I don’t know who was more nervous as we embarked on a two-plus hour drive to the Charlotte airport – me or Astrid. At eight years old, she was about to fly as an “unaccompanied minor.”
I’d been having a fluttery stomach all morning at the thought of placing my little girl on that plane by herself. Would she have the courage to ask for help if she needed it? Would some creep be looking at porn on his iPad next to her? Would she be able to navigate the restrooms on her own?
Since I like to be at the airport super-early, I figured leaving at 9:00 am for a 2:45 pm flight would give us oh, about 24 hours of free time in the airport. It was a nail-biter.
In fact, it was so early when we got there that had she been older, she could have taken the 1:05 flight to see my family in Minnesota. Instead, we waited. And at first, it was awesome fun. Sushi while we watch planes take off! A coveted Sprite for Astrid! Mining the gift shop for a special in-flight activity!
Then my phone started to buzz: US Air with an automated flight delay message. Flight Delay No. 1, it would turn out.
Then Flight Delay No. 1 turned into Flight Delay No. 2. So we walked. We walked up every goddamn terminal in the Charlotte airport, which is not nearly as large as I had remembered it from the time I made a mad dash from one end to the other to catch a transfer. It was more like the Asheville Mall, with even crappier stores.
Let’s just say that if you spend any real time at the Charlotte airport, you will end up buying something from The Body Shop. I dropped $40 bucks there on three tubs of exfoliants and joined some sort of Birthday Club. IT WASN’T EVEN MY BIRTHDAY.
We got ice cream. We read Harry Potter, nigh impossible given the announcements blaring every few seconds. We played Twenty Questions (she cheated). And began, slowly, to get on each other’s last nerve.
So that by the time Flight Delay No. 3 came around, my panicky stomach and her nervous eagerness were gone. Sarcasm replaced loving words of comfort. Stony silence replaced curious queries about the trip. The knots in the apron strings eased themselves apart with each passing minute.
When she finally boarded – after eight long, mind-numbing hours together – I went in for a hug and she raised her arms in a classic defensive maneuver. I gave a half-hearted wave. Like a more-stoic Orpheus or Lot, she easily managed not to look back.
Exhausted, I buckled up for the long trip home. But around Gastonia, I realized I had left something in her backpack. My quivering, still-beating heart.