“On behalf of the crew of America West flight 820, I’d like to welcome you to Boston. At this time you may turn on your cell phones.”
There’s a general rustling about in the cabin as passengers unbuckle their seat belts and find their cell phones. I turn mine on and the message waiting tone sounds immediately. It’s from Tom, my 15 year old son.
“Hi Mom. Dad had to leave on a business trip today, so I’m at your house. I’ll see you when you get home.”
It’s 8:30 pm. I’m tired after a long day of travel. First, a two hour drive to Phoenix, then a two hour wait at the airport, followed by a five hour flight to Boston. I’m tired…very tired. I’m also very happy to be back in my part of the world. All in all it was a challenging week in Sedona, as I attempted to let go of thoughts and emotions that were clinging to me like barnacles on a rusty old barge. Yes, I do feel like a rusty old barge at the moment.
It turns out that combining a spiritual retreat with the ending of a relationship that never really began is not a good way to use up your vacation time.
My phone rings. This time it’s my oldest son Ben.
“Where are you?” he says. Ben is a man of few words. ‘Hello’ doesn’t seem to be one of them.
“We just landed. I’ll be off the plane soon. Where are you?” I ask, praying he’s at least close to the airport, hoping he hasn’t forgotten to pick me up.
“I’m here. I’m at the baggage claim.”
Ten minutes later I find Ben.
“Hi Mommy”, he says in a silly, sheepish voice. Then he hugs me the way a twenty year old man/boy hugs his mother…reluctantly. As if to make up for his lack of enthusiasm he offers to take my heavy backpack.
“Thanks”, I say. “Wait here; I’ll go find my bag.”
Standing at the carousel, watching the endless stream of black suitcases, all the same shape and size as mine, it occurs to me it’s time to buy new luggage…in an outrageous color, or at least personalized in some way. Perhaps bumper stickers would do the trick. Why don’t people put bumper stickers on their suitcases? Maybe there’s a market for that. I’m imagining the stickers people used to put on their steamer trunks – all the far off end points of their journeys, or dreamed of destinations. I think of my travels in life, really all of our travels in life. Would there be a market for a suitcase sticker for middle aged single parents that says “To hell and back”?
My daydream is interrupted by my ringing cell phone. It’s Tom again.
“Where are you?” he wants to know.
“I’m waiting for my bag. We’ll be home within an hour.” I tell him.
“Well, I’m really hungry”, he says.
“You haven’t had dinner yet?” I ask.
“No, I was waiting for you. And I don’t think there’s anything here to eat. Could you pick up a pizza on the way home?”
“Everything will be closed by the time we get home.”
“I’m really hungry, Mom”, he says.
“Ok, I’ll think of something.”
Just then Ben walks up and asks “What’s for dinner? There’s nothing in the house.”
I take a deep breath, and answer in a voice that attempts to be calm and centered, but probably ends up sounding rather shrill. “I haven’t been home for ten days. It’s nine o’clock at night. I’m exhausted. I can’t find my suitcase. And you expect me to be cooking dinner tonight?”
The woman standing beside me takes her eyes off the carousel long enough to catch mine, and smiles. She must have children.
In the end, we all go out to dinner. The boys entertain me with stories and jokes and silliness. I ask them what they would have done for dinner if my flight had been cancelled. “Don’t worry Mom”, they reassure me, “We’ve seen enough episodes of Survivor Man on the Discovery Channel. We could have made it for days on dry Cheerios, and even built a shelter with the cardboard box if the house burned down.” It’s good to know they are so self reliant.
Days later, Tom asks as casually as possible, “So, how’d it go with that guy in Sedona?”
Tom knows "that guy's" name, but referring to him as "that guy" keeps him at a safe distance. So far, he is not a real person in Tom's world, just a voice on the other end of the daily phone calls to his mother. The question he's asking is partly about whether or not "that guy" will become part of his reality.
Just as casually I reply “Oh, that didn’t work out. It’s over.”
He pats me on the back and says “Well, we all knew that would happen. The fact that he lives 2,600 miles away should have been a clue.”
I pause for a moment, thinking about everything Tom is saying with those two statements. He and his siblings have discussed this, obviously. Ick. A variety of emotions get tossed around between my semi-broken heart and my heavily bruised ego. Regret, longing, despair, disappointment, embarrassment, anger, despair again just in case I needed some more of that. There is probably something wise I could say here, some explanation, some defense. Perhaps this would be a good time to talk about relationships. Who am I kidding? I’m not ready for that.
“Actually, when we were 2,600 miles apart, we got along great. When we were in the same room…not so great.” This is the best I can do, and closer to the truth than any other explanation I've tried to come up with since.
Tom gives me a big hug. I’m grateful his hugs are not yet reluctant. Maybe they never will be.
“I love you, Mom”, he whispers in my ear. “You’re the best.”
He breaks the embrace, clears his throat and asks, “So, what’s for dinner?”