A Second Chance

The flight attendant spots me standing by my seat hurries up the aisle, a look of anticipated excitement on her face.

“No, no,” I say as I wave her back with a quick glance behind me making sure my girlfriend isn’t approaching.

“Not yet?” questions the attendant breathless from her jog over to me.

“No, no,” I say again. “She is only in the bathroom. Now please leave before she catches on.”

Sitting back in my seat I swear I feel beads of sweat when I brush my brow. I have heard it is impossible to have anxiety and excitement in the same moment, but I have clearly broken that theory. My palms feel the dampness of fear. My heart is racing and there is a stupid grin on my face every time I turn to speak to my girlfriend. A million times today I thought she would guess what was going on and all my planning and romance will be lost. I want the night to be particularly special and with meaning. A story for lovers, a favorite story for our future grandchildren. …tell us again, grandpa echoes in my mind. Less than thirty minutes I will know, did I succeed and will she have me.

Through the fog of my thoughts, dreams and hopes I see her walking back to me smiling and beautiful. I so wonder how I almost missed this amazing woman and grateful fate gave us another chance.
Six months ago I sat in Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, a refugee from Michigan, a new transplant to Arizona with a dream job, but no family or friends in the state. While my changes and new life were exciting to me, it had an entirely different meaning for my parents. The reminders of how I had abandoned them flooded every conversation driving the message I needed to be home for family events. And while the desire was there for me to be present at every birthday and milestone, the reality was holidays would be the only option to return. Thanksgiving was the first opportunity since my move, with enough days off to make the trip worthwhile.

Wednesday night, scheduled for the red eye I sat in the Sky Harbor terminal trying to seclude myself with a good book. Around me ran young children, out of control at such a later hour. Parents trying to huddle them together tired faces and shortening tempers becoming evident. And, then there was the ‘talker’, a young woman engaging all around her in lively discussions.
Oh, for God’s sake, a bit of quiet would be good I initially thought. I kept my gaze and attention in my book determined not to look up, determined not to engage where so many have obviously fallen victim. She did have a pleasant laugh, which she expressed quite freely. But I stood my ground, trying harder than ever to understand the few words I managed to read after I became aware of her.

“What do you think?” I heard the question again directed to another of her newly found companions. The first gentlemen either shook his head or didn’t respond. The second gentleman responded, but with not much information.

“I rarely fly into Detroit so I don’t know how well they would clear the runways if the winter storm hits. Hopefully we won’t be late or delayed,” he had responded.

The answer didn’t suit her, and a flutter or questions of the same sort was again expressed from her. Clearly her concern was evident.
Somewhat out of exasperation, and some out of time to do my part, I placed my book in my lap and in my most matter-of-fact voice responded.

“Look, Detroiters are experts at getting snow conditions under control at the airport. It’s a fact of life there, since it does snow during the winter. We won’t be delayed and we won’t be late.”

Looking directly into her face I almost regretted the harsher tone to my voice. Her eyes drew me in, but I couldn’t shake my initial irritation with her, picking up my book I let the moment pass me by.

And as I predicted, the plane was right on time and we melted into history; a brief passing of two people on the way to the same destination.

My parents walked with me to the gate on my return flight. That pre-security time when we all gathered at the gate for our good-byes. My mom hung on to my arm, her words half catching my mind. My thoughts were of Phoenix, getting to my apartment and of work the next day. Mentally I had left Michigan already, emotionally I was torn. Yes, I missed my family, but I had worked and studied hard to get the job I wanted. I hadn’t planned on it being out of state, but when it happened, the chance to start my career was exciting. And I feared if I remained in Michigan there might not be a professional position suited to my interest.

Sitting at the gate, my mother continued her questions of my life. My father’s talk wandered away and I became semi-conscious of his conversation with a woman across from him. It was her laughter that drew me out of my conversation with my mother. I had heard that laugh before, at an early time. I looked over to the young woman and instantly remembered her eyes. The eyes that had so tempted me in Phoenix, the eyes I had turned from.

“You were in Sky Harbor on Wednesday night. We flew out on the same flight,” I commented with a slight tone of a question to my voice. I couldn’t believe she was actually there, sitting again across from me.

“Yes,” she confirmed. “And you were exactly right, the plane was on time. What about tonight’s flight?”

“An hour and half late,” I replied without a clue as to where those words were coming from.

Moments later the announcement came over the paging system confirming my predication.
I’m not sure of all the topics we covered in the time of the delay, but by the time my goodbyes were over with my parents and the passengers were filing on the plane; I was determined to change my seat. Incorporating the help of a flight attendant the exchange of seats occurred and there I was sitting next to her.
Tightening her seat belt, she said to me “looks like we are ready to go.”

“No,” I replied, “another delay is coming.”

And within a few moments my third prediction came true. The pilot announced still another problem and that the mechanics were on it.
I sent a prayer to heaven, a note of thanks I had this chance to continue my time with this increasingly amazing woman. We talked easily on a host of subjects and laughingly came to conclusions as to the proper amount of children to have and the even the best way to grill fish. She had captured my interest in a way no woman had done before. And by the time the plane landed on the the runway at Sky Harbor, I knew my fate, our fate.

It was a wedding in Michigan six months later, which gave me the chance to plan, to dream. When she agreed to attend with me, I knew the first part of my plan was in place. After several attempts through various airlines I found a similar red eye flight to the one we had originally met on. The flight time caused us some debate, couldn’t we fly earlier she had questioned back. I held my ground determined the timing was essential to the success of my plan. Next came the cooperation of the airline. Fortunately the time was such that rules were still a bit relaxed. My request to bring champagne on the flight was still rejected. But romance was in the wind, and the airlines offered to provide a bottle at the opportune moment.

“It is the most romantic thing we have ever heard,” gushed the airline representative. “We can’t wait to hear about it.”

And here we are, moments away from a life I am hoping for, dreaming of. She settles herself back in her seat, positioning her head and body, her eyes closed ready to nap.
I glance at my watch, still ten minutes away from my launch time. Talk! I tell myself. Say something, don’t let her sleep! My mind is blank, not one word or thought is forming. I grab the airline magazine in front of me, and start the words. “Have you read this article?” I ask holding the magazine in front of her.

“What article?” she asks sitting upright in her seat. Taking the magazine she flashes it back and forth. “This is shopping catalog!”

“Well, it looked interesting,” I mumble back with a quick glance at my watch.

Turning the conversation more personal I thank her for taking the trip with me. Her face glows at my words and I continue on with my appreciation of her in my life. It all flows, easily without my control, my heart speaking each word with the love I feel. At one point I gather her hands in my mine and say the rest asking to love and commit to her not just today, but our lifetime. Knowing my days would be fulfilled with her in my life. I wait for seconds, for a million long moments. Her smile and eyes responding before the sound of her voice. Then yes, the sweetest yes in the world.

I hit the call button as I turn in for a kiss. The flight attendant appears with a smile and tears in her eyes.

“Now?” she asks.

“Now,” I reply nodding my head.

The attendant pours the champagne into the glasses. Before our first sip, the pilot announces our engagement over the pager. Cheers and applauds erupt throughout the plane. Good wishes come from those around us. She is laughing and crying, and I think I am too. Fate I think as I look towards heaven. A job well done, from those wiser spirits who knew my life would be more with the sound of her beautiful laughter. A second chance given, and gladly dedicated to love and our new life.

D Elarde
copyright, 2013

BRIE’S MOTHER

It is early morning, boasting a bright, clear sky typical of a Colorado summer. The sun is already hot and will only get more so as the day progresses. I am leaving for a walk, later in the morning heat than I like, but determined to have the “me” time I need. A glance at the weeds in my garden calls me to a stop, trying to command me to take care of what has been lingering on my “someday” job list. I plug my earphones in, searching for a motivating song on my player, and force myself to keep to the walk.

Around the corner I see Brie’s mother. Brie is my daughter’s closest friend. Since they were four they have weaved in and out of each other’s lives, catching up at key moments and then each going off to their own adventures. Brie’s mom stands at the edge of her driveway, hose in hand, watering the flowers that grow throughout the yard. We don’t know each other well. I am sure she probably calls me Amanda’s mother—and I will tell Amanda later I spoke to Brie’s mother—our daughters’ friendships tying our worlds together.

Her house has a beautiful yard. Circles of flowers and colorful plants meander their way from the house, along the lawn, down to the street. It’s a huge contrast to how the house looked for many years. There was hardly a flower or bush in sight back when the girls were small. It blended in, no different from the neighbors’ or any of the hundred houses existing in our neighborhood. Today it flourishes, it stands out, immersed in life, color and beauty.

Despite my need to keep walking before the heat defeats me, I stop to speak to her. She smiles at me and immediately asks for an Amanda report. I go through my details—college almost over, her wanting to move to Seattle. Yes it is hard to believe, where did the time go? Then, her information on Brie. She’s in Guam today, but who knows for how long or when she will leave. Brie has planned no trips home, she tells me with sadness in her voice. I know a year from now that will probably be my story as well—Amanda gone, off on her own venture. I feel a mother’s pain; soon I will know it.

We gaze across her garden, trying to move the discomfort away from our conversation. I comment that her flowers are lovely and what a green thumb she has. She doesn’t look up; she keeps her eyes on some flower or plant that she is connected to.

“It happened one day,” she explains quietly. “One day after Brie left I couldn’t take the pain, the emptiness. I came out and started to dig. One thing led to another and well, this is what was created. Brie was in the Greek Islands then, far from home, from me. I missed her horribly,” she explained, finally looking in my eyes, “and so I created the Greek Islands here around the house.”

She walked a few steps away from me and started pointing out the islands of flowers, each by their Greek name.

“Here is the island of Corfu. It has the red poppies on it. Over here is Ithaca, where Brie spent several weeks. I planted Campanulas there.” As she spoke I could see their outline, and indeed it was true. Tiny Greek islands dwell on her front lawn.

“Mikonos is my favorite. There are three types of roses here. I didn’t know a flower from a shrub,“ she went on. “I read on the Internet for hours about the flowers of Greece and what they needed. Some required shade, others the sun. It took days getting them arranged just so, making sure they were placed correctly. It filled my time, my empty hours. I just felt closer to Brie during the time I spent here digging, re-creating the islands she was living on.”

So, I thought, is this what we women do? Our lives far from our children, do we find something new to nurture, something more to give life to? Will I go off on a mad venture some early morning looking for a new endeavor that will need my love, my attention? And does that help? Does it fill the empty void caused by their leaving? When you get to the other side of the empty nest, what does life look like?

The first time I saw Brie she was standing on my front porch asking for Amanda. She was so small, all eyes and wild brown hair. A wispy, airy child, fearlessly walking to our house in hope of finding her friend. I never knew how they met or where, but through the years she wandered in and out of our house, and Amanda in hers. Their days were spent, laughing, carrying on, tea parties in Amanda’s room, games in the yard, hanging upside down on the swing set. And then, as quickly as she drifted in, she was gone. For years she remained away, their friendship dormant. One day she reappeared, standing at our front door, a beautiful young woman, asking for Amanda, her friend. The constant activity resumed. Brie in our house, Amanda in hers, until the day Brie flew off again for college in Hawaii and summers on islands even further away. She stays at that age in my mind. My only connection now comes from Amanda, through phone calls they make halfway around the world to keep in touch.

It is now a mother’s time to feel the emotions, the pain of being left behind and to struggle to understand successful child rearing means they leave; they create their own lives. And despite all the emotions we have, the clock will never turn back for me, for Brie’s mom, or for our daughters.
I realize we are lost in thought, deep in feelings. There is a quiet between Brie’s mother and me; two special spirits are with us, little spirits we both love. Returning to the present, we smile at each other, our shoulders shrug, a knowing look saying I understand, I feel it too. Together we stand for a moment longer, side by side as Amanda’s mom, Brie’s mom, soaking up the warm sun, lost in our memories and in the beauty she has created.

Update: Oct 2013 Brie is now engaged and we wish her a lifetime of happiness.

Always

 

The morning moves along quickly. One task to another, mentally crossing off items until the last task stands on its own:  the airport.

The drive there seems quiet even though cars in their morning rush whiz by us on the way to their day’s destination.  It has been several years since I have had to be in the rush of Denver traffic and I have almost forgotten how quickly the cars move, weaving in and out of lanes to position themselves ahead of other drivers.

He’s quiet next to me, also mentally crossing off his own list. I know there will be “clean up” items to handle as soon as he leaves. Similar to when his sister left, the reality of what didn’t get done will set in and favors will be asked of me. I don’t mind, in fact to some degree I like that he still needs me to do for him. Although there is that message in the back of my mind, fearing I will enable him to leave a wake of unfinished tasks behind him for the rest of his life. I smile at the thought and quickly dismiss it, knowing as he continues to mature and live on his own his management will get better.

I am excited and sad in the same moment. I know his trip to Germany will be different than my hitchhiking tour of Europe, but it will be a great adventure for him. I silently pray his trip will be one of success for him. Even though success may mean his two month trip may turn into years away. He has worked hard for his dream, staying focused and working every extra hour he could for the money he would need.  It seems like all his labor should be rewarded, but as we know, sometimes our rewards come in packages we don’t at first recognize.

The airport now is visible on the plains east of Denver, its mock peaks imitating those majestically rising to the west.  The parking lot is a mess with construction detours and signs pointing where to go. We end up parking far from the terminal and have to haul all of his items across the parking lot through the maze designed to keep pedestrians safe. A careless driver interrupts our walk, backing up way too quickly, almost hitting two small children walking in front of us. Their mother, several feet away, had stopped to help another child. My son and I scream in unison “STOP”. The confused driver slams on the brakes and turns her head in our direction, cell phone attached to her ear. The mother quickly hustles up to the children, herding them away from the car and the danger. She turns to us mouthing thank you before moving them into the safety of the terminal.  And so it is, a moment in time for everything.

My son finishes his check in and we walk towards Security. I feel the grief rise from my heart, stinging my eyes with tears ready to flow.  Not now I tell myself. Later there will be more than enough time.  We stand for several moments at the entrance of the security line exchanges goodbyes.  I remind him to take care, stay out of trouble, be good.  Cliché parting words.  My send-off to Europe had a parade of friends and family at the gate, the worries of security still in the  distant future. We all hugged and cried, acting like it would be the last time we would see each other.  Still with communication back then, my family would not hear from me again for nearly two months. And even then it took a series of operators and over eight hours to get a call placed. 

I know tomorrow I can pick up the phone and hear his voice. I can do Face Time or SKYPE and within minutes his image will flash in front of my face allowing me to assess is he healthy, happy.  But his presence, his energy will not be in my life. He will not be near to see, to hug and my selfish side grieves for this.

We finish our good byes and he follows the flow through the security line, keeping visuals on me as he moves. Placing his items on the security belt, he points to the second floor location which overlooks Security, silently suggesting I move up there. I hurry to the escalator and climb each step as it progresses until I reach the bridge which crosses the terminal.  Once there, I move to the side which overlooks the Security area and wait. He is out of my sight at first, blocked by a piece of equipment.  Then he appears, smiling and excited he shouts up to me, “I love you, Mom!”  He steps onto the escalator leading to the gates, it takes him down, out of my sight.

“I love you too,” comes from me in a hoarse whisper. Always have, always will.

 

 

A Star in My Hand….

A Star in My Hand

When laughter strikes a heart a beautiful tone, sings to another’s soul.  When tears fall, the pain, the grief travels its journey, bowing the heads of all it encounters.  Our words, our worlds connect.  And for a brief time, my story becomes yours and yours mine.

Words transport us, perhaps to a place within, or a secret wish kept through time. A small reminder of a cherished memory or the defining second which changed a life.

How did you know how I felt? This was asked of me over and over.

How did I know? I can’t say how it happened or why the stories came.  They unfolded within me, guided me through each short tale. The tone, in itself, laying the foundation for the words which came to the page. I carefully labored over each story, hoping to respect the journey being experienced or told to me.  An honoring, however brief, to a moment in life.

The words were guided; they became a light within me. Once a story was formed it would not leave. It walked with me, settled into my dreams at night and woke me at an early hour until its words were placed on paper.

I joked one day with a friend, now departed from my life. I told her how my grandmother, who wandered a bit during her lifetime, always said she knew the direction she traveled by the North Star. I told her it was like a star was guided me, pointing in the right direction when I wrote.

She laughed and said, “like a star in your hand.”

“Yes,” I whispered back, those few words defining my work, my book.

And so it is, A Star in My Hand.