Waiting on Airplanes

I scanned the faces stepping off of the jetway.  Would I recognize him?  How different would he look since the last time I’d seen him, three years ago?  It seemed like a lifetime ago.  Here I was, nearly a senior in college, nearly twenty one years old, a single mother.  I could not have possibly predicted we’d meet again in this place, in this time, under these circumstances.

And Ray.  He’d enlisted in the Army during his senior year of high school, left in July after graduation.  He’d been through Basic Training, he’d been sent to Germany and now off to war.  He’d spent months in the desert, fighting, shooting, killing, seeing and doing unspeakable things.  In 1988, we could not have possibly predicted that he would see a war, real and ugly.

“There he is,” I whispered to Yong, standing next to me.  I could see him, recognizing him ten deep in the crowd emerging from the jetway.  He hadn’t seen me yet.  As the people scattered at the doorway, he scanned the crowd, his eyes finally settling on me.  He smiled.

He seemed older, of course.  He had grown a small mustache on his upper lip, and his hair was clipped short, in the military style that I should have expected.  His skin was olive, tanned from months in the sun.  He wore a button down shirt and jeans; more formally than I’d likely ever seen him dressed except for the one time we’d gone to a dance together.

Wordlessly, he took a few long strides towards us and reached out to me for a hug.  I stepped in, taking it all in, trying to go slowly and not let my mind race ten steps forward as it usually did.   He felt solid, strong, and safe.  He smelled exactly the same as I remembered; I once had kept a shirt of his for weeks under my pillow to hold onto the scent.

“Ray, this is my friend Yong,” I said as a broke the embrace.

He was all smiles and friendliness.  “Hi, nice to meet you.  Long night waiting up?  Sorry the plane was late.”

“It was fine,” she answered dryly.  “Someone had to keep this girl here out of trouble.”

We started walking towards the baggage claim.  I started asking Ray questions about the trip, hoping to fill the space and time with something other than the loud, enormous questions that seemed to be hanging over all three of us.

He obliged, answering with great detail about Germany, the area in which he lived, the ride back from Kuwait, the welcome he’d felt when he switched planes in New York.  He in turn asked us about Michigan, what was the same and what was different; we talked about CNN, about what things had looked like from this end for the last few months.  The conversation filled the entire hour long stretch between Ray’s steps off of the jetway to my front door.

At one in the morning, I said goodbye to Yong in our parking lot and invited Ray inside our home.

It was quiet, but bright.  My mother had fallen asleep on the sofa waiting for me to arrive home, as she always did when I was out and she was in charge of Zachary.  I quietly slipped past her and Ray followed me down the stairs into the basement bedroom where he would be staying.

“It’s so great to see you,” he said as he set down his duffel on the floor.  “I can’t believe I’m here, after everything.”  He turned and looked at me.  “I love you, so much.  I can’t believe I get to be here with you.”  He took my face in his hands, slowly tracing my cheek with his thumbs.

I gulped.


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