I was thinking about how to apologize to you for my short story not being ready to read yet, when my 5-month-old son began screaming again.
During the second half of our Denver-Portland flight, our new-to-flying baby bounced back and forth between Mom comfort and Dad comfort, sometimes crying, sometimes quiet, sometimes nearly laughing (the baby, not us). As the plane descended, our baby’s ears descended too, into a personal hell of changing pressure as we returned to our wee heaven of the Pacific Northwest.
Resting in my personal item under the seat, the manila folder marked “Rucksack Universe” contained a red-ink-bleeding, should’ve-been-done-last-week short story. It would have to wait. In our family, crying stories wait for calmed babies.
To my left, a woman in the aisle seat tried to help with advice of varying quality. Baby would fuss; my wife and I countered with a hug or a bounce, and then a toy, finger or boob to suck on. Minutes passed, if not in peace, then at least a crying ceasefire. Then another 5,000 feet dropped off the altimeter, and a squeal would threaten itself into a yowl. We rushed new tactics to the front line of our son’s discomfort.
At long last, our now un-pressurized tin can taxied to the gate at Portland International Airport. “Well,” the aisle seat woman said, “I guess he’s telling you he just isn’t a traveling guy.”
In life-threatening situations, many say that life passes before your eyes. One gains a sense of peace to die, or of motivation to make it through. In life-presuming situations, something lesser degreed but similar happens to me.
Memories of missed flights sprint through the airport of my mind. A US$20 terminal-to-terminal cab ride ripoff pops my India travel cherry. After nearly choking on seafood one night in Australia, the next day my wife and I realize that where we’re actually supposed to catch our airport bus is a kilometer away. We rush to make it as I try to run while wearing a heavy backpack and a much heavier hangover.
All this and more flashes through my mind in the moment after the aisle seat woman’s mouth closes. “Isn’t a traveling guy” reverberates around my brainpan and my soul. It calls up the steel.
I don’t know what flashes through my eyes, but the steel of my soul toughens my spine and sends hard sharp glints of jade and sapphire from my eyes.
“I’ve had a lot of crappy flights in my day,” I reply. “But I’m still a traveler.”
A shock waggles her round face, and she turns away. She says nothing else.
We soon leave the plane. Baby carrier on my chest, I proudly kiss my baby boy, who has finished his first across-time-zones-and-states plane trip. It wasn’t easy, but we did it—and the trip we had was more than worth every fussy moment on the flight home.
No matter any bumps and cries of unpleasantness along the way, with every trip my son is more and more a traveler, and we are a traveling family. Difficult moments are not an impediment to go, see and do. Our bigger goals and bigger loves are the reasons why we go—in spite of all else.
And all this wee story brings me to an apology and a realization. I had planned to roll out a free short story for you this month. But the buggering thing just isn’t there yet. Done is better than perfect, as they say, and I don’t care about perfect—but I care about the right kind of done.
This story has smacked my gob, stolen my drink and kicked my arse like nothing else I’ve written in years. It’s painful. It’s frustrating. The current draft still bleeds an editor’s red ink, and my wife notes too many parts where she loses interest.
There’s still work to do—but the moment it’s done, you’ll be first to know and first to read.
No matter the bumps on the road, my family and I are travelers. And no matter the problems to still work on in the story, the novel or other tales to tell, no matter how many drafts it takes to get it done, I’m still a writer.
For my story, the final destination is near. Sorry for the delay. It’s coming soon.
Back to editing. And to planning another trip for me, my wife and our wee traveling son.