My little girl turned 16 years old last week, away from the nest and my loving arms. God, I miss her. Today could not have come soon enough.
Angie was furious when I flagged her as an unaccompanied minor with the airline. What did she think I would do, cut her loose and walk away? It took every argument she could think of just to get me to agree to this trip in the first place.
“I haven’t seen my East Coast family since before the pandemic.”
“Nanny is turning 80 years old over the holiday break. You can’t travel anymore, but I need to be there.”
“You taught me how to be safe and take care of myself.”
It was the last one that got me. My daughter was right. I trained her well and knew she would be okay. Bad memories still haunt me, though.
“Okay,” I said. “You can go, but I’m going to get your ticket as a minor.”
Angie put up a short fight. “Dad!”
“No arguments. Direct flights both ways. I will bring you to the gate, then be there when the trip is over. Your uncle will meet you in La Guardia.” I thought she was steamed, but the little trickster knew exactly how to play me. Giving me that one little win kept my bruised ego in check.
Angie had a blast back East. I’ve been a wreck the entire time. Hopefully, when I get to the airport and see her face, these fears will go back to my nightmares where they belong. They’re safer in my head. No one gets hurt there. Besides, I deserve the nightmares.
The airport over the holidays is enough to put anyone on edge. Way too many travelers, most of them have no clue what to do. The parking garage is full, from the ground floor to the whatever-level-is-up-at-the-top level. The available space sign will never flash FULL, though. That’s because every clown takes their oversized SUV to the airport, and they can’t cram those boats in between the painted lines. Not anymore, not since our City Council created more parking. Bureaucrats had the lines repainted, using the selling point “this measure will increase the Wewa Falls Airport’s parking by 17.65%.” They even had a pretty slide showing the math that got them to 17.65%. A couple of kids taking high school geometry got a hold of the slide and added reality. Reworked planning factors, written over the top in red, calculated a decrease of -11.77% availability. Double underline. Final answer. Great.
Even my handicapped pass was useless until the ninth level. Come Christmas time, everyone is a cripple.
Everything gets worse when the contents of those obscene wagons spill into the airport terminal. Obscene families stumble through check-in kiosks and security checkpoints, fucking up every step of the way.
“How can my bag be oversized? It was fine when I packed it this morning.”
“Why do I have to take my shoes off?”
“Can we get a free upgrade to first class? It’s a special trip.”
Amateurs. It’s been 15 years since I last flew, but even I still know the rules. I want to grab every one of those fucks by the throat and tell them, “Put the cookies back in your pocket, get your asshole kids under control, and follow the god damn rules. You are not going anywhere unless you follow the god damn rules. And, you are holding up everyone behind you. Now move!”
I want to, but I don’t talk like that. Not anymore.
Somehow, I made it through without popping any blood vessels. My escort pass gets me through security and to the gate with plenty of time to spare. I don’t mind sitting here for 45 minutes. I would rather be early than miss greeting Angie at the gate. I bet she’s wearing that sweatshirt Uncle Billy got her for Christmas. It’s his alma mater – her college in a couple of years, I hope. Since she was a kid, Angie has wanted to follow in Uncle Billy’s footsteps. I hope she does. Don’t be like your dad, darling. Go into business. Don’t make the choices I did – you won’t want to build the stomach for it.
Will Angie be hungry after the long flight? I doubt my girl ate anything since breakfast – probably slept the whole way. I was going to bring snacks from home, but I’m glad I changed my mind. All I can think of is that clown munching on his Christmas cookies, holding everyone up at security. We could grab something at the food court. No. I just want to get out of this godforsaken hellhole. Besides, we still have Christmas gifts to open at home.
I pass the time by scrolling through the contact list on my phone. Overdue “Happy Holidays” texts to buddies make me nostalgic for the old days. I wonder if they’re retired as well? If not, some must be pretty high up in the organization by now. We don’t keep in contact — no one stays connected once they’re out. It’s better that way. I won’t get any responses, but it felt good to send the notes and pretend I’m still in the shit.
It is a true Christmas miracle when her plane pulls into the gate 10 minutes early. I don’t think my heart could’ve waited until the scheduled arrival. Weary travelers start to pour through the door. These were not your going somewhere travelers. They were coming home from their holiday visits. Of all the things I despised when I was active, sleeping in a strange bed was the worst. Nothing beats crawling under your own sheets and falling asleep on your perfectly molded pillow. These fellows are all in for a treat tonight.
Halfway through offloading, and there she is! The poor kid looks exhausted while she scans the gate area for me. I wave my good arm and watch her breathe a sigh of relief. Of course I was going to be here, silly. With the brightest smile on both our faces, I crouch down on one knee as Angie runs into my arms. Tears begin to well up in my eyes. God, I missed her. She pulls me closer and whispers into my ear.
“Fat man to your 9 o’clock. Second is the redhead with a leather attaché case getting off the plane now.”
No, those two don’t fit in this crowd. I can see it clear as day, but what the fuck is she doing? As a thousand questions run through my head, instinct overrides my reaction. I start talking about dinner plans, all the while listening as she continues situation protocol.
“Skip baggage claim. Short-term parking, Charlie 09. There’s a Glock 22 in my backpack hideaway, 14 and 1.”
I wrestle my broken body to its feet and set the stage with a prompt. Angie will take lead. I’ll follow. That’s protocol. But, how does she know?
“I’m so glad you’re back, darling. Are you ready to get out of here?”
“Can you hold my stuff, please, Daddy? I have to go pee,” she declares, then shoves her backpack into my arms before running across the terminal to the woman’s restroom.”
“Hurry up,” I yell back. “I’ll wait right here.”
“Okay!” Her voice trails off.
The redhead follows my daughter while fat man pretends to make a call.
Shit! What the hell happened in New York? Why now?
It’s been 22 years…