30,000 Feet at Eleven

I’m not afraid of dying. I’m surprised by the thought flitting across my mind as my plane takes off. Were we to plunge into the California coast as the scene used to play out in my imagination, I’d be ready for that.

I had a backwards-sort of feeling tonight as I entered the airport, breezing through the security lines and arriving at my gate much too early. Justin and Frank had dropped me off and gone to In ‘n Out without me.

I’m going home to Pasadena. Or rather, I’m going to see my family in Pasadena, with Annie’s graduation being the reason for celebration. Going home means something different these days. Is it the house you grew up in? Is about seeing your family, your friends? Is it neon-lit boba shops, or the wideness of De Anza Boulevard or Calabasas Park with the ghost stories or the panicky feeling of waking up realizing you’ve overslept first period or junior or senior prom from howlongago— and the exhilaration of pulling off a spectacular field show or the happy sensation of rolling up to a full dining table exploding with Taiwanese foods? Yes, yes, and yes.

I have a memory where I am dropping off my parents at SFO. They are leaving for China, my sisters are still undergrads in San Diego. I am seeing Sarah at the time; she stands to my left as we wave our good-byes to them from across the glassed security walls. And that’s when it hits, a sudden blue-ness, a feeling of being gone, or that finally, I am on my own. I wonder if that’s what it feels like to be grown-up. All the older folks in Stephen Ministry tell about loved ones passing away, spouses divorcing, buddies moving across the country for a job, or spouse, or to take care of a relative. It’s a fact (it’s so true that you may surprise yourself because you don’t understand it yet), the people you grow to treasure and love will leave you, and that leaving-ness is a sensation that startled me that day. Perhaps it’s just as true that I was unique in experiencing it so late in my life.

In that memory, we duck in to the Sharper Image store to play with the massage chairs. The rollers playfully tug and push and pull at my calves and lower back, and I stare hard at the remote, squirming, barely making out the buttons, fighting back stupid tears. Hold it together man. C’mon, I’m self-talking. Pull yourself together.

But it’s a backward feeling because tonight I’m flying home to my family. I am excited to see everybody again. I’m proud of my sister. I’m glad to get out of Oakland. I’m feeling a bit more courageous. It merely took time.

Later on the plane, I’m dozing off when another memory startles me: Shortly after my dad gave me my first computer somewhere in the fifth grade, I convinced my mom to buy me a word processor to install on it. I was a bookish kid then (thankfully!), and always had my nose buried in a novel. I had just finished reading some Crichton book—Airframe I believe—and wrote a story basically verbatim from the book about a plane crashing in the Pacific. In it, I describe in painstaking detail the panic of the passengers, the luggage flying about the compartment, the sound the latches made when they flipped open, what exactly the pilot would say into the intercom… which was whatever Mr. Crichton would have said in his novel. I titled the piece The Final Flight of Flight 738 or something equally dramatic to an eleven-year-old. But the most clear part of the memory was when my dad saw that I was writing something that Saturday morning: I saw a blend of curiosity and pride light up his face. “Here. Let me see it,” he had said, moving toward me, reaching for the printout in my hands.

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