She is 60 something, haven’t seen her face, but the hand holding the phone tells the years. The mauve crochet sweater doesn’t so much as contrast with the gray LaGuardia Airport sky as meld into it, the rain streaks mimicking the yarn work.
“The parents smoke pot every day,” she says, “and she’s been tested, so she’s gifted, I know that. But she likes Wilson, he drives her everywhere. He does all that stuff with her.”
People jostle for space around her at the charging bar — Gate C2 — and he watches and listens in this space he has known so well in four different moments in his life.
“I just don’t think Wilson likes me, so if I do something, he’ll just fight it, and the stepmother will never get her to the preschool.”
It was shiny then, this gateway. He remembers walking down these polished concrete floors, 17, going to see colleges, trying to escape. He remembers it even earlier, glittering, a jet port for the World’s Fair, a child watching dad fly away, a child waiting for dad to arrive — sleepy, way past bedtime — mom nervous. But it is beaten down now, scratched and dented and looking for paint, once gracious entries now jammed with security. They will begin replacing it soon. Could there be any clearer sign of age?
“We need her in the right preschool, and she’ll need a scholarship. We can’t talk to any school unless the scholarship is a condition.” She fidgets but never turns from the window. Around her some chuckle, most ignore. It’s New York and in New York privacy is established by pretending that we don’t hear.
“Well, I’ll need to talk to the agent about,” it is a different topic, or maybe not.
He never wants to leave when he’s here, but he wants to be home when he’s here too. And home and here are not the same, and haven’t been the same for almost half a lifetime. Too long, probably, to ever retrieve…
So he drifts to that day long ago. Visit Michigan State? Of course, why not? It was the promise of reinvention, of reimagination. No, not just escape but rebirth. All via the NCAA and a silver 727 with a big eagle on the tail.
Was it raining that day? What about the day he flew south to Raleigh? Flying alone. As clear as sign of being an adult as anything. Even the draft card he’d get in the spring wouldn’t mean more.
“If someone would adopt her, that’d be perfect. She needs to be away from Wilson.” “No doubt,” another passenger mouths, laughing silently. “Patrice would be perfect. Yes, Patrice should adopt her.”
He liked LaGuardia, he liked its proximity to Shea Stadium and the Mets, and back then the Jets. He liked the sweeping ellipse of the roadways. He liked the stainless steel and dark glass. He liked American Airlines, the logo, the simplicity of the designs. The stewardesses — yes, that word another sign of age — were very sweet to him, bringing food, or blankets on the flights back when he boarded in the morning with recruitment alcohol filling his blood.
He looked down at his leg, screaming in pain and reached into his backpack for the opiates, and saw the crutches leaning against the window. Such a fucking betrayal, he thought. How could his body have done this to him?
“I just need you to take care of this,” she almost begs, leaning hard on the countertop. Her audience has grown — in the end, entertainment value will win out , “They smoke angel dust all the time,” this stated at a volume that cuts through the terminal clutter, as does the audience laughter in response, “but, you know, with Wilson, well, the dog likes him.”
He is caught. You can escape a lot of things, but not age, not really. And not the things you’ve done to your body because you thought you were immortal, or because you never expected to live very long. It’s harder and harder too, he knows, to outrun all the choices you’ve made, especially on legs that now look like a Frankenstein construction.
“You know,” she says, “I’m trying to make sure this happens.”
Well, aren’t we all?
- Ira Socol