitable.

But as I cross the threshold, by a quirk of fate, and luck, and the hard work of months of patience…I see someone waiting for me at the gate.

And in the buzz and hum in which I usually let myself get lost, instead, I hear…

My name.

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    • Hi: I believe they were called the Yeseta Brothers, in Los Angeles, CA. They are affiliated with St. Anthony Croatian Catholic Church, too.

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