It was still dark when I stepped outside the Holiday Inn near the Los Angeles airport where the airline had been forced to put me up after a snarl of delays and cancellations across the country left me unable to make my connection back to Hawaii. It was the final leg in a long day and a half of travel and I felt bleary and grungy, having spent the night without my larger bag of clothes which, I was told, the airline agent's eyes wide with horror as she printed out my hotel voucher the night before, was somewhere lost in massive chaos down in the baggage area.
I was the last of my family to find my way home after our holiday reunion week in South Carolina, one I know which will be remembered for a long time to come. Cousins laughed and drank wine, sisters walked on the beach, teenagers roughhoused and giggled, parents were honored, missing people were remembered, and a lot of food was prepared and feasted on; a gathering never before attempted with this entire group and one perhaps, we lamented, may never be managed again.
I dragged my small carry-on bag - one which I was glad I pack with most of my toiletries - on to the hotel’s airport shuttle bus along with a few others this early morning and took a seat. As the busy traffic sounds and dingy urban concrete and sooty smells assaulted me with sense memories of this place where I had met my husband so very many years ago, I took in this last strange and melancholy fork in my travels. I was sad to be parted from dear family; I was missing Mike like crazy, for the millionth time, as I proceeded alone.
In the rear of the shuttle, an airline pilot dressed in his uniform chatted about home in Chicago with a lone kind of creepy white guy with square, wire-rimmed glasses who I couldn’t help thinking reminded me of a serial killer. In the front, a frail and elderly latino lady who had been assisted from a wheelchair was gingerly helped into the front seat by a somewhat younger man, perhaps her son, accompanied by several large and apparently heavy cardboard boxes. A middle aged couple with too much jewelry and way too much baggage - seriously like five huge matching pieces - loudly announced their intention to connect with Hawaiian airlines.
Across from me another middle aged couple, a little older and much frumpier than the glittery two, chatted the entire way to the terminals, commenting on every billboard, discussing what it must be like to fly in first class, which airline flies where now…and I found myself jealous of them. With their baggy, comfortable traveling sweatshirts and sneakers, flyaway graying hair, styrofoam coffee cups, total lack of inhibition and obvious comfort with each other…yeah. I was jealous. These two clearly were having fun and enjoyed each other’s company. I sat there listening - hey, I couldn’t help it, it’s a small shuttle - and kept wondering about their little lives. I tried to compare them to my little life. I sat there thinking, well they probably have no idea how much pain I’ve felt…they’ve probably never lost anyone like me, they’ve probably been married for decades, it’s not fair…then I noticed neither of them were wearing wedding rings.
I started feeling very badly for my thoughts. I suddenly realized I had no idea who they were or what pain they may have been in. Maybe they were both widowed and had found each other, become new friends and traveling companions and maybe lovers, and good for them. Maybe…maybe I should stop trying to insert my opinions in places they do not belong, even if they are silent.
A local rock and roll radio station had been serenading us with classic songs during our ride and as I sat there thinking so hard of Mike and where he was and wishing he were with me and feeling so sorry for myself, Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy came on. It’s from his Purple Rain album, one of my old favorites from my high school era which I listen to often on my iPod in my car now. The first part is Prince talking in a sort of sing-song sermon I sing along to (when I’m alone of course) and always makes me smile. This time, I couldn’t help but notice the timing of the song to my thoughts…an occurrence experienced often by me and others who knew Mike, and I could feel him smiling back at me.
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that's a mighty long time
But I'm here to tell you
There's something else
The after world
A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night
So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one, Dr. Everything'll Be Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
'Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the after world
In this life
You're on your own…
I watched as each of my fellow passengers exited the shuttle at their appointed terminal. No one seemed to notice me sitting there in the tacitly agree-upon ignoring of big city life. But when the elderly latino woman slowly and painfully made her way down the stairs of the shuttle, she looked back inside as if looking for something. As she caught my eye she waggled a finger in a small wave, smiled at me and mouthed goodbye.
Huh. That was weird. I wondered for one fleeting and crazy second whether she had heard all my thoughts during this ride.
I eventually made it back to my little house in Hawaii in time to ring in 2016 - and miraculously, my bag made it too. I sit here contemplating yet another calendar year Mike will never see; another one I will spend without him, dealing with all the mess that comes with the grief and the missing and all the experiences that add up to life…the life I have now. And yes. I’m on my own.
But I’m not alone. I might be the last straggler, but I’m not alone. I can sit anonymously in a crowded airplane, but I know I have family who loves me, friends who care about me, and a guy waiting for me at home.
It’s not the same. But nothing ever will be, no matter what our lives are, I guess.