Every traveler’s nightmare: a two-hour flight delay. Every traveling parent’s nightmare: a two-hour flight delay with your two exhausted elementary school-aged children on your way to a family reunion on the other side of the world.
To my young self, 10 p.m. might as well have been 4 a.m. for all its foreignness and mysticism. The airport has a strange quality past 9 p.m., like a Salvador Dali painting. People and sounds move through water. Eyes itch under unforgiving LED lighting. There’s a buzz of anxiety in the air, of weariness staved off by caffeine. A suave, robotic female voice makes important announcements to no one. The occasional traveler, usually a business person, hurries past with the unnaturally magnified clack-clack, clack-clack of a nondescript black suitcase.
My parents were worried, so I was worried. I was a precocious child trying to listen in on my parents’ conversation, resenting how they told me it would all work out, but feeling secretly relieved. My brother didn’t worry. He sat to one side, plugged into his PSP. He was always the easygoing one, and this time was no different. But I was alert. My thin shoulders tensed as I watched my parents converse in whispers. My brother paid no attention, but I was determined to stay awake and watchful until we were safely on board the plane.
The conference breaks, a decision has been made. My dad comes over to me, smiling, reassuringly. He picks me up so I can hear his voice reverberate in his chest. The words don’t matter. My shoulders relax. One-handed, he grabs a standard JFK terminal chair and pushes it together with another to form a makeshift camp bed. I crawl in and my eyes close.
My mind slowly quiets. I block out the harsh lighting as much as possible. I breathe in the weird buzz in the air. I listen to the clack-clack, clack-clack of the suitcases. Every time I crack open an eye, my dad’s exhausted face fills my field of vision. He quickly breaks into that reassuring smile, full of love and pride. I dream of passports and long lines and flying.
My eyes snap open. I scramble up as I become aware of my family gathering up our bags, my brother reluctantly looking up from his video game. On the other side of the glass, the thin divider between the airport and reality, the jet plane has arrived. The air that some 500 of us will breathe over and over for the next eight hours yawns and shrieks through the air vents.
I walk through water, through the glass, and onto the plane, and instantly fall back asleep.
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