I’m fifteen minutes early and I’m nervous. I don’t know why-I have no reason to be. You’re my dad. I’m half you. We look alike. When I’m really drunk or really angry, I have the same Long Island accent as you (the one I took four years of phonetics classes to get rid of). But we’re very different people, and for many years we’ve been strangers. I’ve been nervous all day about your visit. Are you going to like my apartment? Will we have anything to talk about? Will you criticize my driving? Have I lost or gained weight since we last saw each other in July? Have you? Are you aging? I know you’re aging. How is your hip? I know it’s bad-you’ve been talking about having to have the first side done again. Are you jet lagged (yes, it’s 8:30pm as I start to write this and you’re already asleep). I’m standing in a crowd of strangers feeling completely out of place, like I don’t belong. Like everyone knows that this is my first time doing this. Am I doing it right? It’s an open-ended question with so many possibilities.
I’m keeping my sunglasses on, because I feel like I might cry. I’m not sure why, but the airport is always a place of mixed emotion for me. I’ve learned to numb my feelings about it over the years, but the airport is a place where you find out if you’re loved. I travel so much for work and I am so used to arriving at a destination without having anyone care about me enough to come pick me up that I just choose not to feel. I see people around me. They feel things. They see their loved one and race down the escalator to embrace. They kiss. They have someone help them with their bag. They’re squealing with joy. And me. I’m just there with my roller bag, looking for the nearest exit, hoping that no one will notice me. No one does. It’s a blessing and a curse.
I’m thinking of the time I flew home for Christmas a couple of years ago. I came home after an afternoon of drinking with my coworkers. It was heavy drinking and I was almost too drunk to get on the plane. But I made it and I got off the plane fully sober and as I wheeled my bag down the hallway, I didn’t expect to see anyone- we never talked about you picking me up from the airport or maybe we did and I forgot, but there He was, wearing his typical Dad outfit-generic white running sneakers, dad jeans and a sweatshirt. I could spot him from a mile away. He was smiling so big, his face lit up, his sharp, pointy fang incisors there in their glory. It was unmistakeably him. He looked so happy. So innocent, like it was pure joy that drove the car. It was so comforting. I was so glad I sobered up on the plane ride over so I’d remember that moment forever. For once I had someone there for me when they didn’t have to be. That’s the Darwinism of the airport-nobody has to pick you up. There are cabs and vans and trams and drivers. Someone chooses to pick you up from the airport. They choose you. I was one of those people who is loved enough to have someone waiting for them when they arrive.
I’m feeling very grown-up at the moment, like knowing that picking you up from the airport is the right thing to do. I feel older. Or maybe it’s that I’ve waited a long time for someone to make the effort to come to me-in so many relationships, I do most of the work. I guess part of me expected to move to LA and be alone for a long time-who would fly 3,000 miles to see me? You did. You put in the effort-you got on a plane and you made it happen, and for this I am so grateful. I’m standing in a group of people but totally alone as we wait for Our Person to arrive. A plane must have just landed-there are so many people coming down the escalator. Couples meet, family members hug, and I’m waiting for you. I know you’re in a place you’ve never been and for a moment I begin to panic-did I have the wrong time? Did I have the wrong time zone? Am I at the right gate? Did you miss your flight? Did I miss a call? Did I leave my cell phone in the car? My mind is racing and I’m nervous. The waiting, the wondering, the worrying. It’s changed me and I am reminded that this is part of love. This weird, neurotic state is part of love because you’re concerned about the other person’s well-being and for a moment I think This is what it must be like to be a parent, except you do it all the time. It’s been so long since I’ve had to think about someone else that I’ve almost forgotten how to, and this reminds me that I want someone to love, someone to worry about, someone to keep safe.
Just as I’m about to start digging through my purse to find my phone, I see them. They’re in the distance, but they’re unmistakable. Your generic white running shoes begin to descend on the escalator and before I see the rest of you, I know you’re here and I feel a huge sense of relief. You made it. You’re safe. You’re here! You materialize and you’re looking around for Your Person- me. You’re looking left, right, around, everywhere but where I am, and I begin to wave, hoping you’ll see me and when you do, you look relieved, drop your bag, limp a few steps and put your arms out for a big hug.
Hi, Daddy. I’m so happy to see you.