SERIES: Part 13
Dim yellow light in the cramped airplane bathroom casts a depressing hue on the backdrop of beige vinyl and plastic in my reflection. An accidental overdose of perfume sticks in my nostrils, competing with the scent of industrial cleaner, while the engine’s roar saturates my head, adding to the overall feeling of exhaustion. Adjusting my stance to the unpredictable rhythm of turbulence, I brush my teeth, comb my hair, and rub lotion into my dehydrated skin. I feel self conscious about my red eyes and tired face. I wish I had slept more, but how could I have? I feel like I look old. I don’t want to look old the first time I meet my father– inside I feel like a little girl.
Back in my seat, I buckle in, and lean my head on the plastic window pane. Barely audible through the crackling speaker, the voice of the flight attendant announces our impending arrival. My stomach shifts as we begin our descent and I breathe deeply through the fluttering nervous energy that takes over my body. I feel insubstantial, like I could float away, watching as the ground slowly gets closer. It’s all winding low country rivers down below snaking through marsh and grasslands, wide flowing brushstrokes of yellow, brown, and green. It’s been years since my last trip to the South and I’ve never been to South Carolina before. The sun is starting to set outside the airplane. ‘It will be getting dark as we drive home,’ I think to myself as the aperture of my view closes in. Trees and fields gain more and more definition until I can no longer see the water. Buildings, cars, and roads grow into their normal size as the true speed of the plane becomes visible with our approach. I brace myself when the runway appears in my line of sight. When the wheels hit, my hand grips the armrest and my feet press into the floor. My heart pounds, but not from the violent rumble of our landing.
Filing through the detour that keeps us away from airport construction, temporary plastic walls give the feel of an endless, winding office cubicle. Fluorescent lights illuminate our narrow, makeshift path, and I follow along with the herd of fellow passengers, each of us en route to our own final destination. I spot a bathroom, and duck in for one last appearance check. The closing door shuts out the chaos behind me, and in the subdued light and silence, I take a moment to breathe and calm myself. My full body is reflected in the mirror in front of me. I’m wearing my current favorite outfit: a striped green shirt, maroon corduroy skirt, and lace up leather boots– very “autumn librarian”. I take one more deep breath, adjust my skirt, and smile at myself- a gesture of encouragement. “OK. Let’s do this,”I tell the woman looking back at me.
The near emptiness of the corridor when I re-enter is a relief. Only one person interrupts my insulated state of consciousness; a confused woman approaching me from the wrong direction, looking for her luggage. I send her back toward the plane and continue on my way through long stretches and blind corners until finally, one last turn brings me to the end of the temporary hallway.
The room opens up around me and I’m faced with a floor to ceiling glass wall that separates arriving passengers from the main lobby. On the other side, I see a man standing outside the gift shop holding a single white flower. He looks like a teenage boy nervously awaiting his prom date. His eyes meet mine, and of its own volition, my face breaks into a smile of pure elation.
I still have to walk about one hundred feet to get to the sliding glass door that separates us. My heart pounds in my chest and my boot heels mark my quickened pace on the glossy floor. Clop clop clop, fifty feet! I hurry along the glass barrier, suitcase wheels whirling behind me, as each rapid step brings me closer. Clop clop clop clop, twenty feet! I’m only momentarily halted by the uniformed guard sitting as gatekeeper at the sliding door. He’s in some bored, mundane world of his own and our realities barely connect as he waves me through. The glass and metal doorway, portal into a new realm, whooshes open and I rush forward- only a few more feet! In the periphery of my awareness and whirlwind of emotion, lights reflect and sparkle on every surface of polished metal and glass. The final gap closes, and I am in the arms of my father.
The feeling is instinctive and immediate; he has always been a part of me though I was never aware of it. He is taller than me; my head on his chest, his arms wrapped around me, feel safe and comforting. I cry, but only a little. We pull away from each other a little and he takes my face in his hands.
“Let me look at you,” he says.
Suddenly I feel shy, nervous to be looked at so closely, but I am just as intent in my own examination. His eyes are a crisp blue that would not seem warm if I didn’t know better. He looks like a jovial young Santa in his photos, but in person, there is a deep, thoughtful sadness about him, the same sadness I heard in his voice on the phone. I search his face, going back and forth in my mind between the photo I grew up with, the one my mother gave me, and the man standing before me now. I can see his father in his eyes, the nose too, same as mine. I don’t see myself in him otherwise, but I have no doubt he is my father. I have always known him.