touching down

From Tuesday:

A few rows in front of me an infant babbles and blows slobbery raspberries: Something Calvin has never done, I think. The Scottish folks across the aisle are traveling with their red-headed granddaughter: Something I will never do, I think. And then I feel my chest heave, my lip quiver and, with no power to control, the tears begin to silently gush. I don’t care if people see my torment, my twisted, sopping face a dead giveaway. I just don’t want them to ask me what is wrong. Please don’t ask.

Flying can be a lonely experience. Bustling shoulder to shoulder through rolling throngs, strangers crammed into a standing-room-only shuttle-bus, packed tightly into neat rows of seats like eggs in a stretch limo carton and yet feeling as though in a vacuum of sorts, the white noise of jet engines filling the space between ears and yet sucking the life out of souls.

For whatever reason, perhaps the heartbreaking bleat of the baby rows back, I think of the miscarriage I’d had before we got pregnant with Calvin. I was a mere eight weeks along but—even so—very, very happy, my inside ecstasy beaming outwardly. Though it was still early, I’d told my sister and mom when they’d come to visit. We were sitting in front of a rolling fire when Michael and I shared the news. A few days later, after having said that somehow I didn’t feel pregnant anymore, I found myself in a cold sterile room under harsh lights, my tiny dead fetus being scraped out with a knife. I’m convinced the child was a girl. Through curtains of tears and turbulence, I sit imagining her as Calvin’s big sister while a bad sci-fi movie rolls like Big Brother on miniature screens above the passengers’ heads. She’d have been strawberry blond with curls like her baby brother. She’d have been hella strong like her mama and smart like her dad. A pistol. Maybe we’d call her Ginger and she’d bring brilliance and light into our home, levity and hope. Most of all she’d be a companion—friend—to Calvin, who has nothing of the sort in his life besides the adults who care for him.

Here, buckled in my seat and reclined, my heavy legs throbbing from sitting too long, I feel the intense need to hug someone. But who? The wrinkly flight attendant with the bouffant hairdo? The scrawny kid in the next seat with buds plugged into his ears? Then, still sobbing, I go through my mind’s Rolodex and come to my friend Michelle whose son has Down syndrome. I recall what she had said the only time we’ve ever met: that she thanked God she’d had a second child. The image of us makes me want to call her thinking somehow she might know my regret, my sorrow, thinking perhaps she’d suffered, too, in those first few agonizing years. I think of all of my other friends with their happy, lucky kids, lucky lives, lucky futures, like the families on this plane. Then, with eyes closed, my friend Sarah’s shining face appears, one of only two other woman in the world I know who share the experience—the loss perhaps—of having an only child who is afflicted, disabled, wordless, whose health and future hang by a thread.

By now my eyes are dry and weary, my cheeks salty tight and stinging. I am missing Calvin whose being tucked into bed by his daddy right now; alone in his room, no big sister to kiss him goodnight, but happy, cozy and loved nonetheless. Soon I’ll touch down to see my sister and brothers, two of whom have no children, and I’ll wonder if they sometimes feel the absence of a life that could have been. I’ll see my mother whose two eldest sons are estranged from her and I’ll hope she no longer remembers them: too much pain. And I look forward to touching down again to see my sweet boy Calvin who might not even realize that I'd left.

photo by Michael Kolster


  1. Christy, a big hug for you from hong kong!
    - Jo

  2. thank you jo. been a while since i've heard from you.