I missed an airplane last night.
I meant to be waking up in the arms of my lover, making victory pancakes for the boys (Liam’s art school offers are starting to come in now and they are going to be good) and congratulating the three St. Louis cats for finding their centers and making a home together, but the aircraft I planned to be on left the gate 11 minutes early.
And that was that.
I saw it all happen in slow motion. I left Tucson at 6 pm; but the Phoenix airport was tragic; we were held on the runway in Tucson, held off of the runway in Phoenix, held outside our gate. Sky Harbour was jammed up, and the ground crew on the B side was in what appeared to be active revolt.
And so we sat outside the gates, a metal tube full of people slowly, helplessly missing their connecting flights, and we watched the full moon reveal herself, huge and orange above the Phoenix mountains.
People sat, mostly quietly, as things went south. Time passed in 15 minute chunks; sometimes the captain came on to tell us in a tired voice that no one was on the ground to park our plane, he was as sorry as we were, as he would not be getting home tonight either.
Eventually, after nearly an hour on the ground, we were gated.
I knew I only had a six minute window to score, and I was off like a shot when I got out of that plane, moving all of the way from East Jesus to the lower A gates. It was a distance of about a half mile, or a hundred miles, something like that. The moving sidewalks were all working, I skated down the endless corridor, skidded up to A5, skkkrrrtttt, I made it with 30 seconds to spare, YESSS, but my gate was a completely empty zone, like a movie set.
Not even a gate agent to be found; I expected a tumbleweed to blow past me.
I couldn’t believe it. Technically, I was in.
Physically, however, I was 100% out. The plane was outside the huge picture windows, pushing back.
I checked the time on the gate computer; yes they were leaving 11 minutes early, and I saw my boarding pass (exit row window) sitting alone on the podium, shimmering, white, a calling card I could not use. I turned around and stared at the cockpit, unbelieving, panting, watching the timeline I thought I was on subtly curling away from me.
The plane stopped moving, and the captain and I looked at each other. I was non-rev (flying on a crew pass) and I had no inherent right to fly. He didn’t have to wait for me, if his list of paying souls was complete and I was not at the gate. But there I was, and there he was, immutably severed from me; the door was closed and that is that in commercial aviation unless there is a Situation.
I looked at the plane contemplatively, running through the series of things that would change its trajectory, move it forward again, open the doors.
None of them seemed like good options. They all seemed destructive; a mechanical, a medical… I just stared at the plane, holding it in time and space. All players froze for an endless moment, me, standing tall, quivering like an outraged superhero, the captain and first officer, thinking their pilot thoughts, looking back at me, their cockpit full of glowing lights, competence, dials, levers. The ground crew, all standing, quietly, looking up at the window.
It was obvious that I was a creature that they had left roadside. Perhaps they regretted it; I sucked in starlight, shimmered, grew taller. You left me behind, I said to them, raising my hands, but I could disappear your airplane and leave you standing on the tarmac, holding your fucking clipboard. The first officer raised an eyebrow; time trickled forward, imperceptibly.
I had one of those beautiful, white-hot moments, where I could visualize the glass in front of me vaporizing, and the warm air of the night moving across my skin. I could see and hear the inside of the aircraft, feel the half-empty plane around me.
I was looking through the plane window, and I could see myself inside, standing at the cool, dim empty gate, tall, glorious, vibrating with fuck, the brightly lit roachy froth of the lower B gates behind me. The ends of my hair were still moving; the plane felt like a toy.
But there was nothing (or was it everything? who could know?) at stake, and so I stood down.
I let the heat flow out of me, I put my arms down, things began to move again, and the guys on the ground, in the orange jumpsuits, they looked up and me and smiled, sorry for me, but happy also that they were in the strange, beautiful moment. The first officer blew me a kiss; the captain shook his head, gently, I softened, and turned away, and the plane rolled toward the runway.
Opportunities were lost and won; I am in a different track now and I cannot know what was dodged, missed, caught, or glimpsed, but it was beautiful, and I walked back to the B gates, and hopped a flight back home to Tucson, and I was alive, and somehow intensely close to the people around me, and they felt it, and they were happy too, and we all shimmered onto the ground and floated down the escalator.
The man from Boston told us about the commuter rail, and the T, still not working, the huge piles of snow, the handsome French boy who had been across the exit aisle from me laughed into my eyes with his soft voice, adieu, sprite, and we all said goodbye as if we might see each other on Saturday, and people split off, to baggage claim, to the parking lot, to the long term shuttle, to their own lives and trains.
This morning, Miss Fish woke me up in Tucson to tell me to pay attention, she prodded me with a single claw, saying, get up. And a pipe in the ceiling had broken, just then, and I found it, and I shut the water off and called the plumber and he’s up there now and it is handled, instead of me getting a phone call from Jay saying that the house is flooded.
I was glad to have been home when it happened; glad that none of my Phoenix friends were home or awake to take me in, glad I didn’t stay and catch the redeye.
Everything goes somewhere, everything comes home. I feel so grateful for my consciousness, so in the thick of it all, so enraptured.
piece by Lilian Lijn
At dawn my lover comes to me
And tells me of her dreams
With no attempts to shovel the glimpse
Into the ditch of what each one means
At times I think there are no words
But these to tell what’s true