I thought we would fly to England this holiday season to see our eldest daughter Audra, who lives in Surrey, but she came to the States this summer with her husband and their two little boys, the heir and the heir. No one would call Lucas, that five-year-old charmer, a spare.
So, although I would have loved to see my daughter again, I was a little relieved that they’d be skiing in France this holiday because travel, while exciting, can be stressful. And by “can,” I mean “is.” I’m stopped at Security virtually every time I board a plane, and it’s always easier to leave the US than to be allowed to come home.
Last year, on checking in at Heathrow for my flight to Dulles, I scrambled to get all my possessions in the screening bins without holding up the well-dressed businessman tailgating my efforts. Shoes off, computer in a bin of its own. Personal care products in 3.5 oz bottles, my boarding pass out. I waited for the nod before I walked through the X-ray booth. I smiled, but not too much, not like I was up to something.
But I was still pulled out of line for more intense screening. Weirdly, this always makes me feel both indignant and guilty. Like the UK Border Force knows something about me that I don’t know, and we’re all about to find out. I’m as interested as they are. What the heck DID I do?
So, I put my arms up helpfully while they patted me down—I leaned into it. I do the same thing when doctors say, “You may feel a stick, a pinch, or some pressure.” I was the picture of compliance.
But I got pulled out of line for a secondary screening as we were actually boarding. I sat on a bench with other suspects even though I never-ever use words that rhyme with Tom or leave my suitcase unattended. I stood by anxiously while my computer was swiped for explosive residue, and even though I knew there couldn’t possibly be any, it felt as if, because they were looking, it just might materialize. This is why I avoid annual physicals as well.
Then there was the trip home alone from the southern hemisphere with only my youngest daughter, then 7. After we were fully boarded and the doors sealed, the pilot came on to inform us there was something wrong with the brakes. We were to stay in our seats. They could make the repair without us deplaning.
Three hours later, still strapped in our seats, and 6 hours after we’d left the house in Auckland, we took off for a 12.75-hour flight to San Fransisco. I looked across the aisle at the man in the pale blue Brooks Brothers shirt and said, “You get it that they haven’t tested the brakes, right? That the first test will be when we hit the tarmac in San Francisco?” We smiled at each other like people who are going to die but now feel better about it.
So, by the time we arrived in CA, I’d been traveling with a second grader, hauling luggage to transfer desks, lifting carry-ons, scrutinized repeatedly, and seated in Economy for 16 hours.
Instinctively anxious, I overshared at Customs—explained what didn’t need explaining while everyone else streamed to Baggage Claim.
When I got there, I saw the man across the aisle who was going to die with me if the brakes failed, and I wanted to say thank you. No. That’s not quite true. I wanted to say, “Don’t leave me.” Is that weird? And “Thanks for sharing that quantum potentiality with me for a while.” I smiled at him, “We’re going to live,” I said. He laughed, “Looks like,” he replied. He hefted his suitcase from the conveyor belt and headed towards the sliding doors, toward whoever or whatever awaited him. “Have a good one,” he called back. He meant “day,” but I heard “life.”
Goodbye, goodbye, have a good life.
I understand the concept of entanglement as attachment. Even the briefest of life intersections with others have left an indelible impression on mine. And I was too well loved as a child to have the instinct for attachment I have, so it’s a puzzle. I should be unaffected when the woman I never knew in cardio dance moves to Florida. Or when the neighbor who constantly put her trash out on the street a day early moves away. Why do I occasionally wonder if she is happy? I don’t even know her name.
Maybe I’m called out for repeated security screenings because those waves of energy detect the hidden attachments to others I carry.
If life is a trip that ends in a foreign country—one none of us has visited but have heard a lot about–I’d really like to be at ease going through check-in. To be surrounded by loved ones at the transfer desk, to be able to tell the Customs agent (whom I’ll always remember), that I’m reuniting, not just with family and friends, but with everyone I never knew.
“Have a good one,” I’ll call out cheerfully as I exit the terminal. And I won’t mean “day,” I’ll mean life everlasting. As I step into the next great adventure with you.
Laura J. Oliver is an award-winning developmental book editor and writing coach, who has taught writing at the University of Maryland and St. John’s College. She is the author of The Story Within (Penguin Random House). Co-creator of The Writing Intensive at St. John’s College, she is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Fiction, an Anne Arundel County Arts Council Literary Arts Award winner, a two-time Glimmer Train Short Fiction finalist, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her website can be found here.