The waiting area of Gate 42 is like standing in line at the post office – everyone has a package and somewhere else to be. Somewhere better.
A few hundred beleaguered bodies stand in more of a scatterplot than a line, facing the same direction, sharing the same exasperated sighs, and un-listening to the hysterical drone of cable news. The gate attendants, in their crisp, pleated navy blues, recite announcements to no one and everyone. It’s kind of amazing how they never make eye contact. Not once. Not with a single person.
Is anyone even here?
We’re all just staring at our phones, listening to our playlists, ignoring each other. We don’t make polite conversation because we don’t have to. Instead, we test our ethics on a micro scale, assessing what we would or wouldn’t do to cut the line, cheat the system, get ahead. We try to outsmart the gate agent by boarding with Group 2 instead of Group 6 because, really, who are we hurting? We all have tickets, right?
Our brains are three-pound, spongy panic rooms, sounding the alarm about what might happen if we get caught or if, despite our deviant efforts, there’s still not enough room overhead for our carry-on. But on the outside, we all look subdued and aloof like grazing cattle because a tell would betray our intentions.
Me, personally? I’m thumbing my ticket and thinking about you.
Not like that. Not longingly. Not romantically. Not with excitement. I stopped feeling that way a long time ago, but I didn’t tell you because I’m a bad guy.
And now, I’m stuck. Because after an estimated three hours and forty-seven minutes of time in the air, I’ll walk out the sliding glass doors at Arrivals where you’ll spring from the driver’s seat, leaving the car door open, and sprint for me. You’ll leap up to hug me with your full body, tangling yourself in my duffel bag straps.
You’ll dismount and grab first for my shoulders, then my face, then my biceps. You’ll smile until you glow, first from your mouth, then your face, then your whole body. You will have bothered to put makeup on, like you always do. You will look beautiful. Maybe too beautiful. Definitely too beautiful for such a bad guy.
You won’t know what I did.
That I let your calls go to voicemail the day your mom had surgery, just so I could flirt with the bartender at El Bote who doesn’t even speak English.
That I deliberately cut my hair after we FaceTimed and you said you loved it, even though I loved it too.
That I let the picture of us get dusty – the one where you’re wearing my Dodgers hat and those frayed jean shorts with your high-top Chucks, looking like an All-American goddess and leaning back onto the chain-link fence while I stand behind it staring at you like I did for four years of college.
That rather than cleaning the frame, I just stuffed it in the drawer next to my bed. The drawer with the unopened box of condoms.
The ghost-eyed gate attendants start calling groups over the loudspeaker, blatantly reading off titles of nobility in some mileage and money caste system. The status seekers love to drag their low friction roller bags, on their separate lane with a separate carpet, past the rest of us plebes, never making eye contact.
I board with Group 2, a fraud as always, and find my seat. Exit row, window. A little on the nose, but I could use the leg room.
You know what? Maybe it’s more what I didn’t do.
I didn’t bother. I didn’t try. I didn’t want it. I didn’t fight for it. I didn’t care.
I basically didn’t do anything; I let you do it all. And, bless your heart, you did. You did so much that you didn’t even notice what was missing. Like when a card falls from a magician’s sleeve, you couldn’t see it because you were trying not to see it. You want to believe in magic.
But magic isn’t real. This is all just an illusion, sweet thing. Which is why, despite your daughter-of-an-orthodontist’s smile and varsity volleyball body, your guilelessness is both the most beautiful thing about you and the thing that will one day tear you apart. Probably today. Talk about a dirty trick.
The disaffected flight attendants don’t have to stand in the aisles anymore, miming about seat belts and what to do in the unlikely case of a water landing. As the plane pulls away from the gate, they cue up a short safety video. I ignore everything the video says because it is overly cutesy and try-hard. Which also explains the last three months of our FaceTime calls.
You didn’t know that I could un-love you so easily. That the love we had, which was so colorful, so electric, so alive, could suddenly go dull and limp. That it could die.
We fly over nameless states, broken up by mountain ranges and rivers and the disturbingly geometrical quilt of industrial agriculture. I gaze out the window at no one and everyone, wondering what it’ll feel like to not say the three-word phrases like “I missed you” and “I want you” and “I love you.” What it’ll feel like instead to say two-word phrases like “I’m sorry” and “It’s over” and “I can’t.” What it’ll feel like to hear you ask one-word questions like “Why?” and “Why?” and “Why?”
I won’t have answers. I haven’t even thought about what they could be, what actually went wrong, and why it’s so easy to just be a bad guy. I won’t know how we should spend the other two days of this long weekend after I break your heart. I don’t know anyone else in this city anymore. I left it to find myself and, to be honest, haven’t found much.
Maybe I won’t tell you. Maybe we can just enjoy the weekend together. Maybe you’ll figure it out yourself next week. That you’re too good for me. That I’m just a bad guy. That magic isn’t real.
Maybe I’m doing you a favor.
I fold up my tray table, put my seat back to the fully upright position, and prepare for landing. Because, really, who am I hurting?