"If this plane is going down, what will happen?" I stared squarely at the lady sitting next to me.
"Do you mean, like, literally?” She looked up from her laptop.
"Okay, well, uh, an oxygen mask will drop from the ceiling. I'll secure my mask first, then I’ll make sure you have yours on. And then after that we just wait."
"For how long? How long will we wait?"
It’s too late to prepare for anything now, but I still needed to know.
“Um I guess until we hit the ground.”
I think she noticed me picturing the impact.
“But I hear that before we hit the ground, your body goes into shock and you lose consciousness anyway. So it’s not like we’ll actually know that we hit the ground. At least that’s what I hear. Although that seems like a hard thing to verify.”
The last time I saw my mother was when she dropped me and my sister off at Union station. “You’re just gonna go visit your father,” she said. “I just need to clear my head.” She packed my white backpack full of clothes and put two Slim Jims in my hand. “This’ll be fun,” she said, as she closed my fingers around the packaged pepperoni sticks. “You’ll get to see the country by train. You don’t know how lucky you kids are.” My sister fought a silent tear as my mom walked away from the train car. I remember the pattern of curls in her hair as she became smaller. I wanted her to look back.
It was true that we saw the country. We spent forty-eight hours on that train, traveling east across the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. Somewhere into Kansas the air conditioning gave out and so, despite it being my first time out of California, I desperately wanted to turn back. I wanted to be six years old again and run through the sprinklers in my cousin Marcus’ front yard until the sun dropped behind the buildings in the distance. Instead we wet brown rectangular paper towels in the tiny bathroom at the front of our car and placed the dripping sheets on our wrists to cool down. Our rationed Slim Jims lasted us until we barely crossed into Missouri.
That was eleven months and three days ago. I have spent a winter and a summer with my dad in Tennessee. And now today, he put me on this airplane back to see my mom. I said goodbye to him until Christmas, I think. My white backpack is full. He gave me another suitcase packed with the clothes he has gotten me since I came to visit last year. I have never been on a plane before. But before last October, I hadn’t been on a train either. I just hope my mom is waiting for me when I land.