I was flying from San Francisco to Atlanta with a United Airlines Buddy Pass on December 20, 2016. A best friend sister, Carol, works for the airlines and afforded me passes. There was no seat on the ten a.m. or the Noon flight. All seats w
ere booked and cascading cancelations, and delays for various reasons caused people to pile up at gates, and customer service counters seeking alternative flights. Buddy passes are considered non–revenue producing, therefore, Buddy Pass holders were the last to be seated.
I ‘ve never flown stand by before. I have insisted on flying direct over the last two decades. I made this exception because a fixed social security income requires it. Carol texted me there was possibly a seat on a three p.m. flight. However, it would get into Houston too late for a connection to Atlanta. The next flight to Atlanta from Houston would leave shortly after seven the following morning at the dawn of the Winter Solstice. Carol, suggested by text, that I sleep over in the airport; that the amount of time and money it would take to leave the airport, take a taxi, get a hotel, check in and out of the hotel, and get back to the airport for an early flight would get me only a few hours of, so why not get anxious–bleary– not–worth– it sleep that didn’t cost an additional two–hundred dollars at minimum. Carol reassured me the airport was safe and, she had slept in the Houston airport many times after missing her reconnection to Atlanta. I felt if she could do it, I could too. I also didn’t have an additional two–hundred dollars minimum to spend.
I did get a seat on the 3 p.m. flight. I reached Houston at nine–thirty p.m. When I reached the concourse near the gate I had disembarked from, I spotted a Starbucks nearby. I decided to get coffee, maybe an eggnog latte, and hang out there until they closed. I went into my travel bag for my wallet to pay for my egg nog latte, I had decided. I could not find it. I searched every section and ever pocket of my computer travel bag. I tried not to panic. I managed not to look or sound panicked, even when I talked to my daughter, Leslie, on the phone. It was an act. I had no money. I had no identification. I was flying to New York, then Vermont, and then back home to San Francisco. How could I fly without may wallet, I thought panic stricken inside.
I saw a man who appeared to work for the airlines. I told him about my lost wallet and asked him to access the locked jet way and look for my wallet in the overhead bin my carry–on bag had been stowed in. Miraculously my memory was working. I told him the bin number. 33J. He unlocked the door, walked down the jest way, and returned. His face said no wallet. Then, I remembered, it could have been left in my seating area that was different from where my carry–on bag had been stowed. My memory was still working. I told him my seat number. 39J. The man was patient and kind. He walked back down the jet way and back again. His face still said no wallet again. I thanked him profusely for his kindness.
I searched the bag again and again. Still no wallet. By then the Starbucks and all of the of the restaurants and shopping places were closed or closing. I tried to calm myself by finding a place to hang out for the night. As I was organizing my bags in the spot I had chosen and was about to begin to search them for my wallet again, a little girl came over and knelt in the chair in front of me. She seemed to check me out. She seemed to decide I was someone she wanted to talk to, and talk she did.
“I’m Sophia. My mom and dad met and held hands. Then my mom’s dad held her hand and walked with her. He gave her to my father. A man made them hold hands and then told them to kiss.”
Sophia paused dramatically, made a face as if smelling something bad and said, “Yee wee,” while waving her hand in front of her nose.
Sophia continued, “And then I was in my mommy’s stomach. And then I came out. And here I am, she said while holding her hands and arms out, as if she were shouting, “Ta Da!”
I smiled and clapped and said, “Congratulation,” matching her celebratory ending.
Sophia continued, “I’m on my way to Nicaragua to see my Grandpa. My Daddy’s is working. He’s gonna come before Christmas. I have grandparents who live in Nicaragua and grandparents who live in America.”
Sophia has the voluptuous body of a girl just turned four, still a little girl, not a big girl quite yet. She had rich chestnut colored eyes and hair, and she moved with a dancer’s flair. She was uninhibited, direct, hilarious, and adorable.
“Where are you going,” she asked me?”
“I’m going to Atlanta,” I answer.
“Who are you going to visit there, “she asks as soon as I answer.
“My daughter,” I answer.
“What her name,” she asks predictably.
I knew immediately after I said, my daughter,” she would ask her name. Sophia’ asked before I could include her name.
“Leslie,” I answered.
“Where is your husband,” she asked looking around as if to see if a man nearby matched her expectation of a husband for me.
Now here is the problem I have unfailingly always want to tell the truth, even to children. I understand that children do, in fact, want the truth, usually, but they the telling of it needs to be kept simple.
“I’m not married,” I said.
Sophia leaned away from me and gasped dramatically, as if truly scandalized.
I paused a moment to think quickly what to say honestly and simply.
“Leslie’s father and I decided we would always love and take care of our child together, but we would not marry,” I said.
Sophia was still dubious, but she appeared less scandalized, and she relaxed her leaning body, still leaning away from me, just a bit.
Worried she thought me a fully fallen woman, I added,” Both our parents were very upset with us.”
Sophia leaned back towards me her belly resting on the back of the airport seat again.
“Did they fuss at you,” she asked seeming to marvel at grownups being fussed at.
I answer honestly, “Yes.”
Sophia relaxed completely for the first time again since I told her, I had a daughter, and I had not gotten married. She slipped out of her chair and came directly to my chair. Meanwhile, Sophia’s mother had moved into a chair behind Sophia and facing me. She had listened Sophia’s story of her birth and her questions about my unmarried state. At times her eyes rolled in exasperation, tiredness, and apology. I smiled and nodded affirmatively that it was completely all right for Sophia to talk to me a mile a minute and tell her birth story and ask me my husband’s where abouts. Sophia’s mother and I communicated non–verbally this way, while Sophia continued to talk a mile a minute.
Suddenly, a small boy came over trailed by his brother, who I assumed, was about nine or ten. The brother was trailing behind him while reading or playing a game on an electronic tablet of some sort. The little boy, it turned out, was Brice. Brice was small, thin, but strong, with light brown eyes and a winning confident smile. His brother had light brown hair and eyes, and he had a strong, thin, athletic body with a studious good–boy face. Sophia and Brice, and their families, and about thirty other families had spent two nights in Houston hotels not able to leave because of trouble with their airline passage to Nicaragua. They were hoping to leave in two hours. Nearly seventy –five people were sitting on chairs, the floor, and standing in line waiting to board the plane while their children slept, read, listened with head phone on, stared at tablets and phones, and whined, and cried while they waited.
When Brice arrived, Sophia and Brice told dueling stories about who was oldest, smartest, and fastest. Brice finally topped Sophia by saying, directly to me, “When I get to be four, I’m gonna be bigger than you!”
Since, I top 275 pounds, Brice was really making a huge statement.
Sophia had no comeback for Brice’s announcement. Instead, Sophia changed the subject.
“I just had my birthday, Sophia said with a flair. I’m four!”
I sing both the regular version of Happy Birthday and Stevie Wonder’s version wile clapping at a brisk tempo. Sophia danced and basked in the birthday attention. When I ended my songs, Brice said, puffing his tiny chest out, “Well today is my birthday and I three!”
His brother’s eye brows shot up in total surprise.
I sang both songs again and both Sophia, and Brice pranced and danced in the glow of birthday attention. When the songs ended, they were off chasing each other and using the airport seats like a jungle gym. Sophia’s mother attended to their excesses.
“Sophia, no running!” “Sophia stay where I can see you!” Sophia, inside voice!” “Sophia, that’s enough.” “Come and sit down, now!”
Brice’s brother continued to trail behind them.
Sophia’s flight was finally called. Sophia, Brice zoomed across to the opposite gate. Brice’s brother walked without hurrying. Sophia’s mother picked up Sophia’s scarf, shoes, and a toy dog on a leash they had been playing with. She said a silent thank you and good by. As the line of borders inched forward, I could see Brice’s bother, his head still bowed into his tablet, but Brice was swallowed up in the legs surrounding him. When Sophia’s mother reached Sophia, she looked over to me with a dazzling smile and waved goodbye frantically. I waved back matching her frantic delight until she disappeared.
When the gate was empty and all were on board, I relaxed in the airport chair. It was just after midnight, the Winter Solstice. I was still in lingering delight and calm. I was no longer acting calm to cover up nearing lost mindedness. I restarted the search for my wallet again and found it deep in a packet of my travel bag. As I settled into a seven hour wait for my flight, I lingered in gratefulness and delight.