June 8, 2004
The Stranger Beside Me
I am boarding
plane, getting ready to fly to TicTac for my son's high school
It has been a
long, nightmarish morning at the airport: pay phones that go dead in my
hand, escalators that lead
monitors that display flight schedule information
Egyptian hieroglyphics, rather than in English. Plus they've
moved my gate to the outer reaches of the airport, AND I've
walking around the concourse wearing nothing but a tank top
pair of sticky underpants for the past few hours. I've
finally reached my gate, with minutes to spare: now all I
do is get on the plane, settle into my window seat with a club
soda and a magazine, and enjoy the flight.
But of course it isn't
"I'm sorry, ma'am,"
the snooty young boarding clerk, stepping in front of me to
my entrance. "I can't allow you to get on the plane with those."
And she points to the balloon bouquet I am carrying in one
three gigantic balloons, one for each Tot ... pink
Jaymi, yellow for Kacie, blue for Kyle. "Balloons aren't
on interstate flights," she sniffs. She tells me that if I'd
to leave them at the ticket counter, an authorized agent will
sure that they are shipped to TicTac within 7-10 business days.
"We'll have to deflate
them first, of course," she adds.
I am furious. "If these
balloons don't get on this flight," I snap, "*I* don't get on this
flight." What I'm not telling her is that these are not ordinary
balloons. These are 'life-force' balloons
filled, not with helium, but with a special psychic mixture
of love and energy and good karma, designed
to keep my
children safe and healthy for the next ten years or
Each Tot received a dose of this special psychic mixture when
were born, and then again when they became teenagers. Now that the
youngest Tot is graduating from high school -- now
technically, all three of them have reached adulthood -- it
is time to dose them again with another ten years' worth of
And I am the only one
can administer the dose, using these special balloons.
"Then you leave me no
choice, do you?" she says. And with that, she pulls
from the center of her natty pillbox cap -- a
long as a broom handle -- and before I have a
open my mouth in protest, she systematically pops each balloon, one
after another, as I scream hysterically.
End of dream.
* * * * * *
I am wrenched
from sleep (and from this latest in a series of
Travel-Anxiety Dreams) by the sound of voices outside my
bedroom window: a cluster of noisy inebriated young men, from the sound
of it, wobbling their way home after a long night at The
fudking shidt!" shouts the
drunk in the group. "I fudkin' TOLD her I don't
fudking put UP with that fudking shidt! FUDK that!"
For a few moments
I lay there in
darkness, waiting for the buffoon parade to
pass ... waiting for the aftershocks
of my stoopid
dream to dissipate ... waiting for sleep
to return and
carry me back to the dream airport (where, presumably, I can
back and kick that snooty boarding clerk's
My attention is
drawn to a noise from the other side of the bed ... a
liquidy 'bzzzzfffp, bzzzzfffp, bzzzzfffp'
sound, emanating from the center of a
mountain of blankets. In the dim light of the
bedroom, I can
see a man laying next to me, flat on his back,
partially obscured by pillows. His mouth is hanging open, a
little, and he has managed to kick off the
and comforter, leaving his naked legs and feet
exposed. He looks totally comfortable,
completely vulnerable, utterly at peace. But here is what I find
really spooky about the whole thing.
idea who he is.
I know who *I*
am, even through the fog of half-sleep. (I
am Secra. Hear me roar.) I know
I am. (At home,
laying on my own lumpy mattress, on
the side of the bed closest to the bathroom.)
know what time it is, approximately. (At
least two hours until
it's time to get up and get ready for work.) But the
handsome man slumbering peacefully next to
me is an
he? How did he get here? Why are we
laying in bed together? I don't even
know his name. I lay quietly and study him
carefully for a while, in the moonlight, waiting for memory to
He has a nice face,
neither disturbed nor threatened by his
the bed next to me, nor by my failure to recognize
him. I understand, on some level,
that he is
important to me: a friend, a family member, a loved
I sense that he means me no harm. I know
eventually I'm going to remember who he is, and that it's going to be a
pleasant remembering. Mostly I just feel puzzled by this
brain lapse, and by what may have caused it. Was it
trauma of the stoopid dream? The Benadryl I took
bedtime? The tabouleh salad I had for dinner? I
also feel a
sort of vague, bittersweet sadness ... the
sadness that comes from looking into a face you
know you love, without feeling the
glimmer of recognition.
How awful it
would be, were this ever to become a permanent
A few seconds
later -- as the neighborhood quiets down, as my
resolves itself, as I'm finally beginning to drift
again -- the memory finally snaps into place, like
flight schedule monitor suddenly flipping over
hieroglyphics into English.
David. Husband. Partner. Beloved.
reach across the bed and gently cover
his legs and feet
with the comforter. And then I climb aboard
escalator, once again, and begin the slow effortless descent back into
to throw a rock?