I pull into the East terminal of the Denver International Airport and follow the road as it snakes around the parked cars. Driving by, I watch closely for any open spaces in the sea below. The sign leading into the ramp says the parking lot is full, but I don’t have time to back-track to off-site parking. I see an open spot in the far corner and speed up to catch it.
I jog towards the terminal, my bag bouncing behind me, and skidding onto its side whenever I run over a rock. By the time I get to the elevators I’m breathing heavily. As it glides upward, I check the time on my phone. I’ll be alright. I’ll be alright.
The doors open.
The security line snakes through all of the ropes, stretching beyond the bathrooms, and is within clawing distance of where I’m standing.
It’s Friday afternoon, who are these people?
I look left and right.
Is the line shorter at the other end of the airport?
I don’t have time to find out.
I have one trick left. I enter the business class line and wait a few minutes until I’m at the front. The thought of missing the flight is excruciating. I try to block it from my mind, but it’s real and terrifying.
“You don’t have the right ticket,” the woman tells me.
“They told me to go into the preferred passenger line at special services.”
She looks at me, then back down at the ticket. I prepare to beg. To appeal to the fact that I’m on my way to see my daughter and that I will never make it in time. I wait for her to say anything.
She stamps the ticket and hands it back to me, rolling her eyes softly.
“Thank you. I really appreciate it.”
I want her to smile, to know that she knows how much this means to me. But she’s already waving up the next person.
At the gate I bury myself in work emails, looking up every few minutes to check if the obligatory crowd of people milling around the gate have started to board. When the mass begins to slowly drain, I take my place at the end.
On the plane, I respond to texts until my reception gives out in the air. Then I sit, feeling an obligation to be alone with my thoughts. But I don’t know how.
The pilot announces that we’re at cruising altitude. I consider taking out my laptop to continue working. But the inertia that has propelled me through the day is gone. I stare out the window instead. The sun sets rapidly as we fly into dusk, then shortly thereafter, night. Once it’s completely dark, I can see the occasional clusters of light, indicating a small midwestern town below. I take out the Economist that I brought with me and read it for about ten minutes before I become irritated and shove it back into the seat pocket.
I dig my nails into my palms as the irritation turns to anger and then becomes a physical intensity, a heat, that builds inside of me. I don’t know why or what to lash out at so I simmer quietly in my seat.
It’s a three-hour flight and a five-hour time change to Dayton. By the time we’re landing it’s the dead of night.
I move slowly, letting people burst out from behind me as we step off the jetway. There are small little needles moving across my skin as I walk by the oddly named restaurants and convenience stores. The south that’s not The South.
I punch in my information at the rental car kiosk and the conscientious looking dirty-blonde at the counter hands me keys to a Hyundai. Inside, I hook up my phone to the Bluetooth, turn down the interior neon of the dashboard, enter the address of the hotel, and exit the small gray sedan out of the airport and onto the crisscrossing interstates of southern Ohio.
I notice the same thing that I always notice at this point in my trip: the clock reads 11:21. I’m ten minutes earlier than usual. Am I getting better at this or did the plane just land early?
In the parking lot of the hotel I swallow the single Xanax that I’ve been saving in my pocket (with a full bottle in my bag for emergencies). I don’t recognize the guy at the front desk. He seems as exhausted as I am. We exchange a few words, identification, a credit card, and a key card. In my room, as I wash up, I feel my eyelids getting heavy. The Xanax kicking in. This doesn’t feel like a dream, it only seems surreal.