The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
Flying to North Carolina and Back
By Beckah Porter
I’ve never missed a flight, I think in part because I get to the airport extremely early, constantly checking and rechecking my flight number and gate until it’s accidentally memorized, helping my anxiety. But mostly because I enjoy being in an airport more than I enjoy the act of flying.
I’ve had flights canceled on me.
Sometimes, when I am driving on the Walt Whitman Bridge, towards the Philadelphia airport, past changing leaves signaling fall break ending, or when I waited for seven hours, already completed different versions of my resume and updating my iPod in Greensboro, my flight canceled due to rain and an overworked crew. Once I went to the airport even earlier than usual, a reaction when I learned TSA was in shortage, a slight chance the lines would be longer, which ultimately caused me to arrive four hours early, where I immediately found a bar, the airport empty. I ordered my usual, jack and ginger, lemon and lime, awkwardly sitting with my Sudoku book, unsure of how to interact with strangers, even more unconvinced I wanted to. Eventually a gentlemen around the same age as me landed on the unsteady stool next to mine, having a conversation about sports with the three older gentlemen, delayed for hours completely ruining their annual golf trip to Florida, which I overheard, chuckling to myself.
Since then, I would try a different bar each visit in North Carolina or Philadelphia, if I had time, which turned into a habit of consistently checking for empty bar-stools as I trekked through the crowded airport. I smile to myself, as I recall sitting in a corner spot at another bar, placing my hands on the greasy counter-top, ordering a salad from an underpaid waitress, hunched over my notes about an interview that occurred in North Carolina. I listed the pros and cons, debating if I wanted the job, which I eventually took. I ordered a jack and ginger that time too. Some travel days though, I don’t have time to stop. But as I rush past the bar with the shaky stools, leather slightly falling apart at the seams, I always wonder if those gentlemen eventually made it to Florida or if they gave up and rescheduled.
I broke my foot in three places, the third, fourth, and fifth metatarsal, which requires me to be in a pneumatic boot for 6-8 weeks, a diagnosis I was hoping my doctor was exaggerating. I constantly bang the knee-high boot against my ankles and knobby kneecap silently cursing at the inanimate object, like a person I wanted to punch in the face, when in fact it was my fault for not listening when I learned I had a stress fracture. While being additionally screened by TSA I met the most cynical women. So cynical I actually found her negativity to be humorous and slightly charming.
"I bet that thing is a pain in the ass to travel with," she points to my boot.
I smile politely and nod in agreement, still waiting on the carpet to get the all clear so that I could grab my things from the plastic bins.
"This whole process is just fucking ridiculous,” she told me then, seemingly surprised that an airport had security and that it was asking too much of her.
"I knew it would be a struggle so I got here early to deal with all this," I wave my hand around attempting to explain all of this meant my safety.
"It's a philosophy,” she states just then, and as I finally look at the older woman, short, thinning hair falling delicately around her contrasting firm jawline, I notice slight hair on her chin, almost like a beard.
I broke my foot once before. I was studying abroad in Brazil then, our first night out in Rio De Janiero with my classmates attending a samba festival, a class requirement. Awkwardly dancing around to the rhythms we had previously learned in class while switching partners, an older, rather heavyset women, and I collided resulting in her platform heels digging into the base of my foot subsequent in not only bleeding but immediate swelling. I closed my eyes. I knew it was broken. Yet traveling with a boot seemed almost fun then, part of the adventure. By the time I arrived back to the States my friends joked how I would be taking a plane from Charlotte to Greensboro, only a two-hour drive back to campus. I hadn't known because I just transferred to the southern school. But even after the TSA had given me a hard time, I giggled and I put my one shoe on and listened to the voicemails I couldn't receive before. One in particular from my aunt, curious as to who this new boy was popping up all over my Facebook. I kept my phone tucked away in lockers where I hid all my other valuable items debatably safe in my hostel. I enjoyed being out of touch. But then I didn't. I learned after calling my aunt back, and also explaining to her that I had met someone on the trip she would be going to a liver specialist soon. Something might be wrong. Later, my boyfriend would only learn about my aunt from broken conversations from phone calls, my chin resting on my elbows, or on speakerphone in the car as I sunk my teeth into my tongue. He would never get to meet her in person. And eventually the boy I met on that trip broke up with me. A year after my aunt passed, three days before her birthday, two weeks before I graduated.
I do not know what the woman meant by that comment, but I do not want to ask. She is already putting her jacket back on and slipping into her suede moccasins. I couldn't help but think of my barefoot on the dirty carpet and how many other bare feet have touched the exact place I am standing. I shove all my contents back into my tiny backpack promising I’ll get organized at the gate, a promise I never keep, the cold tile on my bare feet, my right toes collecting little particles of crumbs and dirt flattening under my grip. For as much as I travel, I never remember to bring socks.
The woman next to me sleeps the whole plane ride. Well, almost. She has a notepad she takes out of her wallet and keeps in the front pocket of her chair, before the instructions if we sank to the ocean or blew up in the air, and the barf bag, which I have yet to see someone use, thankfully. She keeps coming back to the same page labeled “TO DO:” where the top of the list "PAY TAXES" seems pretty straightforward. Underneath, questionably a list of other important things she needs to complete when we arrive in Greensboro. Yet she keeps penning the bottom of the small pad and labeling the empty space under “3. FIGURE OUT A DOG NAME” number four but she cannot write what number four needs to be. She presses the back of her head against the seat and closes her eyes, seemingly fighting back a headache that she so desperately refuses to take care of at the moment. After she orders a water, no ice, and takes my packet of nuts when I decline does she seem satisfied again and puts the pad back in its rightful space in front of her.
I couldn't remember a lot about my aunt a few weeks after she passed. Mere months and couldn't remember the colors of her costume jewelry, her favorite graphic t-shirt, the music she would hum to, her coffee order. I only retained how she enjoyed homemade pizza, fresh mozzarella, basil and cut tomatoes, thin crust. How stupid I thought. But how would she react when I was late to church the first Sunday I attended after her wake? Or what would she say when I hiked Grandfather Mountain, despite the lectures of hiking alone, dangling my converse over the ledge while I closed my eyes, my backpack as my pillow, my iPod on shuffle. I didn’t know.
It is only when the flight attendants collect the remaining trash right before we are about to land when she hastily grabs the notepad from the pocket and labels number four in a rush, "CAR ENGINE OIL APPOINTMENT. ASK FOR CHIRSITIE, 9:40. DON’T BE LATE.” As we approach our gate and everyone grabs their bags from the overhead bins although specifically instructed to wait, she flips open to the page once more and circles number three and drawing an arrow to the bottom of the page, “Jake”.
I gaze at a man in uniform, talking with an older gentlemen politely answering his questions and allowing large amounts of silence welcoming the older man to reminisce about his time in the service, or this is what I assume from my position in one of the airport chairs in Raleigh. Surprisingly taken aback by the kindness of his jaw, the perfect roundness of his eyes, I observe his military uniform and wonder how long it takes him to lace his boots up, squeezing tightly against his muscular calves. I can’t help but wonder what he was doing flying to Philadelphia in the middle of a work week but then I realized, without asking, the dozen military bases located in the North, a common fact among my friends who decided college wasn't for them.
College wasn't for my aunt either, but like many things she didn't understand, she still encouraged it. Over spoonfuls of homemade pasta when I was immersed in my academics would she then be honest about how she smoked cigarettes, holding the thinly lit paper in between her pointer and middle finger next to her hip when she wasn't taking a drag from it in her high school hallways. She was never clear if she was allowed to do this, along with the fights she got in, yet I didn't ask. It was almost endearing to not know. Maybe she wasn’t the typically college material with her head down in a book, but she always brought intelligence to any conversation. She understood life more deeply as if she has navigated this incredibly complex but delicate landscape before. The meaning of beliefs, how to wrongly stick up for them, just like we all do, incredibly passionate, almost bursting at the seams, in all the wrong times. Human.
I know what it is like to miss something, rather someone, a lesson I learned after she passed. Looking at that sand color boot I can’t help but think of the serviceman's mother and wonder what she feels, trying to grapple of empathy from a complete stranger. What is it like to miss her son? Does she hold onto the notes until the pages are crumbled, or when that is unbearable, does she sleep in his bed on top of the covers to not ruin the bed he made months before? I understand the irrational in missing someone. Mentally stable one moment, but the two men discussing politics by a dirty window makes me sit in the closest bathroom stall, eyes closed, practicing my mindful breathing handles trembling. My aunt quit smoking a couple years before she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I've read before that the dying is aware regardless of a medical prognosis. Sometimes I wonder if she stopped in attempt to change this, or if she had just become bored with the habit. Or maybe she already knew what I refused to believe and didn't want to spend any more money on something that wouldn't help her feel alive, especially when she was anything but.
I became sympathetic to complete strangers imagining the worst giving them the sort of respect I received, not rightfully so, when a gentlemen allowed me the window seat although it wasn't reserved for me. He allows me to press my forehead against the fake glass and silently cry, my shoulders shaking violently up and down, the entire hour and 10 minutes it takes to fly from North Carolina to Pennsylvania. He lets me off the plane before him too, some sort of understanding we hadn't agreed on that I deserve to go before him. I don’t thank him further than a head nod before I find the closest bathroom and attempt to clean myself up. As I grip the edge of the sink waiting for the faucet water to turn warm I feel nauseous. I wet a paper towel and clean the sink instead. Soon after, I watch my aunt transported by hospice into my grandmother’s spare bedroom where she would pass away a few days later.
Completely exhausted from flying at 4 in the morning to get into Raleigh for a business meeting at 8, and taking the flight to Philadelphia back at 6, I pass out in seat 12F next to a kind older man, who I'm sure heard the same song blaring through my headphones playing on repeat, but left me to sleep against the window nevertheless. When I wake I can’t tell what time it is, nor exactly where in the sky I am located. But if I look out, across the aisle, past the pale woman in a tight plaid shirt, I can see the sun falling in deep oranges and dark blues, fistfuls of tomato soup in thin lines. From my view, foggy dark purple and light blues, charcoal blacks, like a bruise pressing up against my window. Sometimes I find myself suffocatingly impressed by nature, this being one of those beautiful times. Somehow all feels right in the world regardless of my stiff neck, tired eyes that burn when I blink. Because I see this, whatever is pressing in my mind feels somehow worth it. Even as I consciously swallow to allow my ears to pop I shuffle in my seat to see the glowing orange embers below my window, lights of welcoming places that can call me home. Any of these tiny demographic areas, completely grateful and overwhelmed by the gratitude the earth is showing me, how small this circle is. At this idea, I close my eyelids once more, and turn down my music attempting to go back to sleep with the hum of the airplane.
I thank my aunt for that.