Di was late. The 65-mile drive to the airport seemed to take hours. She found her right leg extended, toe pointed, as if it were pushing on an imaginary accelerator on the passenger side floorboard. She should have insisted on renting a car or at the very least scheduling the airport shuttle instead of giving in to her mother’s protests. Her mother seemed to take offense at the idea that Di would get to the airport through any other way, as though it were a reflection on her parenting skills.
The interstate highway widened from four lanes to six and then again to eight and Di watched the cars stream around them on both sides and closed her eyes and leaned her head against the headrest. It was almost painful to watch and yet, a perfect symbol. Her mother, the slow moving piece of driftwood plodding downstream as debris rushed past her on all sides.
“You’re quiet. What are you thinking?” Di wanted to turn to her and scream “None of your business! Stay out of my head!”
“Nothing, mom. I’m fine.” There was a moment and her mother seemed to chew on this.
“I know he looks bad but the doctors say he’ll rebound. We just have to give him some more time.” Clearly she was fine to let Di into her own head.
“It’s so hard to talk at home. It’s why I wanted to drive you today.” Di looked at her out of the corner of her eye. It was easy to assume that his near comatose state meant he couldn’t hear anything, but they all knew better. There had never been anything wrong with Ethan’s brain, his body just continually refused to cooperate. And yet, after this recent scare, it was hard to tell what her brother could hear, what he absorbed and what didn’t penetrate. So they’d spent the weekend talking cheerily about Di’s cousins, the Chiefs rotten season, where Di might take her next vacation, her recent trips to visit the satellite offices in Portland and Denver. Her mother told her about the places she and her father had visited before she and Ethan were born. Everything was lighthearted and Di was exhausted.
“Thank you for the—help. Having someone to take care of him for an hour or two, it makes such a difference. I’d never, ever tell him that. But sometimes I just get in the car and drive around the block and sit there. It’s so nice to just be alone.”
“Mom, the caregivers can handle it if something happens.”
“Yes, well.” She made a show of glancing in both mirrors and checking her blind spot before changing lanes. “I know.”
They rode in silence. The whir of the defroster and the rhythmic tick of the turn signal lulled Di. She began to feel her right leg relax.
“I sure wish you could take a later flight so we could get lunch or a cup of coffee, even.” Di tried not to sigh. She looked at the clock on the dash for what seemed like the eleventh time.
“Well, I’m so late you might actually get your wish,” she joked. Her mother seemed to deflate and she realized the joke wasn’t so funny after all. She put her hand over her mother’s. She held it there as she looked out across the flat grey and brown landscape. The only things on the horizon were the hotel and restaurant chains, cropping up like mushrooms and glowing neon. She could be anywhere in the country, the sight was so generic.
Di found her phone in her purse, readied her boarding pass and put her drivers license in her pocket. As they approached the terminal she slung her laptop bag over her shoulder. “Don’t park, Mom. Just drop me off, there isn’t time.” She thought if she hurried she might grab a coffee before she boarded. “Look there’s a spot right there.” On second thought, she’d just wait for a cocktail after take off.
Her mother steered into the gap in the drop-offs lane and Di leaned across to put her lips to her cheek. She rounded the car to pull her carryon out of the trunk, marveling again at the crap her mother continued to carry around even after her father’s death (golf clubs? she didn’t even play golf!). Her mother was there, sliding her cool dry hand into her own.
“I need this, Di. I needed you. Thank you.”
Nothing that came to Di’s mind seemed appropriate, so instead she squeezed her hand back. Her mother’s eyes were full as she circled Di’s waist with her thin arm for a last, awkward half-embrace.
“I love you, Mom.” Di squeezed one final time. “I have to go.”
Di navigated the airport like the professional she was. The journey from the curb to her business class seat was remarkable only in that she recalled so little of it. It was as if she’d gone to sleep and awoken in her seat, whiskey neat in her hand, some dreadful rom-com on the screen in front of her. She later wouldn’t even be able to recall the scene that caused her such distress, but suddenly, there she was, weeping. Weeping.
She put her forehead into her hand, trying to conceal her wet face and congested snuffling from her seatmate, a man in business casual khakis and a polo shirt with an emblem on the left shoulder, who appeared to be asleep.
Then a napkin appeared on her tray table.
“Flying does it,” he said.
“I don’t even know what happened, it was this stupid movie—“
“I don’t cry anywhere but 35,000 feet in the air. Ask my wife. She thinks I have a heart of stone. Get my in an airplane…” he shrugged as if to say, “Who knew?”
“I think it’s the pressure. Does something to your emotions. It’s like a cork popping.” He leaned his seat back and shut his eyes. “It’s a thing. Google it.”