If I Could Sleep
Missed dates and missed steaks. I can’t stay on topic these days with my writing. Been starting essays on writing and ended up writing about soccer (again). Wrote about dead cows and ate a steak. Went to Houston. Drove to South Texas. Saw my mother. The dog is cuter than I am. The dog behaves better than I did. My parents love all their children equally.
My boyfriend and I synchronized our lives for five days. We moved like units. Like ounces and ensigns. My students write dashes and parentheses, dashes and parentheses, marching along like inches and subtenants. I’ve taught them semicolons too. The airport sucked away my will to live. I was afraid I wouldn’t make class.
True story: The flight was supposed to take off from Houston at 10:10 AM. At 9:45 the plane arrived at the terminal. Passengers disembarked. Exited quietly, swiftly. At 9:50, the sign changed from “on time” to “3:00PM.” But why, I asked, if the plane is here. There is no crew, the lady said. There is no crew. I panicked. Hosting the slam, teaching the next morning. I needed to work on a paper all afternoon. I should have planned for this. Flying out of Texas is never easy.
The people behind me in line moaned. We have lives, a woman shouted. I know how to fly a plane, a man murmured. The airline didn’t care. No crew, no flight. “3 PM.” I went up to the service desk. I was told that I had to take that flight. That a crew might arrive earlier, and I would be told. I called my unit. He said he’d come back to the airport and hang out with me. “If you leave the gate, you run the risk of missing your flight,” the lady said over and over again. I can’t sit here for five hours, I cannot sit here for five hours. I checked my carryon bag. Didn’t want to cart around with it. Here’s a phone number, an automated service. Call it every twenty minutes. You may have to run back to the gate. Is there another number I can call? A more direct number? Yes, said the man (secretly), here’s the number for the gate itself.
My kilogram arrived in the silver avant. Let’s go to starbucks and get some work done, so we found a Barnes & Noble. Didn’t buy anything. Saw women with babies. I called the secret number. “How did you get this phone number? You can’t call here, it’s for internal use only. Who are you?” “A passenger. Is the flight leaving soon?” “You can’t call here. No.” “Thanks.” I call the automated line every seven minutes. I’m paranoid. The automated man starts to recognize my inputs. I fantasize that he’s not a recording but a poor bastard that has to talk to everyone like he’s a machine. I purr the phrase “departure information” after entering my flight number on the numeric pad.
12:27 Your flight is delayed four hours and fifty minutes due to a crew delay.
12:30 Your flight has been cancelled.
A flashback: A man in line at the gate, when the lady changed the time to 3PM, a man at the line kept screaming “BULL-SHIT,” with the dash in the middle, just like that. But an en dash, so not very useful to my students. “BULL-SHIT” he kept repeating. Turns out he was going to the airport in Pittsburgh to pick up his two toddlers and bring them back to Texas. He only had custody for a week and wanted them to learn about home, to have unconscious memories of the Bayou and sweat pouring down their tiny backs. And now he wasn’t going to make it. He would be in contempt of court. He would be fined, he would lose his custody privileges. What do you mean 3PM? BULL-SHIT. Get me there. I’m sorry, the lady would say, there’s no way I can get you to Pittsburgh until the 3PM flight. No way. I’m sorry. The man turned red. He face rivaled citrus.
12:30 Your flight is canceled. You’re booked on a flight that leaves at 6:56 tomorrow. Landing in Pittsburgh at 11PM. A day gone.
BULL-SHIT. I thought of the man’s toddlers. I’m sure he loved all of children equally.
I called the airline. Get me to Pittsburgh. We can’t, M’am, sorry. I am not a M’am. Get me to Pittsburgh. Through Chicago, Detroit, Honolulu, something. We can send you to Newark. The flight leaves in fifty minutes. Are you at the airport. I looked around the Barnes and Noble. Women with strollers. Nothing else to do on a Tuesday at lunch. I will be at the airport in ten minutes, I said, I left because I was angry with your airline. The woman quieted. I’ll book you to Newark. I look at the captain, do you want me to stay an extra day?, the captain shakes his head, go back to school, we both have work. So I take the flight to Newark. The flight that leaves at 1:20.
I arrive at the gate at 1:10. No one has boarded. The sign says “on time.” I don’t trust the sign anymore. I didn’t kiss the corporal when I left the car and ran towards the security line again. He’d accused me of being angry. I’m not angry. I left huffing. 1:15, still not boarding. No plane. 1:25, plane arrives. 1:45 will the people on the flight to Denver please stop coming up to the desk, we need to get Newark cleared. No one moves. The lady gets irate. I go up to the desk. Is my bag going to Pittsburgh? We don’t know, M’am. 1:55, we are on the plane. 1:59, there is no pilot. 2:05, there is a first pilot, but no captain. 2:07, I call the admiral and tell him I love him and that I’m sorry I was huffy and that the plane is still here and that I’m going to lose my mind. I have a connection in Newark at 8PM. I’m starting to worry. The story is getting too long for my own comfort.
2:20, the captain-my-captain-get-me-out-of-here arrives. The couple next to me are reading books about Mexico. I tell them I’m Mexican. They are fascinated. 2:25, we watch the video telling us how to buckle our seatbelts. I grade student papers. Dash dash dash, parenthesis.
We are in the air at 2:40. I should have been in Pittsburgh working on my paper. Instead, I watch Becoming Jane. I have two sets of headsets plugged in, one bud from each so I can listen in stereo. I refuse to buy the special airline set.
Land in Newark. It’s 7:15. My flight boards at 7:30 says the ticket. I run to my gate. The run is longer than anticipated. I am not in shape. I am sweating. I get to my gate. The flight to Pittsburgh is delayed. Not leaving till 8:40. Chance has it, chance chance has it, that a flight across the hall at another gate is leaving sooner, it was the 5:50 flight, delayed until 7:45. I go to the service desk. They put me on standby. I wonder if I’ll make it in time for the slam. It starts at 10.
I talk to an Italian man. He wants to know if I’d be willing to split a Taxi. Or if I’d be willing to ride in his taxi if he paid. He just likes talking to me. He’s a mathematician. He’s wearing an ascot. I call the general. He loves me too still.
They call my name after everyone’s boarded. I haven’t eaten all day. My nerves are frazzled. I started fantasizing about the man with the toddlers: did he make it? Would he make it? I wondered if he loved his children equally. If he had a dog. If the dog was another child in his heart, as I suspect it is for my parents. I called my parents. My cousin (he staying with my parents, the parenthetical said) is not a child to them. He is a nephew. They do not parent him. The man with the toddlers, he was from a town called Beaver Falls. Left it for Texas. Better paying job. Not a story you hear often. Women always win with babies, he said, no one trusts a man. A woman behind him in the line nodded. She nodded again when he screamed “BULL-SHIT.” But the second nod was far more vigorous.
I land in Pittsburgh. The lady next to me stands up when we arrive. She is six-foot-two. I am a foot shorter. The difference is comedic. She thinks I’m funny. We hug when we leave the plane. The thought of food makes me want to cry.
My bag is lost, we’ll deliver it tomorrow, the airline promises me. My friend Paul picks me up. I almost cry. My face defeated like citrus. I make it to the slam. I’ve only missed four poems. The bartender gives me a redbull. I drink amaretto and glenfidditch. I’m drunk. The featured poet and I go to the diner. We eat fried green tomatoes. I tell him about the dog.
The dog is smarter than I am.