boy on a plane

Yesterday was the end of a short week’s holiday in Florida. After tearful goodbyes to Calvin’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins we were dropped at the airport curb.

When we reached security a nice man in a neat blue TSA uniform greeted us and immediately calmed our nerves with patience and reassuring words. The sparkle in his eye matched the stud in his ear as he passed discs of cotton over Calvin’s battery of medicines that I had stuffed into a one-gallon zip-lock bag. “Is your son an epileptic?” he gently asked. “Yes, he has epilepsy,” I replied. As he continued examining Calvin’s paraphernalia he mentioned that he had been hit by a car when he was seventeen and began having seizures. The phenobarbital he was put on, he said dolefully, made him into a teenage zombie for several years. I knew exactly what he meant.

As we approached the gate we saw a handsome highschooler in a wheelchair who was traveling by himself. The four of us boarded the plane first and were seated behind the bulkhead, Calvin and I on one side, Michael and the boy on the other. No sooner than I had buckled him in Calvin started screaming bloody murder, his feet kicking marks onto the side panel, his arms lurching out grabbing fistfuls of my hair and yanking. The origin of this manic behavior is difficult to know. Is over-stimulation, discomfort or excitement? No one knows. My gut tells me it's the drugs and/or preseizure flurry. I decided to feed Calvin his walnut snack early trying in vain to calm his crazies.

Across the aisle Michael and the boy chatted. The boy explained that he had been eight weeks premature, had cerebral palsy, and was born missing half of his brain. He spoke in a slow, deliberate manner, a slight thoughtful pause before everything he said, his words round and full. He told us he had seizures and that he was taking a drug that Calvin had also tried when he was just two.

I stretched an arm across the aisle and gave the boy one of my business cards, the one with a photo of Calvin and me on the front, my mission statement and blog address on the back. We agreed to become friends on Facebook. He told us that he loved to read and write. Michael shared some photos on his ipad but Calvin was a magnet. So as they passed the time talking of swimming, photography and books, the boy craned his neck often to watch our son.

At one point the boy noticed the exasperation on my face having to deal with my screaming child. He asked if it was difficult to raise Calvin. Michael replied with total candor and said yes. He saw me try to quell Calvin’s shrieks. “Poor little guy,” he remarked with the purest of empathy, “he can’t help it.” I wanted to cry.

The jet pulled up to the gate and Calvin walked hand-in-hand with me up the gangway so very well, I thought, he’d be having a seizure soon. As we waited for the boy to be wheeled up by a skycap we saw his mother standing patiently, the boy's sweet features mirrored in her face. We introduced ourselves and talked briefly about our encounter with her son and the epilepsy he shared with Calvin. Just then the boy emerged from the hallway, his long thin arms outstretched like an albatross with a huge smile that said, “Mommmmmm.” At this my dammed tears finally cascaded down my face. I quickly brushed them away with the back of one hand, the other holding Calvin’s as he leaned affectionately against my legs wanting to be picked up.

photo by Michael Kolster


  1. Christy, I love these moments of human connection that you post about. There's no cure for the pain, but it's nice to have moments of comfort. Sending you lots of love...

  2. That boy is my brother, Zachary. He was on his way back from visiting family in Jacksonville. Zach sure has a way with people and I'm proud that he touched your life. Zach has come a long way in his 17 years and I hope that that echoes true for your son. I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to post this blog on my facebook account as well. Very touching story.

  3. dear mike,
    do i mind you sharing on your facebook page???!!! i would LOVE it. any time you feel compelled please share. we need to raise awareness. perhaps i will friend you on facebook, too.
    thank you so much for your kind words.
    take care,