For my two-year old, it was a sleepy “Okay,” as I rearranged his sprawled body back on his bed.
For my four-year old, it was the tail-end of a story about a dream she had the night before. “And then there were two of them!”
For my six-year old, it was “Goodnight.”
For my husband, it was “I probably won’t see you in the morning.”
These may be the last words they ever speak to me, I think to myself, searing them into my memory. Because today, I’m on an airplane.
I’m not afraid of flying, not really. I never really like the landing. Or more accurately, those few seconds after you land when it feels like you are speeding up instead of slowing down. I always wonder if this is the time the brakes fail, when we will careen off the edge of the runway. Then the relief of resistance. The plane slows.
But since having kids, flying has become a marker for me. An obvious point during which something could happen to me. During which they could lose me.
My mother died when I was in high school. My children know this. My four-year old, especially, is fascinated by it.
“Did Nana have you in her tummy?” she will ask.
“No,” I will say. “My mommy had me in her tummy. Nana is my stepmom.”
“But your mommy died,” she will say.
More recently, while I was washing her hair. “Will you die?”
“Someday, but hopefully not for a very long time.” I say, working the soap into her hair.
“But your mom died after not a very long time,” she replies.
My truth teller.
“I know, and I’m doing everything I can not to have that happen to me.”
“Why?” she asks, chin to the ceiling, avoiding the sting of soap.
“Because I never want you to have to go through that,” I answer, trying to keep my tone light as my throat constricts.
Flying perhaps is unavoidable. Or at least impractical to avoid. A 24-hour trip to San Diego to attend my niece’s blessing ceremony would otherwise be a five-day affair. Four days of driving for an hour-long ceremony, the chances of my demise much more acute after days in a car.
Yet still, it is not the car trips, it is not walking down the stairs, it is not crossing the street, it is not the dozens of ways that I am much more likely to die that mark me. It is the plane. That silver specter, momentarily too dazzling to see as the sun hits it.
“Plane!” my two year-old will cry with delight. And I shield my eyes and nod along with him.
“Tomorrow I am going to be on a plane,” I say. And I feel my heart jump, trying to reach up to the blaze above. A shooting star.
And now here I am, in that gleaming plane. The children below pointing up at us are not my own. I am hundreds of miles away from them, miles above. I am carried along down a path not my own. Strapped into a seatbelt on a seat that is floating in the sky. The absurdity of it! Even securely bucked in, I am untethered.
In an hour, we should land. The wheels will hit the ground and I will clench my fists and press my right foot against an imaginary brake pedal. I will feel the plane speed up, and think, “Okay. And then there were two of them. Good night. I probably won’t see you in the morning.”
And then I will feel it. My body against the seat, no longer dangling in the sky, the sweet relief of gravity and pavement. The hard rectangle of my phone as I wait for the all-clear to call my family. To hear new words from them. “Mommy! You landed!”