Jan stayed with a friend my last night in Colorado, so I had the house—and her cat—to myself.
I nursed my hurt with sweet tea and tater tots, waiting to get good and tired.
I fiddled with their remote, possibly breaking it, and finally got one channel in.
I taught the cat new tricks.
I was waiting without knowing it.
The call came just before 1am.
DR: Hi Chase, I’m Dr with (hospital). I’m calling about Lee.
ME: My father.
DR: … Correct. We have you listed as his Power of Attorney.
DR: So he’s being moved to the ICU—he’s had a need for increased oxygen, and we put him on the BiPAP but he needs more so—
ME: So ICU will need to monitor.
ME: But you’re not intubating yet.
DR: … That’s correct. Now I have a note here that he wants a limit—
ME: 24 hours, yup.
DR: And you’re aware that’s not really enough time—
ME: Oh, I am. But here’s the thing: yesterday my limit was three days; today he said no intubation ever. I had to fight with him to get him to agree to one day. So we’re not starting that clock unless we need it… and we’ll jump off that bridge when we have to.
DR: Okay, well… we’re sending him to the ICU now and let’s hope they can do something more than we can with just the BiPAP.
DR: I’ll have them keep you informed.
ME: Thank you.
I slept. This surprised me—though it shouldn’t have, given the week I’d had.
I texted Kenny the unit change, and the reason for it.
He replied: Hope he is doing ok.
I packed for my return and checked on my father by phone throughout the morning, receiving alarming reports of his condition… but absolutely no reports of visitors—I asked.
I fed and played with the cat, then sat with her in the window seat and waited for my Lyft. She watched me with accusing eyes—Adam is a pilot; she knows what packing looks like and wasn’t fooled by my promises and treats.
Just as I was pulling into the airport, I got another call.
KENNY: Hey, are you still… are you back in St. Louis?
ME: (watching airplanes take off above) No… I’m still here.
KENNY: Oh. Okay.
ME: What’s up?
KENNY: Well… Did your dad sign the paperwork?
ME: (has minor heart attack)
ME: (remembers contract from funeral home) Yup, signed and faxed back to the funeral home. All taken care of.
KENNY: Okay, so he approved of everything.
ME: Yeeeess… Why?
KENNY: Well, Mark and I were talking…
ME: (flops back in seat)
KENNY: And he said he went by there yesterday to visit with Lee.
ME: Yeah, I know.
KENNY: … Oh.
ME: Go on.
KENNY: Well, he said they were talking about the funeral arrangements and all that and he said he was joking with Lee—and now I don’t think this was a very funny joke, but… you know—and he said, “Do you want to be on top or bottom?”
ME: (rolls eyes)
KENNY: And he said Lee got that real mean glare he gets and he was furious. Said he didn’t want a military funeral, didn’t want to be buried at the base, that he never wanted any of that.
ME: (exasperated) Kenny! You were there—you heard him on the phone. You talked to him yourself!
KENNY: I know, that’s what I said! So… that’s a lie, right?
ME: Yuh. And I don’t know why he keeps doing this.
KENNY: Okay, well… I mean, it’s all done now so I say let’s just leave it. It’s planned, it’s done.
KENNY: I just wanted to know what that was about. You know. I mean, I guess I can ask him again—
ME: Kenny, stop it. Now every time someone mentions Marsha or the funeral he starts rubbing his chest. Yesterday we planned the thing and Mark made some stupid jokes and now he’s in the ICU and you want to go in there and—
KENNY: Okay! Okay, I won’t!
ME: I don’t know what’s going on with Mark—
KENNY: Well, it doesn’t matter. Like you said, it’s done.
ME: Y’all planned a lovely service. Just… let it be.
KENNY: So you’re leaving today?
KENNY: When are you coming back?
ME: When I can. Look, I gotta go—we’re pulling up to my terminal now.
KENNY: Oh so you’re—
ME: I’ll talk to you later! (hangs up)
DRIVER: (cannot get rid of me fast enough)
I fumed all the way down the escalator to the TSA line until I couldn’t take it anymore and called Husband to update him. While I was on that call, Dad’s lawyer beeped through. Suspicious timing, much? She just wanted to get my correct name and birthdate for the changes Dad wanted to make to the will. Exasperated, in a public place, and ultimately giving a number of fucks equal to or less than zero, I gave her what she wanted and switched back to ranting at my spouse instead of letting him work.
I ranted all the way through the (very long) DIA TSA line—side note, Pre-Check is sooo worth it and I swear to myself every time I fly that I’m totally going to spring for it before my next trip but this time I really mean it—right up until I was about to start through security and needed my phone as a boarding pass.
Which basically meant everyone else in the line hated Mark as much as y’all do, and got an extra dose of “FUCK KENNY!” that you lot haven’t really picked up on yet. I don’t know, maybe I’m not venting properly?
Anyway, I got up to the first agent and, smiling, presented my phone to his scanner.
AGENT: (blandly) ID please.
ME: (turns beet red) I… just… (digs through purse)
ME: You can go ahead of me, ma’am, so sorry, I just need to… I’m better than this, I swear. I just…
AGENT: (passive-aggressively) PLEASE HAVE YOUR IDENTIFICATION AND BOARDING PASS OUT AND READY, PEOPLE!
ME: (snarling) I KNOW!
ME: I just… I’m having kind of a rough day, alright?
ME: (pulls out ID, thrusts it at him) Here.
AGENT: (scans ID)
ME: We good?
ME: (lifts chin, continues on)
OTHER PASSENGERS: (offer me their place in line)
ME: (holds back tears)
Yeah, I got the pat-down.
And then I cleverly maneuvered myself onto a “better” seat on possibly the worst flight in the history of aviation. We’ll call it the Screaming Baby Flight, since I think that’s how it was booked. For anyone who is interested in never using this system, here is how it works:
- Book cheap-ass ticket where your seat will be assigned at check-in
- Get distracted by father’s “I’m ready to die” tantrum and miss first hour of 24-hour check-in window; get assigned truly awful middle seat near rear of plane.
- Beg gate agent for better row, preferably a window seat; get assigned window seat so far back it might actually be the toilet.
- Spend next twenty minutes stalking the app—gate agents must release a seat in order to assign passengers to a new one—and be ready to pounce on a better one when it becomes available
- Congratulate self on “better” seat acquisition on this completely booked flight.
- Spend two-and-a-half hour flight next to pair of unwashed hippies who spill popcorn all over you, take off their Tevas in order to check their toenails, and crack open a Rockstar (possibly the most pungent of canned beverages) then leave it on the tray without ever taking a sip.
- Seriously consider biting hippies when they turn judgmental stares on you for ordering wine on Screaming Baby Flight.
- Actually howl in frustration when hippies don’t see any reason to get up when it’s time for our row to deplane, since—and I’m quoting here—what’s the rush, you know?
Which is how I found myself at my connecting gate, standing before yet another agent, with no dignity left in any part of my body—I’d checked. Another passenger had already warned me that there would be no help at this gate until just before the flight, and that everyone at this airport was supremely unhelpful, but I was still picking popcorn out of my bra and had nothing left to lose.
ME: Hi. I’m on the St. Louis flight and I know you’re not in pre-flight yet but I need help.
AGENT: Okay… I—
ME: I’m just coming back from Denver. I was there to take care of my father who’s in the hospital with end-stage COPD and arrange my stepmother’s funeral. Actually, I didn’t know about the funeral, but she died while I was there, so…
AGENT: I’m so sorry.
ME: Yeah. Oh, and it turns out she hated me. Truly. Her last wish was that I never have any contact with or knowledge of my father or his condition. But I sat there and planned her funeral with her three real children who (surprise!) also resent and dislike me. I did this for my father, to keep him from worrying and to keep him believing in the myth of one big happy family, which we are not. And then I got a call that he’s back in the ICU but I still have to go home because I’ve got a ticket and a life that needs me to get back to it, you know?
AGENT: (nods, wide-eyed)
ME: And for all this, my reward was to be seated on the Screaming Baby Flight, next to an unwashed man who spilled popcorn all over me and his wife who judged me for ordering wine and fed him the popcorn.
ME: (lifts hand) Now. None of this is your fault. But I’m telling you anyway to better explain what’s going to happen next.
ME: I’m going to take out my credit card (taps wallet) and hand it to you. And you’re going to swipe it for whatever amount seems reasonable to you, in exchange for whatever upgrade you can manage. (magnanimously) I am also prepared to beg.
AGENT: … Is Comfort Plus okay?
ME: (smiles) That would be fine. (slips out card)
AGENT: Oh honey. Put that away.
ME: (gratefully) Thank you.
AGENT: (looks down) Do you need a new boarding pass, or—
ME: (waves phone) Got the app.
AGENT: (nods) That’s the best way. You’re all set. New seat is ##
ME: Thank you.
AGENT: (sympathetically) It… It gets better.
ME: (wryly) Let’s hope.
That settled, I was free to wander—pondering the mysteries of an airport with a bourbon store that sells everything but bourbon—and update Husband.
And, as always, be weird as fuck in front of strangers. Because my readership isn’t quite where I’d like it to be, so I’ve got to get people talking about that lunatic they saw stumbling around concourse B with her phone glued to her face.
ME: Did you know that alcohol is more effective at altitude?
HIM: I did know that.
ME: Because they started making those little bottles big. About two glasses. And I was maybe ⅓ of the way into it when I realized my hands are… amazing.
ME: they were like, heavy but also really light, and they can touch things! (sighs) It’s worn off now, though, but at least I’m still de-stressed. I don’t even care about Fucking Mark.
HIM: That’s good! … I don’t even know what he’s trying to do.
ME: Meh. Who cares. Get this: the doctor called me to update while we were landing, so clearly I’m super in-the-loop. And Dad has been asking them to update me!
HIM: That’s really good!
HIM: So much for Mark’s thing about how he doesn’t want you involved.
ME: No, Mark’s thing is that Marsha wouldn’t. Didn’t. But you know what? Marsha’s dead.
CASHIER: (stares at me)
ME: Can I get a… hmm… Ooh, a yogurt parfait, please?
CASHIER: Mhmm… (fills order, never taking eyes off me)
ME: (to Husband) And you know what else? I think the wine is still working, because that’s the first time I’ve been able to say that without tearing up. She’s dead.
CUSTOMERS BEHIND ME: (stare, alarmed)
ME: (to cashier) Thank you! (to Husband) Hey, and I just got a yogurt thing for a reasonable price. At the airport! So… you know… my day’s looking up!
 Why are other people’s televisions always so complicated?
 So that’s how it works. Good to know.
 Technically true.
 Yeah, sorry Kenny but you’re not as sneaky as you think you are. Neither are the idiot brothers. All that “so are you going right back to the hospital?” questioning… And by the way, I got caught in traffic and stopped for gas, so they were cutting it pretty fuckin’ close.
 Like I said?
 WHEN IT’S FREE, BITCH!
 Everyone remembers that he designs airplane parts to keep innocent people from being crushed by a fiery ball of death and blue water, right? Because the irony was totally lost on me that day.
 Some of you may have seen this photo; now you know the story behind it. Because yes, the flight attendant not only kept the wine coming (special trips to check on me, etc) but also handed over the little pin the first time she stopped by. I smiled when I saw them, said I didn’t know they still handed those out.
She leaned in.
“We don’t really,” she whispered, “but I heard you’ve had a rough time of it and… I wanted to make you smile.”