Terminal Thoughts, Breasts, and a Razorblade

I’m no Dolly Parton. I can’t sit in a bathroom and write a song for the immediate singing. (I watched a documentary explaining how she did that once.) I can’t flush out a final draft even if I was promised an opening night (I stopped counting the drafts of my memoir. I swear I’ll finish it one day). I can recognize a good story though and contemplate its many workings on the page. Please consider all stories drafted enough to share, but by no means final. There is no final Us, after all. 

My family and I are in the Greenville/Spartanburg airport, a woman about ten people in front of us in the security line seems to be flaunting her Chanel purse. I watch the bag travel from one broad shoulder to the next, before I notice her ripped, stonewashed jeans so tight, her calves bust out the bottom. Adidas running shoes and booty socks. Her waistline reminds me of Mark’s in college. It’s a swimmer’s build, super compact six-pack branching up into broad shoulders. She turns and her D cups appear like Barbie. She wears a cashmere cream sweater with a tan and white, winter jacket that meets at the waistline. The coat’s zippers drape the sides of either breast like a curtain. Cashmere’s hair is flawless. Her light brown highlights weave through a dark auburn mass of swirls that reach the middle of her back. Gucci sunglasses worn atop her head like a crown match her Chanel accessory, that’s hooked on her shoulder like a coat rack.  I see the edge of a garage tattoo on the inside of her wrist peeking through the bottom of her cuff. A Gemini astrological sign? I am too far away to be sure. It is her turn for the first security checkpoint where they scan your driver’s license.  

I can see through the first glass shield the double-take from the security guard. His look darts quickly from her license to her full make-up eyes. She pulls her covid mask down to reveal a beautiful, Covergirl face, eyeliner chiseled as strong as her jawline. I focus on the next security guard set to handle her shoes, her jacket, her purse stuffed with make-up to define and draw more lines. Everything goes in the plain grey bins to float down the conveyor belt. She is gracious, nodding, agreeable, to whatever he’s saying. Somehow at the split in conveyor belts, and body detectors, my daughter and I end up aligned with Cashmere’s belongings and I hear her call to be frisked. My ears perk as I glance in her direction, bending to put my boots on, nodding to my own guard that yes, those are our bags that he’s about to check. 

“At your convenience, meet me at the examining table, on the other side of the glass.” He says to me after I nod. 

At my convenience? My sarcasm kicks in, Where the heck am I gonna go? Jennifer hasn’t gone through the detector yet. I grab my bag and motion for Kody to head where the man said as I eavesdrop on the female security guard talking to Cashmere. 

“It’s protocol. We have to wait for another female security to check you.” 

I look at Cashmere who is collapsing her D cups and saying something while shaking her head. She keeps her smile even though the mask covers her nose and halfway down her neck. Her eyelashes reflect the artificial ceiling watts. Jennifer rushes beside us and I put her shoes at her feet, one lands on her foot, but she doesn’t budge. Her stripe wool socks stay planted as she stares through the glass. She is pissed and mumbling: 

“I bet it’s that metal card I got from the national parks… ruler, opener, chisel. It’s shaped like a credit card. I’ve had it in there forever. Oh, the first aid kit. What’s he gonna find there, huh?”

He’s digging through the tin box we travel with for the Neosporin and Band-Aids. There’s a razor blade at the bottom neither of us was aware of. It gets confiscated. Jennifer realizes her shoes are at her feet and slips them on. When she bends down, I motion to the open door down the hall to our left. 

“They are frisking the transgender woman,” I say. 

“I didn’t see. I mean, I had no…Oh, dammit.” 

Okay, so we’re on the same page, I think to myself. If something needs to be said, we will say it. 

I watch as another female enters the open room. I can’t see anything for ten seconds. Suddenly Cashmere’s arm emerges, pulling on her coat. She nods down to the guards’, and briskly passes behind me tossing her purse over her shoulder. A mixture of sunflower and plumeria enters my nose. Cashmere looks right at me; we nod a silent agreement.  I look around at the faces swarming the conveyor belts, stacking and rolling the grey bins. Nobody seems threatened by the woman with the inflatable breasts or my family with the real razorblade.  

We board and land in Houston for our connecting flight. After a two-hour uneventful layover in the airport, Jennifer, Kody, and I board Southwest flight 935 to LAX. As we walk, we’re trying to explain to Kody why we have to pass empty seats “to all sit together—we need three to sit together” finally landing on 25, the FED aisle if you will. I wrote the following story longhand in my orange journal, but I think it’s worth typing here:

I want to tell a story about the Black man in the red, Houston NBA cap with a slender build and thin silver-framed glasses. I’ll call him Red. He’s traveling with a young person. When I see the duo from my row, 25, seat D, I assume they’re brothers. I tell the kid who I think is ten years old, “You can sit anywhere; just choose a seat.” I’m trying to be helpful. The last few people that pass mumbled about seat numbers and not being able to locate theirs. As far as I know, the boy is part of that group. He looks at me like: What am I supposed to do with this information? I’m just a kid.  So, I say it louder, but hold my eye contact with the boy. The older lady who I erroneously assume is his mother says, “I just sit anywhere?” I look up and tell her “Yes.” She plops down across the aisle next to me. Red then leans close to the boy’s ear and says, “Do you want the aisle or the middle seat?” Something about this interaction tells me he’s the parent, not the brother. The child chooses the aisle seat and takes the one in front of me. Over the loudspeaker, a flight attendant comes on and needs assistance from “whoever left their brown and silver bag to be checked at the front of the plane.” 

“Oh, shoot!” I hear Red say. He rings the bell and when the flight attendant comes, he asks, “Did the bags get checked? I need to get my laptop.” 

“Nope, not yet,” She answers. 

He takes off. I seriously don’t know how he got to the front of the plane and out of my sight completely. Everybody is seated and safety announcements are being made when Jennifer leans over and asks me, “Is he still not back?” I lean over to look down the aisle and see the back of the boy’s head doing the same. “Is he the reason we haven’t left?” Jennifer presses further. I again lean to look down the aisle. This time I stay that way for a bit pondering the various possibilities. I’m coming up empty when Red blows past the curtain in one leap, arms full of electronics, taking wide strides back to row 24. The vents are blowing the air so loudly, I must create an advantage to hear. I lean forward and press my forehead against the locked tray table, close my eyes and strain my ears.  

“I had to go all the way back to security,” Red says. 

“I had to put my chicken nuggets aside when I wondered why you were gone so long,” the child replies. 

“You got it! – Oh! You got four I see!” The flight attendant says appearing out of nowhere.

“Yeah, thank you. -Preciate you! It’s my work.” Red says to the flight attendant. Then, to his kid, “When we took out everything at the security check, all our electronics went into a separate bin, and I didn’t grab’em. I had to run back to security, grab all these electronics and then make it back to the plane. Can you see it? Negro runnin’ through the port arms full of electronics. Nah, nah..” He finishes by pushing up his glasses and wiping the beads of sweat that are pooling on his forehead.

“It took you a while. I was wondering. Even pushed my nuggets aside.” The child says before they both fall silent. 

I sit up straight and hit Jennifer’s arm, grabbing my heart I say, “I feel so relieved for him like a wave of genuine relief is washing over me.”

She leans so close to me that our Covid masks touch as she responds, “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear anything! The air is too loud!”

“Never mind,” I say directly into her ear, probably louder than necessary. 

The boy’s asleep on Red’s shoulder now. I can’t imagine what the boy was thinking before he fell asleep, but it took a lot out of him. 

When the lights come on after landing, I see the back of the ten-year-old first. I notice a pink spandex band under a cream-colored, World Series baseball cap. Wrists host a dozen rubber bracelets—the colorful kind that stand for something. I can’t read any of them. The child wears plain black jeans and a gender-neutral sweatshirt. I wonder why I had assumed this child was a boy when we first boarded. We come face-to-face again, me sitting and the child standing. This time, it’s the awkward plane exiting moment when half the travelers rush to stand with the energy of propelling their bodies forward, while the other half sit in wait. I look into the child’s face and smile, but my mask covers it. My brain computes all I have seen and heard and settles on youth. Simply youth, no girl or boy binary, just a young, innocent face traveling with a young parent who, like his offspring, wears brown skin like a dainty cloth. 

It’s tricky to gauge actions to show care for an unknown person. I get that. Nobody wants their sincerity misconstrued for creepiness. I guess my point is that love should be paying close enough attention to recognize if somebody is gonna need another person in their corner. Love should be knowing that you have people in your corner, people you haven’t even met. I think eye contact has that power.

Love should be about people radiating compassion, felt yet mysterious.  Stories can be like that, multiple drafts into a bigger picture of Us. 

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