The engine screamed cleanly climbing out of the canyon at 5,000 rpm in 3rd. With the road to myself on a sunny cool day, I was taking the curves as fast as I could, windows wide open and the heater on full. Back in the motel in Albuquerque, she’d told me this wasn’t a day to drive fast and I mostly obeyed. “You didn’t sleep, did you?” she asked and she knew. This business of spending the night near the airport before someone flies off has its drawbacks. One hundred fifty bucks to lie awake all night on a king-sized bed where I couldn’t even find her and hoped she was sleeping. She wasn’t, of course, when I followed the moan. “I’m panicky,” she said. “Please stay close,” and I did.
In the morning she left for a college reunion in Iowa. She wasn’t going to go, not being one who does things like that, until one of her beloved ex-roommates sent her an email revealing late stage cancer and insisted she come, promising to pay for the trip. (“It’s like a pair of shoes for me.”) Other ex-roommates will also be there, musicians like my wife. On Sunday morning, they’ll perform together at a memorial service for members of their class who died this year. The poignancy is all but unbearable anyway, even more so because other old friends have recently died, leaving her stressed to the breaking point, sad, and adrift.
“I just want to cry,” she says.
“What for?” I reply.
“The losses…the loss…”
Neither of us has flown much in the last twenty years, and so much has changed. To remember what air travel used to be like is to feel more loss on top of the rest. In the old days when one of us was leaving, we could both share a meal looking out at the planes, sit together and wait, have a soothing transition to each-on-our-own. This time she was shaking with nervousness, almost in tears as we stood by the big scary signs, figuring out which way she should go, then she walked on without me to have strangers paw through her things. I watched from a distance as long as I could.
She called me from Dallas, but the signal broke up. Once clear of the gorge, I pulled off the road and we tried it again. “I love you, I love you,” she said three or four times. The terror is less now. You live for the day.