Stepping out of a large plane and walking through the tarmac tunnel, after being confined in it’s tight rounded walls for 20 hours felt like a birth. For the pre-birth I had taken an hour and a half taxi to the wrong airport, then a hurried fifteen minute drive to the right one. I dragged my backpack through long lines and multiple security checks. I opened and closed my jaw as we made our first ascent and repeated the exercise three hours later as we descended. Gum chewing was out of the question due to an uncontrollable habit of grinding my teeth at night and waking with swollen and aching jaws.
I showed my passport and flashed the ticket on my Ipad to the security guard. I went through a pat down tunnel for women. I took an unexpected half hour bus ride to another airport, and went through another pat down tunnel for women. I found my gate and chair where I slumped and curled my body into a shape contained by the arm rests. Contractions would be delayed during the seven-hour layover.
Rustling of fellow travelers and an amplified voice on the speakers hidden in the ceilings stirred me to standing and moving again, through lines and gates. Take off initiated my yawning and clicking of the jaw to help decrease the popping in my ears once again. I had begun the final leg of the journey.
My body felt like my childhood Ragedy Anne doll, boneless, muscleless, and wrapped in excessive fabric. I tried countless positions for sleep. My seat only occasionally tilted back the extra five inches that allowed my neck to not feel like it was jutting way out in front of my body from the permanently attached “pillow”. The back of the seat would start to inch it’s way back up to the fully upright position, sneaking like a child who waited for it’s parents to look away before it snatched the candy from counter. In sleep deprivation desperation I put my tray table down and stacked it with clothes and the pillow covered in a paper pillow case, and rested my head on it. At one point I sat on the floor between my chair and the one in front of me, with my knees squished all up. I tried resting my head on the seat. Once I finally got to sleep, the flight attendants arrived with bread and sugar items wrapped in way too much plastic. I had to wedge myself up and out so that the food could be placed on my tray table. The flight attendants never returned. Hours later trash was all over the cabin floor and I still sat upright due to the remains of my snack residing on my tray table. I gathered the pile of crunchy plastic and white bread, stood up and began to search for a receptacle. I found people making their own tea in the service area, the area the flight attendants should have occupied. Brown women in saris were searching the metal bins for food. A large black plastic trash bag was burping out trash on the floor. I looked around to see if anyone else was shocked like me. No, no one was. Though we were flying 3,000 miles above earth, we were still in India. I surrendered to watching three movies to help keep my mind from focusing on the discomfort in my body, and to keep myself from looking at the watch I had bought specifically to keep time on flights.
A half hour before we were to land the flight attendants appeared as if they’d been there all along. They carried large black hefty bags and collected some of the trash. When the plane landed the Indians stood up and walked as if they might be going to brush their teeth or make a morning cup of tea. I imagined that my expression looked like a twisted piece of clay, with sunken eyes, surrounded by a mass of wiry tangled hair. Dragging my bags through the trashy tight aisles of the plane I began to feel the ripples of excitement. I was in America again, and my son would be waiting for me, at the end of the tunnel, where the doors opened to the sky.
He was standing in the arrivals lane, towering over his white compact Ford escort, waiving a non-charismatic, functional hand gesture. We had parted so many times during our mother and son journey. I stopped allowing myself to feel the full ache of missing him until I was actually with him, which made for a strange incongruence of time spent together. As I approached my son, I saw that his face had changed, as it continued to do each time we met. It wasn’t changing at the rate it did when he was a toddler discovering what a feather tasted like. Or the three-year, who believed that the belt tucked into the back of his pants, was a tail that could support him when he let go of the monkey bars. That was a harsh lesson in gravity and fantasy. His face was now changing at the rate of being an adult working sixty hours a week, fighting for the rights of the workingman. His jaw line was strong, accentuated by a new development of tightly cropped facial hair. His initial reserved mannerism hid the fiery eight-year old who narrated volumes of action stories, while skipping in place, to anyone who would translate his dictation into form. But I could still see all of him, from birth until now, as he stood there opening the car door and taking my 35-pound backpack from me to place in the back seat next to piles of food wrappers, and stained paper coffee cups. I hugged my boy who was a man to the rest of the world, keeping the vastness of my missing him contained, burning in my chest. At the same time I felt myself as a self-absorbed teen-ager, disguised as Mother, returning home after a long strange trip.
LaGuardia airport felt so spacious, and quiet, and clean. I rolled the window down as we drove, letting the fresh air wash over my weary body. I began to laugh an uncontrollable laugh until tears streamed down my face. My son looked at me with a concerned protective question mark, a look I had seen many times in our lives.
“It’s just so clean, the air, and the sky. And there’s so much space.” I breathed deep and closed my eyes.
My son laughed his half laugh, and spoke in his dead pan style, “We’re in New City, Mom. It’s not clean,” he looked at me wondering if I had cracked for real this time. Had 2 ½ months in India by myself pushed me over the edge?
“Yes, Oh my God, it is SO clean,” I let the words stretch. “And look, there are shoulders on the side of the road and no one is walking or sitting two inches from cars passing by at 50 miles an hour, staring into space, dripping of sweat. There are white dotted lines keeping us in our own lane. There is a huge concrete barricade separating us from the cars coming towards us. No one is honking. And I’m with you and you speak English and know where we are going. ” I laughed harder and placed my feet on the dash of the car. I knew I needed to reel in my manic outburst, to assure my son that I was okay. From his expression, I could see that the memory of his travels alone through Guatemala when he was 18 was not fresh in his mind. He didn’t remember the email he wrote me, saying “I went to get money from the ATM but it took my card. I don’t have any money, so a man in the ATM line behind me said I could stay with him. He doesn’t seem too creepy.” That was Friday. The banks were closed over the weekend. He didn’t have a cell phone. I didn’t hear from him for four days. No, he didn’t remember that, as he drove his loopy mother out of New York City. He had been living on the edge of his overworked and isolated American lifestyle that rendered him in a state of cynical depression.
“This is an overpopulated concrete jungle; super highways built by capitalists for the sole purpose of transporting goods for commerce to create more wealth for themselves,” began his diatribe, a speech that gave him structure and someone other than his parents to be mad at.
He ranted about the deception of the American dream, the ignorance of American people, who believed that the government cared about them and behaved in their best interests.
“But there is order.” I breathed and sang. “Look, fast cars go into the left lanes. Slower moving vehicles go into the right ones,” I sounded high on marijuana or tripped out on ecstasy, but couldn’t help it. I was so happy to be in America and I loved hearing my son talk, even if it was a raging rant. He knew his politics and history and sports and popular culture and literature. Mountains of research always backed his viewpoints.
We were, as he said, “an over consumptive society made to feel safe with fences and signs and insurance policies and laws governing the most minute decisions, rendering individuals with less and less agency. We were in the illusion of freedom in a capitalist society.” Yes, that was all true. It was also true that I wasn’t in India anymore. When my son realized that I just wasn’t capable of the capitalistic society conversation in that moment, he softened a bit and asked, “So how was India?”