kisses by o&poecormier
kisses a photo by o&poecormier on Flickr.

he leaves again today. i’ll take him to the airport.

i may even go in, buy myself a diner coffee from the little restaurant, kiss him goodbye. i like airports, even tiny ones with single gates for Arrivals and Departures.

i like the idea that i could be going anywhere. the idea beats the actual flight. sometimes it beats the trip.

the kids and i will pick him up together Wednesday evening. we will join the throng at the single Arrivals gate, and inevitably run into someone we know and chat while the passengers stream in from the cold on the tarmac. he will see us, and hug us, and maybe we will take Oscar’s picture on the giant plastic cow that greets all flights to PEI. i don’t know if we quite trust Posey on the cow yet. maybe we do.

and we will go home and small arms will cling around his neck and a chorus of two small loud voices will vie rabidly for his ears. but it will be no big deal.

in their world, it’s not the leaving that matters, it’s the coming home.

i am learning from them.
***
when i was a kid, the airport was the saddest place i ever went.

my mother and i did not fly. my father flew. in and out, once a year, from the far-away Arctic. i waited the whole calendar round for him. i had no stepfather, no surrogate relationship even with my grandfather until i was much older and he was a widower.

my parents’ divorce was simply a fact of my life. my father’s absence, though, was a hole. i needed him, or someone to be him.

he drove a motorcycle. one spring, when i was about nine, i saw a man on a bike blast past me on my walk home from school. and i thought, i KNOW that bike, that back, that leather jacket! i was sure, entirely sure, that my father had come home three months early. to surprise me. i told my mother i had seen him.

when he did not show, she was gentle with me. i was shamed, to have been seen so naked in my wanting.

but most Julys, he came. wife and children in tow, and he would show up on the bike and my mother would let him strap the helmet to my head and we would go, to a cottage or campground, sometimes for days at a time.

and then they would leave. and at the airport would come the unravelling.

had Tennessee Williams written parts for dour fifty-something women who never quite got over the fact of their eldest sons’ having buggered off on a wife and child, my grandmother Hilda would’ve been an elegant casting choice.

she wrinkled young, and i remember her mouth being mostly turned down. she was not a demonstrative person, though never unkind. i loved her, even if it does not sound it. words were hard for her, and they are hard to find to talk about her. the last years we all went to the airport together, she and my grandfather and i, she was fighting the battle that took her life the year i was 16.

but the crying started long before the cancer.

every year, we drove them to the airport. it was an Event, a car trip with my grandparents, anything with my father, six or seven of us piled into two tons of Detroit steel on a summer evening. i always forgot to be sad until we got there.

and then we would linger around the boarding gate, the gaggle of us, until my grandmother began sobbing.

i’ve never liked to let anyone cry alone. my lip would quiver and the idea of eleven and a half months without my father would stretch out ahead of me and i would feel small and abandoned and frightened he’d never come back.

maybe she did too. or maybe she felt her failure, somehow, every time he flew as far as he could get and still be in the same country. maybe she had some history of goodbyes i never knew about. but this was a woman who’d married my grandfather at eighteen, in the middle of the second World War. he was a spy. she sent him off over and over again, to untold risk. i asked him once, a couple of years ago, if she cried when he left. he said no.

i didn’t dare ask about my father and the airport, then.

she’d have died to have been caught giggling in church, and yet there we’d huddle, in the middle of that tiny airport where you always know somebody, our small domestic tragedies laid open on the tile floor.

it must’ve been a comical scene, in a way. she would resolutely discuss the weather – the summer window they’d had on the island and the Arctic winter ahead of them; cold, she would testify, imaginatively – until the very last moment. and then when it came time to hug them and let them board, some dam would loose and the weeping would overtake her and then me until we stood in the middle of the airport, she and i crying the ugly cry, my father crushed between us, probably mortified.

we are all so goddam vulnerable to the stories we end up in.

i did not know until i was older and spent more time in airports that public scenes of inconsolable devastation are more rare than my family experience led me to expect.

i did not know until i had my own children that it is okay and normal and healthy to love and need and trust fully that someone will come home to you.

that it is not the leaving that matters.

when i stand at the airport today, i will look around for the ghost of us, those ten or twelve or fourteen summer leavetakings of my childhood. i will smile kindly at my grandmother, in her tears and her sadness and her incapacity. at my younger father in his abdication and his absence.

then i will whisper fuck you, Hilda. i leave this behind.

and i will wave goodbye to Dave and look forward to him coming home.