Overture

January 17, 2010
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Dad’s hand is hot around mine, resting in the console between our seats.
He has the stereo on. The Pixies. To cover up the silence between us.
Maddie chatters happily in the backseat and I dwell on the moment before the heartbreak.
The airport looms in front of us like the dark, evil tower from a story book.

We say hello to the goodbye.
And goodbye to everything before it.

The plane smells like Windex and new carpet. Airtight and pulsing with artificialness.
I breathe fake air, shiver done to me bones. Like a pirate. Arrr matte.
Wish for open skies and breezes and warm embraces.

In my seat, I strangle feeling with my headphones.
The flight attendant makes smiley faces at the baby in the seat across from us.
“Gag ga, goo goo, blah, blah, blah,” she says. “Aren’t you just so cute and so adorable? Just look how clueless you are? Yes you are, yes you are! Ah, just look at those fat little baby cheeks and your sweet little baby face and those big dumb eyes that have only ever teared over poopy diapers and an empty stomach!”
She doesn’t talk to anyone else the whole flight, besides the baby’s mother. I keep wanting to slap her for paying the infant so much attention and not asking me if I’d like a drink of water or a free bag of Doritos, but know I can’t and would never do such a thing, so instead, I send the mother telepathic warning signals. The flight attendant looks almost like she’d steal the kid and make a run for it at touchdown.
Her dotting makes me bitter and ancient-feeling and I can’t quite figure out why.
I turn the volume louder and drift in and out of a sleep filled with ghosts.

Mom meets us as we step off the plane.
Her skin is tanner then I remember, and her eyes are bright. I watch her watching for us, and when she spots us, she waves. She looks happy.
Maddie runs ahead to meet her and show off her cast. I follow and join in the respective hugs. It’s good to see her, don’t get me wrong. I’m not that much of an entitled brat. But I can’t help noticing how different it is being each parent’s daughter.
Frantic, wild Mom and mellow, artsy Dad.
Mom moves us through the airport, and I follow dutifully behind, even though it seems like I left my heart in a ditch somewhere out west.
The airports in New York are like their own miniature cities. Food courts and swarming bodies and security guards surround from all sides. Dazzling advertisements, and they pierce my retinas with their sparkle and flare and we’re better than the other-ness.
I squint toward the ceiling and wipe at my burning eyes.
I am overwhelmed (bubbling, all consuming feeling boiling in my chest, constricting my lungs, weighing in my gut, chafing at my throat, and how can’t you see it killing and me and I feel pathetic that I’m so weak I can’t even take some god**** fluorescent light bulbs) and contribute that to all the crying.
We stop at a bathroom. It’s crowded, full of women touching up makeup and brushing their teeth. I look too, because I am a girl, and being one, I’m well acquainted with my own reflection and never get tired of seeing it again.
But this time I’m cringing.
I don’t know that girl.
She can’t be me.
Red eyes and limp hair and –
And right now, I could imagine myself in 40 years. Old and wrinkled and . . . broken.
I know Mom just thinks I’m tired, and what with Maddie’s broken arm, I can’t really blame her for not noticing.
But still. It feels like the world’s crushing me, and I can’t understand how everyone can’t hear my neck snapping under the weight.
I’m hung and lifeless. Gallows and . . . yeah.
I also know I’m being self absorbed.
But feelings can’t be helped sometimes, especially when self absorption, recoiling back where no one can hear or touch or see you, where no one can get in – it’s all a form of preservation.
I hate myself for being such a coward.
But my father always had trouble showing emotion too, so I guess at least we share that in common.
It hurts that I only know that from my mother.
I don’t look in the mirror the rest of the day because my reflection reminds me of other things I don’t know, and maybe never will.

Today is long and strange.
It’s times like these that confuse me. When my life and the one I could have had blend together so much I can’t tell one from the other. The lines blur, everything moves, and I get hit with the whiplash.

We’re supposed to board the plane now, and I know we’ve reached that goodbye. And not just the goodbye that comes every year when we leave like this (it’s never been this sad and final) but the ultimate, super nova goodbye that took a while to catch up with me.
Dad holds me tight and I open my eyes against his jacket. His scruffy cheek rubs against mine. Hold tight back because this is the last hug we’ll share for a while. Dad’s hugs are always the best. Warm.
I lift my head to say something but the words die in my throat, crawling back down into my vocal box, when I see his face.
His eyes are red and puffy. He’s crying. I’ve never seen him cry before.
“It’s okay,” he says. “I love you.” His voice catches, more emotion behind those words then I thought was possible.
I cry harder then, too, because something’s hitting me suddenly now, a realization that maybe I’ve been repressing for a little too long. I fist his jacket and finish the hug that should never be the last or only, and so now somethings swelling in my chest as it all crests and crashes over me.
DAD.
Daddy.
And then we’re walking away and I’m mumbling something.
I can’t.
I can’t do it, can’t leave – just can’t. It’s all so tight and painful and I need a father, even if I never knew I did, never knew I sought those male figures out, and jesus Sylvia, it isn’t the time to think about all those other d***s–
Cuz your dad is being left behind. And you love him.
But the thing that crawled back down to my vocal box isn’t letting anything but strangled choking sounds out, so then just f*** words, and damn, I’m breaking.
Everything’s breaking.
I stumble on the walkway carpeting and garble something nasty at the flight attendant who is trying to be comforting.
Look back once.
But I can’t see Dad’s face, whether from tears or distance, so I turn back before my vision has the chance to clear up.
And I know that this a hello to all the goodbyes I never said.
That I was too young and too stubborn to realize I had to say.
Goodbye life where parents are together.
Goodbye life where I lived here in rainy, laid-back Portland instead of New York.
Goodbye all the other lives I could have had, but didn’t end up with.
They’re impossible, and as hard as it is to breathe and walk and leave it all behind, as much as it f***ing hurts - I know they’re dead, and necromancy is for dark fairy tales and not dark realities.
I swallow the could’ves, the should’ves.
The regret and the denial.
Take a deep breath, and don’t look back.





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