February 16, 2012
I drive so that she can just pop in and out of the car, gathering last minute items to stuff into her travel bags. Without warning, we’re hit. Right there in the parking lot. Broad-sided on my side of the car. I swear. My usual reaction to a surprise catastrophe.
Like a drunken sailor. I swear. I don’t mean too. It just happens. I do this on wild roller coaster rides, too. With little six year old boys staring at me as we swoop, swirl and jerk around. These rides my kids push me onto, because they think this is funny. I have to apologize every time a ride ends, and tell the kids that it’s not nice to use such bad words. They shouldn’t do this.
This time, it’s pretty tame. No F-bombs. Just an, “Oh, shit. What the heck was that?”
I didn’t see it coming. The girl just crashes into us backing out of her parking spot. Getting out of our cars, she has swear words of her own. Loudly. And, she does drop a few F-bombs on us. It is her fault, and she is the one pissed off. Royally.
Michelley and I get out and examine the damage. In her usual manner, Michelle tries to calm the young woman. The crazy woman. We exchange looks. Raise eyebrows. Take a few steps backwards. Yup. We decide. She’s crazy. Clearly, this is not that bad. Michelle’s car has a little dent. A few scrapes. The crazy lady’s car has…..nothing. We look again, both of us, and can’t find anything wrong with her car. She’s on her phone already, freaking out with a body shop about getting a paint job appointment and how much it’s going to cost her. Between her phone calls, another, to a boyfriend, we manage to get her information. Michelley tries to calm her the whole time, telling her that even though it is her fault, it’s not that bad. She’s not upset about her car. Not to worry.
That’s Michelley. As a little girl, her little rose-bud lips and super huge eyes would remind me of the Precious Moments figurines. She became my own Precious Moment. My nick-name for her. The other nick-name, the one everyone who knows Michelley so freely used for many years, was given to her by her daddy. The Bomb. Things exploded anytime she walked into a room. Broke. Crumpled. Disintegrated. Just with her presence. So, she became a precious moment with a powerful presence. Bomb.
A globe I bought Michelle when she was very young. It looked just like her at the time.
Over the years, she not only continued to look like a Precious Moment drawing, Michelley became a precious moment. Like this one. Here we are, the clock ticking, counting down the minutes to a plane ride to Japan. A deadline we can not change. A departure that will last a little more than a year. She is not ready. Not packed yet. We are under pressure and stressed. But, in this moment, this car crash, all she can do is comfort a stranger.
We make a quick get away. We are going to sleep-over at Cassie and Justin’s. She has to work and can’t come to the airport with us. Which is just as well. I think Cassie would make the biggest, sappiest goodbye scene at the airport anyway. Her carrying on would draw attention, raise concerns. We’d probably all get arrested and detained. Instead, we will have a sleepover. We can have one last game night and they can say goodbye at the house.
But first, we have to pack.
But, every time I come in to check on her progress, this is how I find her! She is determined to group and print out every single photo she has ever taken of her friends and family, so she can make a photo album to take along.
This is serious. Over-whelming. Impossible to let go.
Like in a fashion my two older sisters taught me when times got desperate and there is a deadline to meet. Set a timer.
My parents would leave us home alone with a long list of chores to accomplish before they returned. Of course, I was in a panic the entire time. My sisters would play. Go outside, do tricks in the yard, take naps on the living room couches, the ones we never sit on unless company came over. I do not break rules well. Even now, I am short of breath at just the thought of this behavior. I couldn’t do all of the chores by myself. So, I would wait and moan and pace. And then, just thirty minutes before the parents arrival time, Pam would go to the stove top timer. She’d roll the dial back, look over her shoulder at Chari and me. We’d hear that first click on the timer and Pam would yell, “Goooooooooooo!!!!”
We could clean and finish the chores that should take three of us two hours, all within that thirty minutes.
I tell Michelley, “That’s it! I am setting the timer and I will help you pack. I will print all of your pictures after you are gone and mail them to you.” And, just as my sister Pam had done so many years ago, I scream gooooooo! Michelley just looks at me, hugging her yellow ducky and her dog, Reese.
I pack. She cries.
We gather into Cassie’s small living room. Each with our own blankets and pillows. A real slumber party. Even though we try to play a game and we do share a few laughs, the atmosphere is tainted. The reality of a dreaded departure now all too real.
We manage the night. Wall to wall bodies sleeping across the living room. Holding hands every where. Why did we think this job in Japan was a good idea? I just want to hold her close and never let go. Maybe I will pull out the Cancer Card right now. Use it to hold on to my baby girl. My precious moment.
But, even I know this would be wrong.
This is it. She says her goodbyes to Cassie and Justin at the house. The two sisters hold each other for a long time. Silent. There are no words for this moment. Justin takes over and holds Cassie. Cassie holds her belly likes she is cradling their baby. We watch them standing in their doorway as we all drive away.
We make it to the airport pleased that we are on time. Proud that we actually got everything packed in the allotted two cases. Everything she will need for a year.
All of us wait together with her at every step. We huddle over the ticket counter. We gather in a long line for the first security check in. This is where we begin our goodbyes. Michelley starts with each individual. We watch as she hugs, whispers, pats cheeks and holds on. Tanner, her boyfriend, is trying to hold it together. Not successfully. Michelley kisses him. It doesn’t even matter that we are all standing there. Watching.
Aubree is crying. Quietly. Even though she is Trevor’s girlfriend now, she was first Michelley’s friend and co-worker. They love each other. Michelley wipes away Aubree’s tear and cries as they hug.
She goes to her baby brother and wraps her arms around his neck. He is so much taller than her now. These two best friends since the day he was born. He strokes the back of her hair and tells her she will be okay. She presses her face into Christopher’s chest and wraps her arms around his waist. This brother that she so recently reunited with. A brother she couldn’t wait to see after each gymnastic meet, running through the doors, jumping on him to tell him every last detail. Even, though, he would always feign disinterest. He whispers in her ear. There is a tear in his eye. I am okay. I am not falling apart, even when she jumps up into Trevor’s arms like she used to as a four year old, arms around his neck, legs around his waist. He holds her this way for a long time.
She looks at me. How can I say goodbye to her? I wait for Greg to lighten the burden. To make a joke. He doesn’t. This is hard for him, too.He whispers, “Goodbye, Bomb.”
Everyone snaps up. We look around like a bunch of thieves hiding the loot. Praying no one outside our circle heard him. We had warned Daddy and Michael all night about inappropriate airport jokes. But, we forgot about warning him against calling his baby girl by her nickname.
The burden was lifted. There is laughter again. We can do this. She blows kisses. We smile. And, that’s it. She walks through to customs. Our group left standing alone, a bit bewildered. Not ready to move yet. So, we just stand there.
Suddenly, we hear her. She is yelling. “Wait, wait, wait!!!” We see her. Running back to us. We want to stop her. If she comes out, she will have to go through the whole process again. And, possibly miss her flight. Everyone puts their hands up, like a stop sign. I am particularly good at this, seeing how I was a third grade cross-guard. But, she doesn’t stop. She comes right back out of the customs clearance. Right back to the fold.
“I forgot Ducky!”
Well, we were there in time. Now, we fear, she will miss her flight. Ducky is in the car. Ducky, the Christmas gift from Cassie for the sole purpose of bringing comfort to her whenever she might feel lonely in Japan. There is no way Michelley is getting on the plane without him.
Michael and Tanner start to sprint out the door. We wait. This is awkward. We’ve already gone through a rather dramatic goodbye scene. What do we talk about now? We all turn to face the window. The window overlooking the parking lot. There is a brick wall, but, we can see Michael and Tanner’s heads bobbing up and down just above the wall. Like a cartoon, or a bit from the Three Stooges, we see their two heads turn around and bob back in the other direction. Every now and then, we see Ducky, too, as Tanner pumps his arms in the full-speed run back to the terminal.
Ducky under her arm, she is ready. This time, the goodbyes are quick and sweet. No tears. We are running out of boarding time. She turns to enter through the custom gates again.
They are closed.
We are directed to another gate. This requires a full-speed run of all of us. This is a scary looking group. Ducky leads the way. We arrive to this gate in another long line. Panic has entered the room. A policeman comes to tell us that only the passenger can wait in this line.
We back up, toes on the yellow line we are to wait behind. We all just watch her inch forward. Finally, she makes it through a gate and we are behind a glass wall. Faces pressed against it.
We can’t hear the security guards with her, but, we can see she has already made friends. They smile and wave to us. They ask her questions and point in our direction. She nods and points at each one of us, too. We are blowing kisses, dancing, making peace signs and holding each other. And, then, she has to move on. We wave as she disappears behind a wall, only to appear again on the other side of this.
We cheer and then, frantically wave some more as she disappears for good down the airplane ramp. The security guards wave back at us. As they wave, I see Michelley, my precious moment, her daddy’s Bomb, she peeks her face back around that wall. Her and her Ducky.
We blow kisses. Then, I see her mouth the words, “I love you.” And she is gone.