My head combines thoughts of the book with thoughts of the girl who gave it to me, who I manage to miss visiting every time I am in Chicago. And the other friends here who I should visit someday. I did not even manage to get together with my brother/nephew/neice for breakfast this morning, as things got complex... I will see them all in two weeks anyway.
I am walking down the walkway onto the plane, following a skinny woman in faded blue jeans. They have embroidery on the back pockets, it almost is shaped like a "W", which is a very nice letter, but it is too swirly. She has a wheeled suitcase. The plank is sloped downward, so the suitcase is rolling forward on its own. She strolls next to it with her hand resting on the handle, as though she is walking a puppy.
We get to the end of the boarding ramp, and there is a pedestrian traffic jam of some sort ahead. We stand waiting in line, I move my backpack from shoulder to shoulder, and the woman in front of me restrains her suitcase from hurrying on ahead.
Bored, I read the instructions for the ramp operators. "Striped for Safety", the sticker proclaims. Apparently our airplane has a nice red stripe near its wing, for safety. It has pictures and details on where to drive the ramp in order to line it up with the airplane. Funny, I realize: I had always pictured the plane lining itself up with the ramp, not the other way around. After all the plane has wheels, while I usually think of hallways as stable.... but these have wheels as well, and are probably much more navigatable than an unweildy airplane.
I am seized by a desire to try driving one, lining it up with the red stripe, but it is likely that would be frowned upon by various members of the airport staff.
Whatever was holding traffic up has cleared, and I and the strangers standing inches from my elbows are able to board finally. I walk down the narrow aisle of the airplane, holding my bag carefully in front of me. I am following a woman with short hair, and I study the back of her neck. The neck looks familiar to me, the way the thick hair comes together in a tiny point, the way the shoulders are heavy and the neck slightly leaned forward. I marvel that somebody's upper back can look so familiar, can echo so strongly of a friend, and just as I approach my seat I realize the name of the friend I am reminded of.
The woman turns her head, and she looks nothing like my friend. Only the back of her head does. She sits wearily into the aisle seat, sighs heavily, clearly relieved to finally settle and relax. Only then do I realize that I have the window seat in that same row. Sorry to have to disturb her just after she sat down, I ask if I can squeeze by.
She smiles cheerfully at me and gets up to let me pass, telling me it is not a problem. We make friendly comments about the pile of newspapers left on the floor, then arrange ourselves in the tiny seats, and proceed to attend our own devices -- I to my laptop, she to a nap.
I read my book as we taxi toward the runway. I glance out the window, and there is something small and brownish near the grass, keeping pace with my line of sight. It is probably just a dried leaf, but I enjoy imagining that it is a fuzzy caterpiller -- a caterpiller bold enough to race an airplane.
My book is about a couple, a love so powerful that it transcends time. I read and I think, "I want that, I want that." Even when they fight, even when things are awful and painful, it is beautiful enduring. They try to have a child, then they finally have one, and there are parts of that so wonderful and amazing. Yet it is hard, so hard, and a constant struggle.
This is what building a family is, isn't it? It's hard, not all love and roses. I have been thinking these thoughts almost non-stop for the past several months. The book just serves to focus them. I want a family, I want to love and be loved... but the reality of it all terrifies me. I'm so afraid of the hard times. I'm so afraid of the day-to-day work required to be in a serious relationship -- let alone the work required to raise children. But the rewards continue to haunt me.
The plane takes off, and there is a kid behind me. I don't know how old, I haven't seen him, but as we launch into the air he makes an excited crowing noise and exclaims something about Superman! The plane banks to turn in a big circle, then we are above downtown Chicago heading East. The weather and our angle is perfect for me to see the city in its entirety.
I stare out the window with a kind of awe, looking at the familiar skyscrapers and lakefront from a new angle. "I know this place," I think to myself; I have driven along up and down that lakefront tons of times. I look to the right, South, and an mildly startled to notice that we are not heading down and around the lake, the path I would drive. "Oh yes," I realize, "we can fly directly over." And so we do, and the lake is a Great Lake; the southern shore so far away that it mingles in with the clouds and the horizon. The view out my window is really magnificent and fascinating.
I want to point out the things I see to the boy behind me. One of my most favorite things to do in the world is to help a child discover something; to show a child something that is new and exciting to him. I can share in the wonder of the commonplace all over again. "Ooh look, the city," I could say to him. "See, all the skyscrapers, lined up along the lake? And look, there's Navy Pier. You can just see the ferris wheel! See how tiny it is? And how huge the lake is? Look, there are some boats...."
Just then, the kid behind me makes an angry, fussy, aaaHEEAAA! sort of noise, interrupting my fantasy. I head his mother's tense scolding, frustrated and worn out, as more complaining sounds come from the boy. I am reminded again that children come with lots of hard work and frustration as well.
The flight to Detroit is so quick, just up and down. They have given me a full can of diet pepsi, too much for such a quick ride, and I suck it down frantically when the pilot announces our decent, typing this sentence with just one hand in order to sneak just a few more bytes under the deadline.
We've landed. I'm home again, and there is no snow. Glorious!