We pass wet roofs and flying birds. Construction workers wait for trains in big boots while an Armageddon sunrise, blue and pink, washes over JFK. I’m going home for Christmas. Going home to what, I don’t know. My brother just told me he’s staying in Colorado with his friend’s family. My dad is going to camp in Death Valley with Carl, his friend from the 2nd grade. My nice grandparents died out a long time ago and the last one who didn’t matter that much anyway died three Christmases ago.
This is Christmas now.
The airport is filled with parents herding children. Teenagers drag their feet against marble floors reflecting morning light, their faces marred with that appropriately sullen and irritated look that will blight them until the hormones balance out when they graduate high school.
There are holiday wreaths and plastic garlands, a token menorah plugged into an electrical outlet and hidden behind a Christmas tree for good measure. Some Taylor Swift rip-off sings “Merry Christmas” while I try to find a bag of salted pistachios. My dad used to eat pistachios. The floor of his diesel F150 was littered with shells, next to lost Jujubes and strings of chewing tobacco.
The stupid things you remember.
I’m sitting in the familiar discomfort of a black vinyl chair. They mispronounce my name. “Bahn” like ban. “Bahn” like book ban or smoking ban. I look up at the screen where half of my name is listed under the cleared list. I feel myself primed to make a small scene. Cleared? I already have a ticket. Why would I need to be cleared? I brace myself for the worst: an oversold flight, some dry-toothed American Airlines agent asking me if I would like to forfeit my ticket for a $5 in-flight drink coupon.
“I’m Jennifer Bahn,” I say. “I already have a ticket.” And I pass her my carbon-copy-thin piece of paper.
“Well, we’ve changed your seating assignment.”
I stand at the ready. She passes me a business class hardcopy on blue paper with black letters.
There is a God.
I board the plane and organize my things. A flight attendant takes my coat right as I’m about to cram it above my luggage in the overhead compartment. “Would you like me to hang this up for you?” she asks. I’m used to sleeping it over my head, creating a wheezing-cough-free-bubble from the masses crammed around me in steerage.
The disgusting things you’d rather forget.
I am handed a menu for Business Class Brunch. I didn’t even know they served brunch on planes. I can choose from a selection of corned beef hash with cream cheese and chives, a seasonal fruit appetizer, or cereal with fruit and berries. Later on in my in-flight service, I am to be offered a light refreshment paired with freshly baked on-board cookies. Oh, that’s what that torturous delicious smell is that wafts back towards row 27 right after my ill thought out snacks have been all but depleted.
The plane boards and the people sit down and I am not nervous about crashing because when I am in business class, I feel important and invincible. Nothing bad happens to people in business class – we get brunch and cookies and fresh hot towels. Planes don’t crash when I am in business class. Oh, no, not today they don’t.
Over the course of five hours, I eat food that isn’t that good and movies that are equally unappealing but my legs can stretch into the generous abyss in front of me. I have a thick blanket made of something other than old red felt and access to a bathroom used by only 5% of the plane’s in-flight population. And in that space and time of relative comfort, I forget that I wish I had a real family with drunk uncles and cousins I may or may not like, I forget about wanting to marry into a gigantic family with 25-person dinners and weird histories and bad recipes, I forget that Christmas is just going to be me and my mom at a dinner table, eating by ourselves. I look over at the mother next to me with her well behaved child and think, I can’t wait for my brother to accidentally have one of those, just so we can have Christmas again.