I’m standing up on the plane in the half stance one does as they wait for the aisles to clear. I have to stand like this, instead of sitting and waiting for my turn to depart my aisle, because I have to let the people behind me know that there’s a goddam order to things and they are not allowed to step ahead of me in that order. A few aisles ahead of me is the tight-faced humorless broad, on the flight with two kids and a frowning middle aged sap. She keeps readjusting her hair on top of her head in the sloppy fashion women go for. When done well, it sits up there, balanced and always threatening to fall down, some magic trick of beauty, the equivalent of girls with legs that look good no matter what they’ve got on their feet.
This broad, though, she’s not doing any magic. She’s squinting all around, and in between gripping her child’s shoulder meat, she turns her claws to her hair to pile it, let it down, and pile it again.
“I swear to gawd, Steven,” her voice is like a lawn-mower that wakes you up at 6 a.m., “if you don’t get this brat away from me, I swear, I am going to kill myself.”
I wonder if she means it. I wonder if she’s the suicidal type. It’s more likely, if she’s announcing in front of a planeful of people that nearly being in the presence of her child will lead her to a premature end, that she’s not going to kill herself. She’s more the sort that kills the spirit. Then again, I’ve been on this plane for 6 hours and I am not exactly feeling very fond of her child, either. So, maybe she’s right. Maybe I should put in a word on behalf of the rest of us so that kid understands that if you’re going to run the aisles of an airplane, hitting people in the knees and arms with your stupid toy airplane, you might then have to live with knowing that everyone on that flight went home and ate a bullet.
Off of the plane, as we wait for the bags, I watch this woman and her child and her husband. I’m thinking about you. I’ve been thinking about you all week, since I got a text message telling me that you’d overdosed on pills. I found out later that you did it on purpose. The rent was due, you had no way to pay it, and you loved people who didn’t love you enough. I went out that night, saw our friends, listened to some people tell jokes, cried my head off and felt rotten because, much as I understood how sad it was that you’re dead, I also felt like you escaped.
The woman’s husband is standing with the luggage cart, and the kids are darting around the cart like kids will do. Husband’s face is the sort you could never describe. He could get away with any crime, because his face is too boring to remember. Even as I am looking at him, I am forgetting him. One of the kids finally falls down, and I see a few smiles on the faces of people who had aisle seats. Even as the kid bawls out, the husband leans on the luggage cart, staring at the baggage claim, willing it to begin spitting out our molested belongings.
Nobody helps this kid. The mother adjusts her hair, glares down at him, says something shrewd about telling him he’d fall. The other kid is busy staring at an iPad, poking her finger at whatever Dora the Explorer type game keeps a child occupied at 1 a.m. in an airport.
Whenever I show people your photo, they say “What a loss.” I can tell they don’t just mean it in the way that you tell someone you’re sorry for the loss of their 98 year old great aunt. You were a beautiful girl, and I know that’s what they’re talking about. And I think it’s probably clear in all of our minds that you weren’t a dick. People who kill themselves aren’t usually assholes, for some reason.
And the thing about that kid, and the thing about all of us, is that we know if we run around, we’re probably going to fall. If we smoke a bunch of meth, screw a bunch of people, waste days hidden away, our lives will fall apart. People have told us all about it since our ears started to work. So, I guess you weren’t surprised when you were sitting in your apartment, making the decision to throw a bunch of pills in your stomach. Shit went the wrong way for you, and you were either bored or exhausted or both.
When I was crying at that party, everyone thought I was crying because I thought I should have saved you. They all said they wish they knew you felt that way. C even said that you’d told him you felt that way, and he got sick of hearing it. I never guessed. The last time I saw you you’d stayed the night in my bed. You gave me a massage, you watched videos all night, and in the morning you drew me a picture, then I gave you some sunglasses and you hit the road. You wouldn’t have made it very high on my list of possible friends to be dead in a matter of months. I was crying at that party because when I heard you were dead I felt relieved for your sake. I was crying at that party because what did it mean about how I feel about life that I was relieved for your sake?
The tight faced woman with the not-magic hair pile and her two kids and her not-memorable husband pile were the first to get their luggage. They ambled out, pushing past the car service vultures and into air that felt like the inside of a sickly lung. The little girl broke into a run, nearly getting herself smashed by a taxi, and, as a result, nearly having her arm pulled off by her mother. I wonder, if she died just then, if I would feel relieved for her as well. And then I hoped that I could get back to not thinking about this stuff sometime soon.