I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, stretched out my legs as far as the row of seats in front of me would allow, and precariously tilted the corner of my elbow above the small window of the plane. After sitting for so long, placing all of my appendages in acute, unfamiliar angles was the only action that seemed comfortable. “Just a few more minutes folks,” the competent pilot’s voice came over the loud speaker, “We’ve just got a little problem here connecting at the gate. They’ve called maintenance.” I slumped back down in my chair, my posture returning to the curved, introverted arc that it’s used to. I had more time to wait.
For the past week, I had been at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, learning about writing and meeting other writers. Attending a writing conference was a new experience for me, in addition to flying alone and attempting to navigate a new city. In the evening, I would Skype Jacob and the kids, their voices so close and so familiar, but somehow different and alluring and new, because I missed them terribly. As I watched them on the sometimes pixelated screen, Ellie’s curls became something from a storybook, Sophie’s dark eyes were illustrations from an elusive fairytale. I watched my family like a film or a story, peering in from the outside wondering how I had never seen them this way before. Upon signing off from the computer each night, I would smile somewhat sorrowfully. The corners of my mouth tilted upward, but my lips remained pinched with bittersweetness. After shutting the computer screen, I would sigh like I sigh after I’ve turned the last page of a book I didn’t want to end (or, in more likelihood, after one of my favorite sitcoms or dramas has just finished its series finale.) Is Parenthood really over? Wow, that show was good.
I craned my neck to see if the line in the plane was moving. Several people fired up their cell-phones, and I heard little bits of conversation float up and around me like monarch butterflies, or prayers. “Hi Shirley,” the young African-American girl said who was sitting next to me. “Yep, yep. They say they’re fixing something at the gate, I’ll be there soon.” From the row ahead of me, I heard similar exchanges. People called the ones they loved, saying things like, “Yep, I’m here. Yep, I should be soon now. Yeah- let’s just order a pizza for dinner. Mmm hmm, we flew over a thunderstorm, they said there would be turbulence but it wasn’t that bad.” I’m sure countless others sent texts to their people, saying things like “Landed” and exclamations like “I’m home!” A handful of others probably tweeted or posted their new location on facebook or twitter, announcing to whomever would listen that they had arrived.
I noticed the front of the line began to move, but I was back in row 34, so I had plenty of time to sit on the edge of my seat, re-situate the cinch-bag on my back, and plot out how I could grab my carry-on suitcase without causing too much distress. I made my way out of the plane, out of the terminal, out of the airport, probably passing hundreds and hundreds of people in the few short minutes of my journey out to “ground transportation.” The air from outside, filled with exhaust from taxis and trucks and Enterprise shuttle busses was not exactly refreshing, but it was relieving. I, along with thousands of others, had arrived.
I started waving like a lunatic upon seeing our gray mini-van, questioning myself, “Is that really it? That looks too clean!” I sat in the backseat with Ellie because I wanted to tickle her. I had only been gone four days, but I swear to you she was bigger and spoke in full sentences now. I poked her belly and she pulled my hair and sucked her toes to try and make me laugh. I held Jacob’s hand. When we returned home, Cohen came up from the basement, crying “Mama!” He hugged my waist fiercely, his head squishing against my tummy, his hair smelled like his sheets, not necessarily clean, but just like him. I found Sophie in the basement playing legos. I kissed her on the top of her head and she continued to build, and it was only about ten minutes later when she emerged from the basement, caught my gaze with her own, and said shyly “I missed you, mommy.”
They showed me my “welcome home” cards, Cohen’s in an unreadable cursive that I later discovered said “I missed you so much, I’m so glad you’re home,” Sophie’s a picture of a “a boat with a heavy circle on it where men are working so hard to shovel coal.” Ellie munched on an old chicken finger, toddling around the kitchen in circles. A few moments later, we piled on the floor all together. The big kids found my knees, Jacob found my back, and Ellie found my hair with her chicken-grease covered hands. Cohen reached out his arm toward his baby sister, and the circle was complete. I smelled their them-ness and squeezed them tight, sometimes even slapping their backs like my expressive Italian aunt in order to show the excess of my delight.
I was here, in the story, in the movie. Just like the thousands– if not millions– of people who had been away this day, this week, this year. Maybe the girl who had sat next to me had found Shirley, and the businessman in front of me had changed out of his suit to enjoy a pizza in his pajamas with his wife. We had returned, to the life that was somehow different now since we had been away.
We had returned to our stories. We were home.
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” -TS Eliot