|March 30, 2001
I used to dream about airports a lot: vivid, heartbreaking dreams about arriving at the airport ten minutes too late and missing a life-or-death connection ... climbing long metal staircases that went nowhere ... wandering around empty international airline terminals, looking for people who were supposed to be there but weren't. I was plagued by these dreams for a couple of years, beginning in 1997 or so and continuing right up to the time I fell in love with David, when the dreams suddenly, mercifully stopped. While they lasted, though, they always left me feeling bereft and emotionally wrecked for hours -- sometimes days -- afterward.
So you can imagine how I felt when we showed up at Oakland International last night to pick up Daughter #1 ... and she wasn't there.
And neither was her plane.
As a matter of fact, her flight wasn't even listed on the electronic Arrival board inside the Southwest Airlines Terminal. I stood there for what felt like an eternity, stoopidly trying to match the information on the board to the printed confirmation in my hand ... waiting for the missing flight to magically twinkle onto the board ... but no matter how many times I checked and re-checked and re-re-checked, Jaymi's number never appeared on the screen. There WAS no Flight #1793, apparently.
That's when I felt the first tickle of fear.
David was still outside parking the Subaru. We'd accidentally missed the entrance to short-term parking and wound up in the middle of Rental-Car-Return Hell -- with less than five minutes before Jaymi's plane was scheduled to land -- so he'd dropped me off in front of Terminal 2.
"Run inside and meet her," he said, "and I'll come in and find you both after I find a place to park."
Which would have been a fine little plan of action ... except for the fact that both Jaymi AND her plane were missing.
Now I had no idea what to do.
Maybe the plane had been delayed because of bad weather, I told myself. I know that it's been raining in TicTac all week. Or maybe there was some sort of minor mechanical problem. Maybe her flight had been diverted to Portland again. for whatever ridiculous reason, and she was sitting at PDX right now, reading People Magazine and waiting for the next available MD80.
Maybe she's been hijacked! whispered the paranoid little Mom-Voice in my head. Maybe she's halfway on her way to PALESTINE right now, even as we speak, with a gun pressed into her ribcage and her head between her ...
After a few minutes of worry and indecision -- and still no David -- I finally checked myself through security and rode the escalator upstairs to the arrival gates on the upper level. I figured that I would find a customer service representative and see if they could provide me with information about the missing flight ... and my missing daughter.
There were two young women sitting behind the Customer Service desk. As I approached, I saw the two of them bent towards each other, engrossed in a giggling, whispered conversation. I stood there for a full minute -- the only 'customer' requiring 'service,' as far as I could determine -- before they finally turned impassive faces toward me.
"May I help you?" asked Customer Service Representative #1, sounding only marginally interested in anything I might have to say.
"I was supposed to meet my daughter on Flight #1793," I said, fighting back the edge of panic in my voice. "Can you tell me if it's been delayed?"
"How old is your daughter?" asked Customer Service Representative #2, perking up instantly. (Who knows? Maybe a potential missing child is worthy of a few of her spare *attention molecules.*) But when I told her that Jaymi is nineteen -- not exactly milk-carton-worthy -- you could actually see her interest evaporate. "That flight arrived twenty minutes ago," she said, waving a languid hand in the general direction of the gate next to her desk. And she and her co-worker resumed their gigglefest.
Yeah. OK. Thanks for your "help."
At least now I knew what had happened to the missing flight: it had arrived almost a half hour early, and was no longer technically considered an "Arrival." I should have been checking the "Departure" half of the board. Duh. I wandered over to the gate, parking myself directly in front of the arrival area, and watched as the last few stragglers and the cleaning crew departed what was obviously a now-empty airplane. No Jaymi.
So where the hell was she?
Maybe she'd gotten off the plane, seen that David and I weren't there yet, and gone downstairs to the baggage claim area to pick up her stuff while she waited for us. Maybe she'd walked outside the terminal to have a cigarette, or popped into one of the airport restaurants for a seven-dollar Diet Coke. Maybe she was buying a T-shirt in the gift shop. Maybe she was brushing her hair in the ladies room.
Maybe she got into an accident and never even made it to the airport! shouted the paranoid little Mom-Voice. Maybe she's bleeding in the emergency room at TicTac General right now, even as we speak, while doctors frantically try to reattach her ...
I hate the paranoid little Mom-Voice. It's the same voice that told me Jaymi would be born with four arms and an eyeball in the middle of her forehead, every day of my pregnancy twenty years ago. It's the same voice that told me she'd been kidnapped and murdered, that horrible day in January 1987, when she was actually hiding in the bushes behind our apartment building all afternoon. It's the same voice that told me she would never forgive me after I ran away ... that there was nothing I could ever do to make amends ... that I had lost her forever.
The paranoid little Mom-Voice is almost always wrong, thank god. But that doesn't stop it from looping relentlessly in my head, like one of David's doo-wop tapes ... usually when I least expect it.
Or when I least need to hear it.
By this point I was fighting fullblown panic. I walked back and forth from her arrival gate to the top of the escalators, three or four times ... checking the line of customers in the restaurant, checking the clusters of women coming out of the bathroom, checking the seating areas at adjacent gates, in case I'd walked right past her and we simply hadn't seen each other.
Just when I'd finally begun surrendering to sad and stoopid and helpless -- just when my eyes were filling up with tears, in spite of my best efforts to fight them back -- I glanced again over towards the bank of escalators ...
... and there was David, suddenly appearing at the top of the *up* escalator, looking calm and unruffled and in control of everything, as always. I flew to him and began to babble frantically about the missing flight information on the Arrival board, and about the indifferent Customer Service reps, and about how I couldn't find Jaymi anywhere.
"Come with me," he said.
"Did you find her?" I shrieked. "Do you know where she is?"
"Come with me," he repeated, and he took me by the hand and led me down the escalator and through the security gates, into the baggage claim area, and of course there she was was ... perfectly safe, perfectly fine, perfectly beautiful ... a little crabby about her flight, a little tired, a little travel-worn ... but otherwise glad to see me and glad to see David and glad to be back in the land of new shoes and Asiago cheese.
No hijacking. No bloody car accidents. No extra eyeballs in the middle of her forehead.
She and David had run into each other as he was entering the terminal, apparently, and as she was heading for baggage claim. He knew I would probably be upstairs, freaking out, so he volunteered to go find me. Once we were all happily reunited, it took a while for her luggage to be unloaded and appear on the carousel -- everything about this particular flight was fudked-up, apparently -- but after we'd claimed her suitcase and walked outside to the parking lot and loaded her stuff into the Subaru, I was finally able to exhale. We headed directly for Alameda. By that time it was late, and all three of us were much too exhausted for dinner or shopping or sightseeing: all of that stuff can wait for this weekend. As we drove towards home, though, I noticed that she seemed uncharacteristically quiet. Subdued, even. There was very little commentary from the backseat.
Maybe she's SICK! piped up the paranoid little Mom-Voice. Maybe she's running a low-grade fever right now, even as ...
time I was able to flip the switch.
p.s. guess whut we're doing for *fun* this weekend? besides berkeley and bookstores and bad rental movies, i mean?
we're going wedding-dress-shopping! [for me -- not for her.] acckkkkk.
just shoot me now.