on a jet plane

From yesterday:

The first time I set foot on an airplane I was seventeen years old. My parents took me to visit my sister who was living in the Virgin Islands teaching people how to scuba dive. I experienced a lot of firsts on that trip: traveled outside the continent; drank my first mixed cocktail (I think it might have been a daiquiri); watched my first movie screened from inside a jungle; learned how to scuba dive; collected and ate conch for the first time (and the last); weathered a hurricane; sweated in my sleep; belonged to the minority; seen my mother in shock after she’d been mugged; voiced anger at my dad; sat inside a car ankle-deep in rainwater.

Since then I’ve probably been on hundreds of flights for work and for leisure—to Istanbul and Indiana, Amsterdam and Athens, New Orleans and Nairobi, Cairo and Chicago, São Paulo and Salvador, New York and Nashville, Dallas and Dar es Salaam.

There was a time when we traveled a fair amount with Calvin—before the epilepsy—but taking him anywhere these days makes for a difficult preparation and journey and, once at our destination, we find ourselves in the company of a completely dependent kid without the aid of a nurse, without the luxury of long school days, often lacking the johnny-jump-up and absent a safety bed. So, though we used to travel cross-country with him, we don’t anymore, though perhaps one day we will.

Today I am headed to Los Angeles. It feels strange to wrestle the throngs headed west with me—the parents of shrieking babies, the waxy men and women who’ve put their faces under the knife, the irritable flight attendants, the svelte yoga chicks, the potbellied businessmen, the ill, the elderly, the pierced and tattooed, the electronically addicted, the preppy dudes in first class talking across the aisle about fairways and golf balls and caddies.

I see a mother with her boy who must be a few years younger than Calvin. My eyes linger on him waiting to see what he does next. He moves effortlessly—tetherless—from one airport gift shop display to the next. His eyes fix on objects, on his mother, then he asks her for candy. Words stream from his mouth in perfect syllables. She understands him. She knows what he wants, but denies him. The boy doesn’t melt into a tantrum, doesn’t flop onto the ground when she asks him to come. Instead, he floats and buzzes around her, quietly, like a faerie. She floats, too, unburdened, her hands free, her eyes on the gate ahead trusting that her son is flitting close behind.

Once seated, I open my book, The Reason I jump. It is written by a thirteen-year-old Japanese boy who has autism. He is telling me why kids with autism do what they do, and I feel I am reading about my boy Calvin, perhaps learning better how he ticks. The author is telling me that Calvin’s behavior isn’t his fault, and while I know that to be true, I need to be reminded. At once, I want to turn the plane around, haul ass back home, scoop Calvin up and kiss him all over—my floppy, wordless, legally blind, autistic, seizure-stricken, drugged up, hyper, developmentally delayed, precious boy. And it's an unsettling feeling to realize that no destination in the world will ever feel completely good and right as long as I know that Calvin can’t be there floating along beside me.

photo by Michael Kolster

No comments:

Post a Comment