“There was one boy who I’m pretty sure had a crush on me. Because he burbed in my face. Then, a little while later, he walked up next me, farted, and then accused me of doing it. Can someone explain to me how that expresses affection?”
Saoirse is having an extraordinary summer. To thank her for all her hard work, and to let her have some normal kid interactions, we’ve given up our family vacation and instead given her a week at wildnerness camp, another week on an Adirondack backpacking trip with her best friend from California, and then we helped her buy a plane ticket to fly back to San Francisco with her.
In between each week-long event I see her for a single night. She comes in while the cafe is open, finds me back by the sink to blast me with her latest stories, fills the remaining hours of the day with every anecdote she can fit in, drags herself in with me at 4 am to start the croissants, then leaves again, calling more stories over her shoulder as she heads out for her next adventures.
I’m torn between tethering her to my side and kicking her out the door.
Because while she’s in and out of adventures, the rest of our family is in a row. And it’s a doozie.
I’d like to portray a public image that we never fight; that we are so holistic, so fearless, so loving and so clever that we manage to work out every kink before it erupts into fury.
I can’t do that. I don’t know of any farm familes that can. I think it’s impossible for a group of people to share so much time, resources, liabilities, responsibilities and blood without getting up each other’s noses. But this recent row is one of the worst I’ve known. When it erupts, I am so hurt, angry and scared that I can hardly breathe for an hour. My emotions charge the air so powerfully, the screen on my iPhone seems to shatter all on its own while resting on the dresser beside me. The only thing I can think to do is repeatedly surrender my emotions to whatever divine entity isn’t too frightened of my fury, asking for anything….anything to help me melt them.
Meanwhile, I put Mom on a time-out from the cafe. I ask both Mom and Dad to keep their distance until I am ready to talk. After 48 hours, my anger softens and love, thankfuilly, begins to replace it. I don’t want to evaluate right and wrong anymore. I only miss my mom and dad and want them to know I love them. I return to the farm to tell themthat, to say that I just want to move forward, only to learn that our fight has spread like a cancer. My older brother, who lives four hours away, is now leveling his judgement against me, causing my throat to close once more. He won’t reach out to me, only sends word through the networks that I am killing my father with my selfishness. There was a time he was my best friend. Now he is my unwavering critic on all matters.
Meanwhile, Saoirse, my steadfast friend and supporter, is in and out of my life for only moments at a time, feeling the thrill of having her own adventures independent of me. On this day, she begins the final leg of her journey, flying unaccompanied with her best friend to the west coast. In between fits of queeziness, anxiety and sadness, I come up for air and breathe in their anecdotes and antics, cleansing the pieces of my shattered heart with their words:
“Did you know that boys in a group don’t shut up? And they never. Never leave you alone to just meditate and be in your head.”
“It feels so good to be out of the mountains. I need a week of solid glitter to recouperate. I’m going to take a bath in glitter.”
“This is just the GREATEST handbag! I’ve always loved it. Thanks for loaning it to me Mom!”
“Do you think I could dye my hair purple before the flight?”
We are on our way to a hotel near the airport the night before the girls fly off together. Bob and I are content to say little, to only listen to the music of their non-stop voices. In the hotel elevator, Saoirse changes the topic of conversation again, switching from the subject of boys and glitter to the butterfly effect, pondering the idea in chaos theory where small motions can have a big impact. I am too deep in my own chaos to completely follow her train of thought.
At 5:30 the next morning, I go online and find every California song I can, dancing around the hotel room in my underwear to wake them. I can do this, I think to myself. I can send my baby off on a flight across the country, I can cope with my family, I can hold it all together.
“Do you know the way to San Jose?” I sing out. Bob joins in with a falsetto “Woo wo wo wo wo wo wo wo wo” He shakes his butt.
“How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat…
Some dance to remember
Some dance to forget…”
I’m spinning, smiling… my heart and soul temporarily fortified by morning.
The next two hours unfold in a blur of check-ins, luggage tags, crowds, metal detectors. Suddenly we are at their gate, and an attendant is inviting them to board, and all that morning fortification is gone. I’m putting my baby girl on an airplane, and I can’t hold her here with me, and I can’t keep her in the drama of my own life every minute, and I have to watch her fly off to new adventures. I’m sobbing, but she only cries a little. Then she’s gone.
Bob wants to go to the car because parking is $12/hour. I won’t leave the gate. I watch the plane that has swallowed my child and send up prayers like flares: that someone watches over my baby, that someone brings her back safe and happy and healthy to me, that someone gives me the golden key of understanding so that I can melt away all the sorrow and fear and anger in my heart. Ever pragmatic, Bob finds coffee. We settle in at the window to watch the plane.
It’s an overcrowded flight. An announcement comes over the speaker system informing all passengers that new airline regulations state that the purchase of an economy seat means the passenger forfeits any rights to carry-on luggage. They are allowed only one personal item. Nothing more.
I come out of my fog enough to marvel at the latest manifestation of non-stop corporate greed.
I return my attention to the plane. A woman comes running up, boarding pass in hand. She’s late, but they haven’t closed the gate yet. She has one carry-on: a tote bag, with corrugated hose spilling out the top. She has a handbag. She has a lunch bag.
The attendant informs her that she is not permitted on the flight.
“But I got through security!”
The attendant recites the new airline policy.
“But they told me it was fine when I checked in!”
They will let her on the flight, but she must choose: she can have lunch, or a pocketbook, or the corrugated hose.
“It’s fine if you just want to check the stuff!”
No, they wouldn’t check anything for her. The baggage compartments have been closed.
“But this is a job interview!” She begins to wail. “Please! I can’t miss this!”
I forget my own woes. I am agog at what I am witnessing. I feel sorry for the airline employees required to enforce these new measures. I feel so sorry for her, begging.
“Please! I’ll do anything! I’ll pay anything…Take my lunch! I don’t have to eat! Just let me take my wallet out of my pocketbook. You can have it! I need this bag for my interview. I can’t miss this flight!”
They lock the gate and walk away. She is left staring at her belongings, mystified. No one says a word to her. She is alone, trying to wrap her head around what has just happened.
My eyes are still on the plane, watching the closest thing I can to my daughter. And I remember a flight I had to take while I was still nursing her. I was bumped off my first flight, then bumped off my connecting flight, unable to get home to her. I had gates shut in my face, attendants walk away, their emotional fortresses solid against my own tears, my milk-swollen breasts and angst about getting home to my baby.
The plane is taxiing down the runway. I can only make out its tail fin now. I don’t want to take my eyes off it, but this sadness, this fear, this despair behind me is too much.
I stand up and go sit beside her.
“I couldn’t help but hear what just happened,” I start. She looks at me, eyes wide, unsure if I’m some kind of wierdo in my uncombed hair, overalls and flip flops. I definitely look out of place. And my failure to abide airport norms by making eye contact and talking uninvited is further out of place. “I just want to say…” the tears well up in my eyes. “I’ve been there, too. And you feel so friggen lost, and the world feels like it’s turning its back on you, and no one cares. And ….and….well….it fucking sucks.”
She laughs a little.
“And….” I don’t really know where I’m going with this. “And I remember that when it happened, I would have given anything…anything if someone could have just said something kind to me. So…I just wanna say I’m sorry. I’m sorry this happened. And I really hope it all works out for you anyhow.”
She reaches her hand out to me briefly, then pulls it into her chest, as though I’d just handed her a gift. She’s crying now. The tears she was holding back are flowing. “Thank you.” She says. “Thank you.” And then she slips away.
I go back to my seat by the window. I can still make out a tiny bit of that plane farther out on the runway. I sit back down to scrutinize it, to will it safely into the air. And that’s when a weight suddenly lifts off my shoulders. It feels like there was static in my brain since this family row began, and it has suddenly disappated, my mind is clear. It’s your brother’s job to disapprove of you. It feels like my heart has opened enough to let my mind listen to something greater than my own thoughts. “Our lives must be governed by our hearts, not by the approval of others, even if we love and respect them. And he’s teaching you that. Over and over and over.”
And I realize, sitting there, how much I love my brother. And my mother and my father.
And they can be who they are: angry. manipulative. funny. caring. selfish. generous. approving. disapproving.
It doesn’t friggen matter. I love them.
And I think: Was that the butterfly effect? Somehow, in breaking the silence and walking over to this woman, setting free one little compulsion to exercise my humanity had this immediate effect of freeing my own heart.
But where did that compulsion come from?
It came from the night I couldn’t fly home to my own baby girl.
Who was the girl in the elevator in the hotel, telling me about butterflies.
Who came home for just a day before leaving again, fluttering her glitter-loving wings just long enough to put my family and my heart back on a path to healing and love.