Sometimes no matter how planned out a journey is, unexpected things can happen. Some good, some bad, some just surprising enough to make a long trip a bit more memorable. I had three planes to catch on my journey, and they were all late. But that was a good thing, considering that I had a late start to get to the airport for my first departure.
I had planned on arriving at the airport at least an hour before my early morning departure. But I couldn't sleep the night before. I had too much on my mind and I needed a way to unwind. I didn't want to take a sleeping pill or have a drink. After all, I was driving to the airport the next morning. So I went out, hung out with a friend, and did what we sometimes do to help relax and unwind. I didn't get any sleep; but at least I felt less tense. But I got caught up in all the fun and kept going when I should've stopped. I couldn't resist the temptation; the first time felt too good and I wanted more.
So when I got back, it was all ready time to leave for the airport. But I needed to take a shower to feel clean and refreshed, wash off the evidence of the night's activities. So when I left for the airport, it was much later than I had planned. I was rushing on the highways, risking a speeding ticket, stopping along the way to pick up a friend who would take care of my car while I was gone. When I got to the security screening, my watch said I had 20 minutes til the plane took off.
I wasn't sure if I was going to make it, but I had to try. Part of me would've been unhappy to have missed the flight. But another part would've been relieved at the excuse to keep from leaving just a little longer. But when I reached my gate, I found out that the plane had arrived an hour late, and boarding would begin in 15 minutes. I supposed there was a larger force at play, making sure that I would make the trip.
But it would appear that whatever force was guiding my trip had a sense of humor. I had just sat down on my aisle seat, waiting for the rest of the passengers to board. A blonde buxom flight attendant, caught in the stream of boarding passengers, decided to turn sideways and lean towards me, letting the others pass her by. She smiled at me and winked as her ample bosom was but a tongue's length from my face. I smiled back. These were certainly some friendly skies.
And friendly skies they were indeed! Throughout the rest of the flight, various flight attendants would pass by smile and ask if I needed anything. Being polite, I always said please and thank you and smiled while talking to them. Now, ordinarily, I would've thought they were just doing their jobs, making everyone on board feel comfortable. But I started thinking otherwise during an incident before they served snacks. I had the tray table down, reading a magazine. A tall brunette stopped by my seat leaned down, smiled, and said, "I need to make sure your seatbelt is properly buckled. The captain has the buckle seatbelt sign on."
I said, "Please, go right ahead." She tugged at my belt buckle while maintaining eye contact. Her fingers rubbed gently against my lower abs. She said, "It seems to be on right."
I raised an eyebrow, cocked a smile and replied, "Oh, it's on all right."
The guy sitting on the other side of me snickered as the brunette smiled and sauntered away. And so began this flirting game with the crew that lasted for the rest of the flight. After the meal, I was rotating my neck when the blond, male flight attendant stopped by for a short chat. He asked if I needed anything and how I was enjoying the flight so far. Then he asked if I was flying for business or pleasure. The whole time he was talking to me, his hand frequently touched my shoulder, giving me a squeeze now and then. At one point, he leaned in and sniffed me, asking me what cologne I was wearing, telling me that I smelled good. We ended our conversation with him caressing my shoulder before giving it one last squeeze.
Later, I got up and walked to the rear of the plane to stretch my legs. I found myself talking with a voluptuous redheaded flight attendant who was making coffee. When another passenger came to use the restroom, the redhead turned around and backed herself up against me to make room. She looked up at me and apologized for the inconvenience, but I smiled and told her that it was no trouble at all. She pressed back some more, smiled, then got her cart and left to pass out the drinks with her partner. Before the flight was over, the male flight attendant made a quick stop at my seat to slip me an official, unopened airlines deck of cards. I didn't realize that airlines had their own deck of cards. My neighbor raised his eyebrow while I thanked the flight attendant, who just winked and smiled and moved on.
I'm not exactly sure what I did to attract their attention or how I became the target of their flirting game, but I was enjoying it. It was a welcomed distraction from the purpose of my trip. I needed something amusing to keep from going crazy. And I did have fun interacting with the flight attendants. I was all smiles when landed, and I made it a point to thank each one I saw for a very enjoyable flight.
My second flight was uneventful, but it provided me the opportunity to finally get some sleep. When I arrived at the airport where I would catch my final connecting flight, I felt somewhat rested. This was the airport where I would meet my niece and friend before taking that final plane towards my childhood home. Of course, the flight was late. I was supposed to have at least two hours to hang out with my niece and friend. But that was cut down to twenty minutes.
I only had a change of clothing and a travel kit in my carry on. I knew that I would need room to pack the stuff my niece wanted me to deliver. And I was right. All her stuff wouldn't fit in my carry on. Luckily, I could take the extra package and count it as a personal item. My friend brought me a plate of Korean BBQ. It smelled good, though, I wasn't sure if I had time to eat it. She said for me to eat it on the plane. Then she astonished me, telling me that she had called her younger brother with instructions. He was to pick me up from the airport, help drop off my luggage at my Mom's place, then take me straight to the hospital to see my Mom. That was unexpected. I didn't realize she had made plans for me; I only thought she wanted to meet me and offer her support in person.
I protested, telling her not to trouble herself or her brother with my problems. But she insisted. And she reasoned, even if I didn't mind paying too much for a cab, where would I leave my luggage? They don't let anyone take luggage into the ICU. She was right. It also meant that I was meeting my siblings much earlier than I wanted. My original plan was to take a cab straight to the hospital to spend the night at my mother's bedside. Then I'd go home in the morning and meet my siblings, the ones I couldn't stand to be around. And as much as I hated having my friend do this for me, I confess that it did feel comforting. I was surprised by just how relieved and grateful I was to have her (and her brother) do this for me. Her concern and kindness reminded me of why I was friends with her in the first place. And I was so lucky to have her in my life. I've gotten so used to doing things on my own that I've forgotten that I could lean on other people during difficult times. My short meeting with my friend gave me the strength I needed to face my past and my troubled family.
During the last flight, I was feeling conflicted. The truth was that I was uneasy at the thought of facing all those people I stopped contact with a long time ago. Feelings of anger and resentment I long buried were resurfacing. And I wasn't sure if I could keep from saying or doing anything that would escalate an all ready terrible situation. My last years living at home were kind of a torture, in that I kept my mouth shut when I wanted to tell off my elder siblings. But I held back for my Mom's sake. My Mom didn't like to see us fight, it hurt her. But I did snap back a couple of times when I felt my elder siblings actions were unbearable. It made them mad that I didn't do what they wanted; it worried them that I wasn't afraid of them.
But I was also feeling excited to see my nieces and nephews. Most of them are closer to my age, and we've always had this tight bond. I was closer to them than I was to some of their parents. I wondered if it was because of the huge age difference between me and my elder siblings. Or it could be just a generational thing, our perspectives and priorities being very different. I missed my nieces and nephews, and I was looking forward to seeing them. I was also eager to see my mother. It had been many years since I last saw her. And though we parted a long time ago on good terms and settled everything between us, I wanted to see her one last time.
When the plane finally started it's descent, I looked down and was taken aback by the number of lights shining from below. The town has certainly grown since the last time I was here. There were much more houses and streets than I remembered. Actually, there were a number of new towns that had grown up over the years. But they weren't the only things that've grown. My friend's kid brother was just as tall as I was! When I last saw him, he was still in middle school, a short munchkin riding a bike up and down the street. Now he was driving a car. I told him, "Dude, thanks for doing this. I hate troubling you with my problems."
He said, "It's no problem at all," then he put on a sly smile, "Besides, my sister said she'd kick my ass if I didn't do this."
I laughed, "Your sister is going to fly down here just to kick your ass then fly back home?"
"Well," he laughed, "She's crazy like that."
That she was. That she was indeed. But that's one of her more charming characteristics.
Not all things were bigger though. Other things seemed smaller than I remember. Well, a quick stop home, about ten minutes or so to drop off my luggage, and I saw two of my elder sisters. They were a lot shorter than I remembered (and perhaps a wee bit wider). But some of my nieces and nephews were bigger and taller. I left for the hospital amid the excitement that my arrival had caused. I didn't see my other siblings, but that was okay. I'll deal with them later.
My sisters told me that I wouldn't be able to see my mother because visiting hours were over. But I didn't care. I was going to the hospital anyway. I'll just ask the nurses and explain my situation. And the nurses understood and let me in. That's when I had the biggest surprise of all. When I entered the ICU, I couldn't find my mother. In fact, the first patient I saw turned out to be my mother. But I did not realize it was her at first. I mean, it was like the time when I first saw my father when he died. I was drawn to the features, and though they seemed unfamiliar, they were somehow very important, something about them got my attention. One of the nurses confirmed that this was my mother. I did not recognize her.
And how could I? She looked nothing like I remembered. Where was the vibrant, strong woman, so full of life and energy? Where was her infectious smile and rich laughter? How did she become so frail, so old, so fragile? It didn't help that the machines and tubes kept her breathing, kept her living, were so prominent. I didn't know what to feel. It seemed so unreal, seeing her lying there like that, so weak, so helpless. I felt sad; I felt lost. I wished that this was all a dream. I felt like a child again. I noticed bruising and wounds on her face. Though she was sleeping, there was grimace on her face; she was in pain. I took her hand in mine; her hand felt cool and heavy. I squeezed it, and talked to her, letting her know that I was here, and I was sorry for taking so long to get here. I wasn't sure if she could hear me, but that didn't matter. I had made it.
And then she opened her eyes slowly. She looked at me, her brow furrowed. She narrowed her eyes as if she was trying to makes sense of what she was seeing. Was this a dream? Who was this person holding her hand? I wasn't sure if she recognized me or if she was even conscious. But then I saw a small tear fall from the corner of her eye. She knew who I was, and that after all these years, I had finally come back home.