Finding the grey darkness of the restroom comforting, I neglected to latch the door. The need to pee had overcome my desire to stay and comfort Tamara. Now I had an unexpected moment of solitude. A moment during which my mind went blank. My face stared back at me in the mirror, without really looking. Behind it my mind reeled, a status check winding away, a mental inventory. Was I prepared for what might come next?
My pockets bulged with supplies culled moments ago from my daypack: a purple anodized aluminum LED flashlight, a red bandanna, a packet of almond butter, a pill bottle with many types of medicine, my wallet, our passports, iPhone, earbuds.
What about my feelings? What was I feeling? Regret? No, no regret. Don't do that to me brain. Must not feel regret right now. But I thought of the kids and winced. Sadness filled me up as I realized I would not see the kids graduate and get older and do the stuff that kids do when they grow up. Their own sadness to lose me. Look at the bright side. They would be provided for (materially) in abundance and that thought caused a wave of gratitude washed over my nerves. Life insurance, yes. I hoped that Taylor would be smart enough to use our resources wisely and felt confident that she would. Shades of her developing maturity already show through where teenage angst and humor are flaking off the surface. She'd be fine without me, wouldn't she?
What about Liam? Round and round we go, every other weekend, mostly, where I pick him up and we get to exist in each other's presence for a while during which he doesn't seem to care that much about me, or anything really, and I can't seem to do anything about him not caring. Is it just because he's 14 and caught in the middle of a difficult custody battle? Would it hurt him less if I was gone forever? Or would he carry regrets about our relationship for the rest of his life? With a measure of shame I admitted to myself that even though those difficult issues might be over soon, new ones would take their place.
Out the door and back up the aisle. My fellow passengers are in their own worlds, many in varying states of distress and low-grade panic. An attendant pushed past, clutching her prayer beads. Only a few people in their seats going about their normal flight routine. The man across the aisle from me continued to read his book. Could he be that calm? Or resigned. There was no sense in standing in the aisle, so I sat down and put my arms around Tamara, one of the great, if not greatest loves of my life. She trembled a little bit, I assume holding on to hope things would be okay, but having trouble with the thought of not seeing her five year-old son Tenzin again. I would be her rock right now.
The rest of the time until we landed was filled with repetitive speculations about what would happen and admonitions from the flight crew to leave our belongings behind when evacuating and how to assume the crash landing position, arms above head, holding on to the seat in front of you, awaiting impact.
I turned to Tamara and told her that if a fireball was coming, she should face down and not inhale. I said this in all seriousness because I read it once, or maybe I imagined it, but it seemed wise and good advice. She nodded her agreement. If we survived the impact, neither of us would let the fireball take us.
I looked out the window and a plume of liquid was streaming out of one of those little cones that protrude from the rear of the wing. We were dumping a lot of jet fuel. To minimize the fire I suppose? Perhaps they were lightening the load to make the emergency landing easier.
As the wheels touched down my eyes welled up with gratitude for a lifetime of good fortune. Luck had not abandoned me after all. I will die someday, but not today! Elation gave way to feelings of pragmatic opportunism. What a great story to share! People will love it. I'm a survivor! Wait a minute, have I really accomplished so much in my life already that contemplating an early demise provoked only shrugs of resignation? Was it a defense mechanism?
I guess the only thing you can control in that situation is how you react, and for me it meant forcing myself to stay composed and calm. To help Tamara and others to cope. To make assurances. To look at the bright side.
Hey, think about it, at least the engine didn't explode, right? At least we weren't in the ocean, right? That's a good thing, isn't it?
And hoping that a smile hides your worry.