A 7am flight out of Boston equals torture for this West Coast night owl who hasn’t been there long enough to adjust to the time zone. (Which is approximately a week for the East Coast and about three days for the UK.) As I’m digging for my book, a young girl with a huge scowl on her face sits down across from me. Instantly, I see myself — particularly my younger self, though in many cases my current self — reflected in her. She has glasses and a mop of long blonde hair looped in a messy bun. She immediately sticks her nose in a young adult book about ghosts. I have the same shoes she’s wearing, only in black and hot pink, instead of gray and hot pink. We’re both wearing bright patterned leggings. She takes a Purell wipe from her bag and cleans down her seat and tray table. When the dudebro behind her neglects to cover his cough, we both give him death glares. She sees me doing this, and I smile at her when our eyes meet for a brief second.
I start to think about how I’m old enough to be her mother — though her parents appear about a decade older than me — and how perhaps I shall steal this one mostly-formed child. Clearly, we could save some money by sharing clothing. She’s at what Sandra Tsing Loh described as the perfect moment in girlhood: strong, confident, prepubescent.
I also obverse her family, noticing how they are focused on entertainment and what to order from the on-flight menus. In my own childhood, no one understood why I love to read more than most things. Why I preferred to write or tell myself stories, playing with dolls or action figures. The girl takes out a journal and a pile of embroidery thread; no doubt, she’s going to make friendship bracelets. And I am uniquely satisfied that the art of friendships bracelets hasn’t been lost only to Christian camps sequestered from cell towers.
For a million reasons, I do not want to be a mother. But this half-grown girl, I wouldn’t mind having around. She’d be self-sufficient enough: able to care for her basic needs and carry on an intelligent conversation. I wonder if she’s too old to like Frozen, which I’m going to see tonight on ice. (Later, I see her pop the movie up on her entertainment tablet.) I think about how if I had a daughter, I’d name her Erica. Yes, after myself. Men have been naming their male progeny after themselves for millenniums, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t do it any different. I wonder what her name is, and if Erica would be a name she’d like too.
When our attendants start handing out entertainment tablets, someone hits the call button with medical emergency. Everything’s halted as the crew stops to assist and keeps the rest of us at bay. The girl’s father stands up and announces that he and her mother are RNs. They both head toward the front of the plane.
I’m reminded of snowy holiday travels over the mountains passes to visit my grandparents with my family. My father, while not a nurse, was an auto mechanic; and many of trips featured vehicles stranded on the sides of the road. Some hit snow banks; some weren’t capable in the snow; some had flat tires; and some just broke down. Once or twice, maybe we stopped. But mostly, we kept going on the snow-covered roads, secure in the fact that if we broken down, our mechanic was in our vehicle. Holiday travel frenzy and winter weather meant that the 2 1/2 – 3 hour trip sometimes took much longer. I remember peeing in my younger brother’s training potty when my bladder needed to go, and it was much too cold to venture into the forest. Once my father put us in the middle of the caravan of cars, he wasn’t going to stop.
Like most of my fellow plane passengers, I wonder what’s going on up front. I wonder about the level of emergency and if we’ll have to be diverted to another airport nearby. We’ve barely left Boston, so will be swing back or maybe go to New York or hang on until Toronto. What if it’s serious? What if they die? Do the flight attendants just put a scratchy, airline branded blanket over the body?
My alarm went off at 4:30am so I could make this flight and attend Frozen on Ice later night with my boyfriend. (I was less than grateful when he told me he bought these tickets. He said when he looked at my calendar; it only marked that I was doing an event in Boston the evening before. I asked him how far exactly he thought Boston was from Seattle.)
During one of my holiday trips, my brother and I quizzed our father about why he didn’t stop and assist those in need. Particularly the ones we could’ve easily helped and gotten them along quickly. We understood enough that only a tow truck could help those trapped in snow bank, embedded in the rock and ice, and that sometimes, slowing down or pulling over put ourselves, or those in the caravan behind us, at more risk. My father responded by telling us that if he stopped for every car in need, we’d never make it home. That was that.
My attention sharpens when the girl’s parents come back to their seats. All their children ask about what happened, and they’re given a brief explanation about the hazards of low blood pressure and flying. How the woman with the emergency will be fine. I am relieved that we are continuing on. I stop imagining the hassle of de-planning and finding another flight home before tonight, about how deep my frown is, about what a joke airline customer service is. Would I need to rate this women’s medical emergency for myself? If she had died, would I have preferred we carried on with a dead body amongst us? (We sat for four hours with my grandfather’s body; how bad could a cross-country flight be?)
I consider how maybe I’m no better than my father. More concerned about my own plans, my own life, bypassing strangers on life’s highway. (Not that a writer or internet marketer is of any help in this situation, except when not a plane, I typically have a working cell phone on me.)
This girl is better off with her family. That my quick identification with a few traits I observed at 4am Seattle time on four hours of sleep does not mean this girl would be the Rory to my Lorelei Gilmore. No, I think not. I watch her father pull out his tray table and plop down a thick, hardback book.