5:06 – I walk by the security line, which stretches all the way through the airport. Grateful for TSA Pre-Check. I love that people want to travel so much for this holiday that they brave such inconveniences.
5:28 – I stroll past the food court and note where I sat when I was last in this airport, more than a year ago, where I sat and cried so hard that a child asked his mother if I was all right. I had had an intuition that scared me, that I wouldn’t see a specific someone I loved ever again in the same way, and couldn’t shake the intensity of that feeling. Months later, it turned out that I was right: my aunt had a devastating and ultimately fatal stroke, and I saw her in those days in between life and death, when she was already actually gone. Ever since then, a part of me has lived on edge, ever-vigilant about figuring out if I’m again having that type of premonition, ever-scared that I was right and what it would mean if I was right again.
I turn around and walk away from the chair where I sat last year. I don’t walk by or look that way again.
5:45 – Glancing at a row of phones on the wall, I think they’re marked Confession Phones and I think what a nice thing, to pick up a phone and confess whatever I need to confess to an anonymous stranger. When I realize they say Courtesy Phones, I’m disappointed. If I was a different person, maybe this would become an art installation that I would create myself, one where at any time, you could pick up the phone and spill everything you need to spill, while the person on the other end used nonjudgmental minimal encouragers to urge you on.
6:04 – I take an open seat in the gate, next to a man who turns out to be THE WORST (as I imagine my best friend would say), what with all the goutee-stroking and over-the-top leg spreading. Finally the bristly tugging of his facial hair becomes too much, and I have to go stand somewhere far away.
6:16 – A couple dashes into the boarding line, backpacks akimbo and out of breath, frantically pulling their boarding passes out, not bothering with manners. The woman next to me makes eye contact and good-naturedly says she tries to wish people working today a Happy Thanksgiving. She’s had to work on the holiday in the past. This year, she’s traveling to Vegas for a bachelorette party with her sister, who is standing in line. They are both so tall and I am so very short.
6:24 – A conversation between the folks behind me. “My priority is to get things fixed,” one says. “First my nostril, then my lip.” The other sagely replies, “Yeah, can’t wait,” and then starts talking about tattoos.
6:41 – Airborne. What a miracle this life can be.
7:05 – I give up trying to sleep and give over to a book – God Save Texas, by Lawrence Wright – and my thoughts. The author’s words remind me of things I want to learn about and I resolve to start a list. Modernism in architecture. How to make Pain Suisse. Hawks.
7:13 – Wow, a lot of people like soda in the early morning.
8:11 – My 20-minute nap ends because a loud song by twenty one pilots comes on. Lesson learned, I build a playlist that I call Planemusic, but it is really just music to sleep by. Yet then I’m so excited about it that I can’t go back to sleep at all.
6:47 – Half an hour from landing, I change my watch back to pacific standard time. I pause, in the early morning again, suspended. Once, on a flight from New York to Seattle, I had an extra-long birthday, which was its own bonus, but then the flight attendant allowed me to use the first-class bathroom as a gift.
And what a gift it was.
7:07 – Final descent. Tray table and seat back are in their full and upright position. Here we go; welcome to Las Vegas. And I think of my aunt again: the last time I had a layover here was traveling home from her funeral. I played the slots because she would have told me to.
The people we love don’t leave us. They maybe become quieter. But they’re here with us, perhaps even closer – in a way – than they were before. This is not a new thought, I know. But still, it is a comforting one.
My ears pop and I yawn. I see the red rocks of Nevada out my neighbor’s window.
(This world is amazing; don’t believe anything different. Don’t believe anything less. It just is.)
7:15 – We land. We land. We land!