Back to En Zed
She was never so happy to see such a big bird. Its long white body and ocean-blue tail with white whirls gleams in the twilight. She peers into its glassy eye, imagining she knows its soul – understands its path – can predict its next flight.
I’m about to land at Los Angeles International Airport when I spot the Air New Zealand plane. I feel my mouth stretch wide in an ear-to-ear grin: the Maori design –swirls of white against blue - on the plane’s tail look like home. I’m going home. Home. I think I may finally know where home is.
I’ve lasted nearly two months – 55 days - in Spokane before returning to New Zealand. I probably would’ve fled sooner, if I didn’t have to organize care for Fiona and Finley. My poor kiddos. Without their mom for a week while I visit The Partner. I couldn’t stand to be away from Pete any longer. Fool for love. I’ve spent $1400 for one week of kid-free time with The Partner. I bought my ticket about six weeks ago and have been counting the days until my departure ever since. The money bought more than transportation to En Zed- it funded anticipation, excitement, hope… The trip is an asphalt patch for a pothole in my soul. A temporary, but necessary fix.
Exhilaration turns to disbelief, then defeat, as repeated announcements interrupt the din of LAX's Terminal 6:
“Ladies and Gentleman, Air New Zealand Flight 5 to Auckland has been delayed. The plane is in the hanger while engineers change a flat tire. We’re not sure how long this will take. We apologize for the inconvenience, and will let you know as soon as we do what our new estimated departure time will be.”
So this is why only six days Down Under is a bad idea. Any hiccup robs you of time. Shit.
I turn on my rapidly dying cell phone to send Pete a text message: “Flight’s delayed. Does it really take 2 hours to change a jet’s tire? Estimated departure time is 1 am. I’ll likely miss the connection to Tauranga. Any chance you can pick me up in Auckland? Otherwise, I’ll miss four hours with you while I wait for the connection.”
I try messaging Pete through Facebook. I see nothing – no text, no e-mail, -zip. Even in my traveler’s delirium, I let this one go – for now.
Finally, after 12:30 am, we board the Boeing 777 for Auckland. I’m seated next to a short, trim man with light brown hair in his 40’s. He doesn’t acknowledge me as I sit, even while I wrestle with operating the personal video screen and comically try to inflate my Sharper Image faux-velvet neck pillow. I huff and puff into the main chamber, only filling it half-way. Mr. Stick-up-his-Ass doesn’t seem to notice.
I see Stick Ass (SA, for short) has swiped by blanket and pillow. He has two sets of sleeping materials – one tucked between him and the window, the other on his lap. I finally ask,
“Can I grab one of those pillow and blanket sets?” He either didn’t hear me, or is ignoring me. Dammit, take the stick out of your ass and the cotton out of your ears. Oh, that’s right – you’re wearing headphones – excuse me! I repeat myself and he mumbles something about getting the pillows and blankets elsewhere in the cabin. This is funny, because I’m positive one of those sets lay on MY SEAT before he swiped it. Asshole.
I take an aspirin/codeine pill in hopes of sleeping. My stomach’s grumbling, though, so z’s prove elusive. A flight attendant asks if I want a meal tray. I tell her yes, even though it’s two am. I’ve eaten an energy bar and peanut butter crackers the past five hours. The flight attendant attempts to place Stick Ass’s meal on his tray. He ignores her, and she’s forced to make room for his meal herself. This snaps him to attention.
“I saw the way you slammed that tray down,” he says in an Antipodean (Down Under –either Kiwi or Australian) accent. “If you’re going to have an attitude, don’t bother showing up for work!”
Huh? Is this guy for real? Minutes earlier, he’d asked a lot of pointed, specific questions about the plane’s tire and seemed to know what time the aircraft had pulled onto the tarmac, so I figured he was an off-duty pilot. Boy, I hope Pete never treats his crew that way. I’d beat his Kiwi/Scottish ass. I’d heard pilots had ego, but this was ridiculous. The flight attendant is crouched next to me, asking if I’d like something from the bar to drink. As you know, drinking alcohol on a long flight is dehydrating and interferes with good sleep. It’s a big no-no. I nod my head yes.
“Merlot or Pinot Noir?” asks the FA. “Merlot,” I reply. I sip the full-bodied red while inhaling half a chicken breast, chunks of zucchini (called “courgette” in New Zealand), salad and big, red strawberries. I’m starting to feel better. And worse. At once.
It’s okay if Pete doesn’t want to fetch me in Auckland. It’s nearly a three-hour drive, and I have a plane ticket that’ll put me ten minutes from his house. It’s not a referendum on the relationship. Is it? Shouldn’t he do anything for me, especially after I flew across a super-sized ocean to see him? Do I expect too much? Too little? I’m so tired it’s tough to process. Sleep. Just sleep.
I think about SA next to me and tears form as I remember how kind Sean was. I can hear his voice in my head, delivering a wry retort to SA's attitude. I had one of the good ones. And I have pangs of intense longing for Sean when I realize what I’m doing - moving on. Leaving behind the old life for the new. Every air mile brings me closer to Pete and further from the life I shared with Sean.
I get up to use the restroom to stem the weepies. On the way back to my seat, I stop by the hostess station to see if I can find the flight attendant my seat mate treated so callously. I see her talking to a coworker. I say,
“I can’t believe how rude the guy next to me was. Is he an off-duty pilot, or something? He acted like he knew a lot about what was going on with the plane.”
“No,” she replied. “He’s a Gold Card [frequent flyer] member. You are so sweet for saying that. He should be glad to sit next to someone as nice as you.”
I could be the latest villainess on The Apprentice, for all she knows. The important thing was acknowledging she’d been mistreated. We all need validation.
I return to my seat and have started writing on my computer when I feel a tap on the shoulder. A flight attendant whispers,
“If you’d like to take your lap top and follow me, we’ll seat you away from him.”
I hastily grab my backpack, iPod and customs form while the FA takes my laptop and leads me to a new seat NEAR THE FRONT of the plane. Economy Plus. The section features cushioned swivel seats with twice the elbow room. This prime position normally adds hundreds of dollars to the cost of a ticket. A male attendant asks,
“Would you like a bar of chocolate?” Would I. I feel like Queen Latifah in the movie, Last Holiday, when she demands a sleeping pod in first class: I want the damn cocoon. How much for the damn cocoon? I didn’t even have to pay extra for the (not-quite-a) cocoon. And I didn’t demand a thing.
The flight attendant crew chief crouches next to me for a third time, wanting to know if I’ll complete an incident report regarding SA’s actions. Apparently, this schmuck has riled the entire flight crew with his bossiness and demands. Sure thing, I’ll write a report. I wonder if I’ll score a free drink ticket. I don’t. But I did get a primo seat next to a Keisha Castle-Hughes (of Whale Rider fame) look-alike. Or maybe it was really her.
After 12 hours in-flight, we land in Auckland at 9 am. I feel my broad smile erupt again. Home. I text Pete, telling him I’ll see him in Tauranga, our home airport, around 1. It’s okay. I’m home.