Emotional Bag Check

October 13, 2012
My red bag was huge. I had to kneel on the top just to get it to close. Half the zipper pulls were missing and the side pocket no longer had velcro. The wheels were jammed with dirt and dust from too many trips. The handle was broken and didn’t slide down correctly. My mother loaned me money for a new bag the last time I visited her. I stashed the money in my pocket and spent it on expensive airplane food.

I was leaving tomorrow. My bag was by the front door, red, ready and seam splitting. The cat had been fed and was asleep by the heater in the kitchen. My mind was empty as I lay down to sleep.

The bag check was the first stop at the airport. Twenty people of various ages, races, languages, heights and hair colors stood between me and the moving belt that would take my bag away. Just like checker at the grocery store who runs each item down the line. Tomatoes. Four. Red. Day after day, prices, people. Fruit, raw chicken and runny eggs that were dropped by kid with sticky fingers. Milk that will turn bad before the man gets a chance to drink it. A bag of 5% chips and 95% air. A mother who forgot her check book at home and has a pen that leaks. Problems. Problems. People.

It took 28 minutes to get to the front of the line. The woman asked me how many bags I wanted to check.

“Too many.” I answered. She looked at me, her head tilted, Texas accent, red lips and white teeth gleaming back at me. Red. her little blue stewardess outfit and blond curls poking out from the phony cap. Hairspray.

“Tell me about it, hun.” She answered. Fingers clicking on the keyboard. Fingernails too long to be practical.

I heaved my red bag onto the conveyer belt. The scale read “overload.” The ticket agent gave me a sympathetic look. The man in line behind me gave a groan. I turned around. Green bag, even bigger than mine. Green. He should have been ahead of me.

“Hun, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to take some stuff out.” A tear prickled at the edge of my eye. I had waited too long to unload my bag.

“No, I can’t.” I responded. How would I ever get it closed again? An open suitcase was the devil’s play toys.

“Well. Until that scale goes down, I can’t take the bag. How long you been hanging on to that old ratty thing anyway?”

“Too long.”
“Just over there.” She pointed to a bench and beckoned the next guy up to the counter. I lugged my bag over to the bench and let it tip over onto the floor.

A little girl with a minnie mouse backpack came bouncing up, brown stuffed animal in one hand. Light load I thought. She stood looking at me for a minute before spotting her mother perusing a magazine a few yards away.

“Look ma!” She shouted. “Look how many problems she’s got!” I cringed and turned away from the girl and her tight skirted mother.

I took a deep breath and began the laborious process undoing the zipper.

I got around the first bend, then the second until the bag could hold on no longer. The compressed worries, fears, broken hearts and bad meals threw up onto the floor. There were too many to contain. A diary read aloud sprinted off to the B8 gate. A high school crush tumbled to the food court. A basketball to the face dodged through the feet of unsuspecting strangers.

It was all too much.

I let the bag detox, letting the problems flow from the red bag until it was half empty. My problems wondered loose around the airport, seeping into the bags of people reading magazines at their gates, or drinking their non fat- skinny, no whip, venti, chai, make it a coffee drink at Starbucks.

These people would be plagued with my problems. And some of their bags were already big enough.

Guilt crept into my chest, my luggage growing. No. This had to stop.

I leapt up, refusing to wallow in self pity any longer and slammed the top of the bag shut, desperately fumbling with the half broken zipper.

I ran down the hallway to baggage claim and threw my red bag onto the nearest carousel. Mountains of discarded bags piled up to the ceiling. Circling around and around and around. Some were old and well used like mine, others shiny and new. Some were small and light, others black and heavy. Some were round and soft, others were boxy and pointy. A plethora of baggage for a plethora of people. Sometimes I would come and watch the bags circling, imagining the types of problems bursting to get out.

Some days I came and took a suitcase or two, gladly relieving the burden off someone else.

But. Today was my turn. I heaved my bag to the middle of the stack. It landed with a definitive thud and settled in between a neon green plastic case and a blue knitted purse.

I watched my bag disappear on the other side of the carousel and headed to the nearest exit. An older man stood watching from the doorway. He smiled at me as I left.

“Brown leather suitcase. Small.” He said. I shook my head, confused.

“Alcoholism, drugs, divorce.” I remembered the bag. I had taken it two years ago, during the best summer of my life.

“Thank you.” He said, putting a hand on my arm.

I shook my head. ?
“Just doing my duty.” I answered. I really believed that it was. He removed his hand and let me walk out the door.

I waited under the cement covering for a taxi to take me back home. ?
I watched from outside as the man carefully ambled over to the pile of baggage and with impressive strength pulled a suitcase from its resting place. Red.

I turned back as the taxi pulled up.

“Home” I told the driver, and we sped off into the night.

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