“Ladies and gentleman, please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts, as the captain has put on the safety belt sign. We are experiencing slight turbulence”.

I could barely make out the overly-peppy southern stewardess’ prickly voice over my music. Then a face appeared next to mine. Her scent of lilac choked me… did she shower in cheap perfume this morning? “Sweetie, you’re going to have to fasten that seat belt there. I don’t know if ya heard, but we’re experiencing slight turbulence”. ‘That’s one way to put it’, I remarked. “If by slight turbulence, you mean my world is crumbling brick by brick while we all take our slow march towards our inevitable, black death… sure yeah, we are all experiencing slight turbulence”. I threw in a toothy smile, for emphasis. “Umm. Sure, sweetheart. Do you…. Ummm need anything?” the stewardess asked, clearly uncomfortable. “A large cheese pizza, a bottle of Jack and a ticket to ride, if you have one to spare. That’d be great, Susan. Oh and do me a favor—if I code, don’t resuscitate”. Susan shuffled away anxiously. I could see her whisper to her equally cheery coworker while peering over at me.

‘Great’, I thought, ‘another beautiful day Kansas’. I was on my way to my hometown in the heartland… if America had congenital heart disease. It’s the kind of hometown that you miss if you blink too slowly. I had tried to mentally prepare myself to see him, but how do you prepare to see another walking bag of organs that stole your childhood from you? You drown yourself in music and ask airline stewards for alcohol, that’s how.

“Ladies and gentleman, please return your seats to their upright positions as we prepare for landing… Don’t look now, Dorothy… we ARE in Kansas!” A few people offered up Susan a good ole pity giggle. I never understood why people did that. It’s not funny, don’t laugh. You’re only encouraging her, I thought to myself.

I grabbed my duffel bag and gave Susan some finger guns, who looked down as I walked past her and out of the plane. Poor woman, I thought, she’s never had an honest conversation in her life. She’ll murder 13 people by choking them with that damn lilac perfume.

My heart would be beating out of my chest right now if it weren’t for the milligram of Xanax I gulped down in the bathroom. It had been 8 years since I’d been here, but mom insisted I go see him since I was graduating next week. Something about closing a chapter before starting new books or something she ripped off a Hallmark Christmas movie.

He wasn’t picking me up from the airport, of course. Like everything else for the last 18 years, I’d have to figure it out myself. I grabbed a taxi and asked him if he’d take me to Derby—about 25 minutes away from the airport. “It’s your lucky day, sweetheart… hop in”.

The cab driver was accustomed to silence, something I both respected and cherished right now. I didn’t need small talk about the weather or that one movie with that one actor who won that one award. We both seemed pretty wedged in our situations, and something about that was comforting. As we drove through town, landmarks started handing out their memories like brochures. The Post Office: where Jimmy Fox tried to kiss me. Hibachi Boy: the restaurant where mom told me we were leaving. The movie theater: where I saw my first R rated movie. Like a flood, memories washed over me. Thank God for Xanax, I thought. Or did I say that out loud?

I must have been caught up in thought because out of nowhere, I saw it: Zoll Street. The street I grew up on. Instinctively, I began to shut down. There was the tree I used to swing on. There was Mrs. Kables’ house, where I’d spend the night when the yelling was too loud, even with all my stuffed animals covering my head.

Returning to a place as an adult is a strange experience, because you see things with less magical color surrounding them. You see things honestly, without the fluffy, enchanted story you make up as a kid. This place was once my Kingdom. Now, it’s just a crappy suburb in Kansas with more churches than restaurants. How can a single place hold so much of yourself in it? I could see my kid self—standing right there in the doorway of my old house… all wild, dreamy eyed and stupid. You had no idea, did you? You thought it was exhilarating when Jimmy Fox tried to kiss you outside the Post Office. You were excited when mom told you you were going on a grand adventure to some faraway land called… Tulsa. Ooooh! How exotic to your naive ears. You were flooded with adrenaline when the opening credits to your first rated R movie began.

Now, standing where I stood 8 years ago, I saw things as they were:

 Jimmy Fox was the thirty-something old mail man with wandering eyes and hands. Mom’s eyes were bloodshot from working the night shift and stained with tear-smeared mascara as she told me we were moving away from him—coffee spilling out of her cup as her hands shook at Hibachi Boy. No wonder why I’ve never liked Sushi. It was the only movie that was playing late at night when you were alone. You were always left alone. That empty, dark theater became your temple—its stained, red cushioned chairs—your pews. What did you worship?

Things are less enchanted when life tears off your rosy glasses to reveal a grey world. What do you do with that? Who do you blame? How do you get another pair? My feet felt glued to the floor, standing in the door way. When did I get out of the taxi? My heart began to pound and my forehead gathered beads of sweat. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I scuffled backwards and began to run down the street. Snippets of rosy-less memories played in my head like a video real on repeat:

 Jimmy Fox. Hibachi Boy. Movie theater. 

Jimmy Fox. Hibachi Boy. Movie theater.

Post office. Smeared mascara. Movie credits.

Mail room. Spilling coffee. Empty chairs.

Jimmy Fox. Hibachi Boy. Movie theater.

Lost in my private screening of my fractured life, I didn’t hear my named being shouted. Was that… Mrs. Kables? I slowed my pace to a walk and headed to her yard.

“Is that you, love? After all these years, you’re still runnin’ on down this street like a crazy person. Come inside, I just made lemonade.” Panting, I followed her up her front steps and into the familiar home. Smells greet you as old friends, and I had so dearly missed this old friend. “Now what are you doing back in Derby, child? I haven’t seen you in ages”, she asked as she poured a glass of lemonade for me. Still frazzled from my recollections, I barely got out: “Graduating next week”. I didn’t know what else to say. How else to explain. “Well is that so? Congratulations, honey. That’s a big accomplishment. I always knew you’d be alright”. My face must not have been receiving her congratulations well. Mrs. Kables always had a way of knowing your feelings before you did. She was already on the shores that you were adrift at sea desperately trying to find. “Child, why are you back here?”

“I … I…” I couldn’t even stutter out a fake story. Say you’re visiting friends. Say you left something all those years ago that you had to retrieve. Why can’t you just say something? Mrs. Kables had a way of demanding the truth from you. Her eyes searched you until they found what they wanted. “Mmm, I see. You’ve grown up. Sometimes growin’ up requires us to come back to ourselves as a kid”. She went to the fridge and started pulling out the makings of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She remembered just how I liked them—toasted and cut into four squares. I played with the condensation forming on my glass. “Sweetheart, listen. You didn’t come over here all those times because I make the best PB&Js. I never asked what was happening, because I knew. You don’t need to empty out your heart to me child, I helped fill it for all those years. You found your way back here because your heart needs some more pourin’ into.” Why was I beginning to cry? I didn’t even know what she was talking about—but some deep part of me understood. Some buried, small, scared part of me hung on to each word for dear life.

“In this life, we don’t get to pick very much. No we do not. And unfortunately, most of the parts that we don’t get to pick make the biggest dents in who we are.” She took the bread out of the toaster and began to spread peanut butter on it, tactfully. “As a child, you didn’t get to pick Derby. You didn’t get to pick who your family was. But now, you ain’t no child. You get to pick. You get to slowly flatten out those dents done to you. Now, it ain’t easy… but it’s possible”. She licked some extra peanut butter off her thumb and grabbed the homemade strawberry jam. “More importantly, it’s necessary”. I sipped the lemonade she gave me. Just as good as I remembered: more tart than sweet. “You’ve got to go back to that little child that you were and say sorry. Say sorry for all those dents done to her. Say sorry for all those stories she didn’t understand back then. Hug her. Tell her you loved her then and you love her even more now. You love her with more love than anyone in this world could give her, and that’s enough. Then you grab her hand, and you take her out of here this time. You take her somewhere—dare I say—more exotic than Tulsa”. She winked at me.

There was no fighting the tears. Mrs. Kables was the coast I so desperately had searched for. Her words were a safe harbor to the waters I had been fighting through. The air was light. This home was the home I never had. After I scarfed down the PB&J—made exactly the way I used to eat them— I hugged Mrs. Kables as tightly as I could. I hoped that hug articulated the thanks my voice couldn’t. I walked back down the street to my front door, head held high. I saw myself as a child standing in front of me. I bent down to her level. She was a little more lanky than I remembered and her thing blonde hair blew recklessly in the wind.

“I’m so sorry. You are loved”. I grabbed her hand and walked with her past the tire swing tree, past Mrs. Kables house, off of Zoll Street and to the Post Office.

Once more, I got to her level, held her hand and repeated, “I am so sorry. You are loved”.

We walked to Hibachi Boy. I got us a booth—the same booth as all those years ago. I ordered us the Sushi. I looked her in the eyes, reached out to grab her hands and said again, “I am so sorry. You are loved”.

We left the restaurant, walked to the movie theater, sat in the seats I had sat in alone so many times before. It became our temple. We sat in the pews. We didn’t need to worship. I grabbed her hand and whispered, “I am so sorry. You are loved”.

We walked out to the parking lot. I knelt down to meet her gaze. Wild, dreamy eyes, just as I remembered them. This time though, I saw those wild, dreamy eyes reflected as my own. “Let’s go home, huh?” I grabbed her by the hand, called the taxi once more and drove us to the airport. This time, we didn’t go to Tulsa. 

August 23, 2019 14:25

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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