[skipped out on you Monday without warning… sorry about that… all will be told Monday]
I am running late. My flight leaves in an hour and I’m carrying an infant, so I can’t self-check even though 3 helpful folks in uniforms have escorted me over to the self-check-in I CANNOT SELF CHECK IN IT WON’T LET ME thank you so much.
I now have 30 minutes. Not until BOARDING, but until RUNWAY.
I am in the security line, in socks, holding a baby and trying to fold a stroller. A large Samoan man is wrestling with a laptop briefcase. The briefcase appears to be winning. I am going to miss my flight.
Abby and I are waived through in a fit of TSA generosity and I yell to my gate, “I’m here! We’re here! I’VE BEEN HERE!” The man in the red blazer looks at me through his bifocals. “We’re about to give your seat away, Mrs. Mulder. Where have you and your infant-in-arms been?”
“Behind a large Samoan man with a briefcase that wouldn’t open.”
He looks down to conceal a smile. “I see. Hurry now. They’re waiting for you.”
Abby and I rush the plane and take our seat. Everyone forgives me for holding things up when they see Miss Abby on my arm. She is the darling of the airplane. As soon as we sit down, she grabs the our neighbor’s button-down sleeve and brings his whole arm to her mouth, kissing it… him… everything. “I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t mind,” he says quietly.
We are in the air, God bless America, and they are coming with the complimentary beverages and un-child-friendly snacks. “No thank you,” I say as Abby stretches and sleeps in my arms. The tall attendant looks at me. He is in his late 50s and at least 6 foot 3. An airline veteran, to be sure, and the head of this team. He smiles politely and continues on.
Ten minutes later, with Abby still asleep, I look up to see him crouched beside me in the aisle.
“I miss this,” he says.
He points at Abby. “This. I miss this. I missed it. Physically missed it. I’m always up in the air. My wife has to call me and remind me when the kids’ birthdays are and where everyone is. I was always gone. I was in wars and in planes. I missed holding my kids when they were asleep.”
I realize, at 10,000 feet, that I am on holy ground.
“You’re a military veteran?”
“I am. I’ve served in a few conflicts. Now I’m a grandpa and I work up here.”
“My dad is a veteran. He lives far away, too. When my brother and I were little, my mom held down the fort a lot while he trained and served. I’m sure he missed a few of our baths, as well.”
He smiles a sad smile. “I just don’t know what to do to make it up to them.”
“Sometimes being sad about it is enough. What more can you do now? Be a grandpa, and be a great one. You’re no use to anyone if you spend all your time thinking about 30 years ago.”
He smiles a different smile. “Well, I agree with you there.”
Abby stirs, yawns dramatically, and opens her hazel eyes to the stranger now seated in the aisle next to her. She grins mischievously.
“Well, I agree with you there.”
And with that, he unfolded himself from the floor and headed back to the front of the cabin. As we de-planed, he waved and told me to have a nice day. Abby blew him a raspberry, and everyone went their own way.
Regret is a terrible travelling companion. She’s heavy and manipulative… and she has a terrible, hazy memory. I need to remember to leave her out of my suitcase from now on. There’s just not enough time in the day anymore to deal with her rambling and tricks.
And here’s to Abby, who can break through walls with a single smile.