thirty-six hours

One year ago you could have never told me that I’d be willing to fly standby for the better part of a day to see anyone, much less a baby, for a few minutes. But a year ago, I didn’t realize the power of my nephew.

On Sunday morning I boarded my fifth and final flight of the weekend, buckled my seat belt, and thanked God that the airplane was mostly empty. In 36 hours I’d been in five different states and finally saw my newborn nephew for the first time. We spent the four shortest recorded hours in history together before we both fell asleep, and I headed back to New York City before he or the sun rose that day.

As the flight attendants began their rehearsed safety speech, the same one I’ve never listened to after the first time I heard it, I put my hands over my face and took a few deep breaths. The weekend had been stressful and I still had a laundry list of tasks to finish once I got back to New York. I sighed deeper this time, paused to dutifully turn off my iPhone, and rubbed a single hot tear away from my lashes. After an overemotional stint in my early twenties I’m no longer prone to public displays of anything, especially grief, and I assumed the one tear would be all.

It was not all. I underestimated the power of my nephew again.

Before the flight attendants could finish identifying the airplane exits I was openly sobbing, tears seeping through my pressed fingers. As silently as possible I sat in my first row seat and felt my chest shaking with emotion, mortified that I couldn’t make it stop. What in the hell had come over me?

“You have to shut up”, I told myself. “You are acting an entire fucking fool on this plane.” It didn’t work. I could still feel the weight of my chunky nephew in the crook of my arms and his hair beneath my fingertips, could still see his sweet milky smile as he fell asleep during a bottle. The tears came harder and harder until the stewardess, finished with her unheard routine, pressed several Kleenex into my hands. I accepted them, apologizing through a watery curtain. She nodded and sat.

I dried my eyes and watched the tarmac as the plane rolled slow as thunder, squeezing my lids closed once we lifted above the clouds.