“I saw the angel in the marble and carved
until I set him free.”
When I was a girl, I would lie on the banks of Molasses
Creek with soft green grass beneath my back and look up into the sky,
dreaming of being there. In my upside down world, the clouds were
pieces of land that I would hop to, and the vast blue sky was the
river, the ocean that would beckon to transport me far, far away.
That vast blue sky has taken me to all sorts of foreign lands since
then. Sometimes the most foreign place is home.
I’ll be flying in just a few minutes, cloud-hopping
back to a city I never thought I’d see again.
I close my eyes and imagine myself feeling weightless
again, my body traveling at 500 miles an hour yet perfectly still.
Someone clears a throat. I open my eyes and see a woman before me
in uniform, standing at a podium. She’s holding out her hand.
“Oh, yes,” I say. I reach in my bag and pull out my wallet.
Through the airport window, a jet leaves the wet runway and rises
into thick gray rain.
I hand the uniformed woman my driver’s license,
and she looks at me to see if there’s a match. “My hair’s
a little different now,” I explain. “And . . . I’m
a little older.” So much about me is different now. I wonder
if she can read it in my face—the years, the tragedy, the love,
the moments of hope. I smile at her, but she doesn’t return
it. They’ve gotten a lot stricter with flying these days, and
that’s not such a bad thing. I don’t mind waiting a few
minutes longer to take my shoes off and have them search my belongings.
There’s a poor old lady up ahead of me, hunched over. They have
her to the side and are patting her down. Really? Her? Never in a
million years. After flying as many times as I have, you get an eye
for these things.
The woman hands me my license back and the young lady
behind me reaches to hand her a passport. “Charleston is very
nice place,” she says in a foreign accent. You can tell she’s
worked hard on her English. That warms my heart. I take a deep breath
and move to the conveyor belt. I set my shoes in a gray bin along
with a lightweight jacket and carry-on bag. The top of the bag is
open and when I set it on its side, a large, tattered book peeks out.
My heart flutters and my mind spills over with images, sketches of
my life, as if I’m having one of those near-death experiences
and life is flashing before my eyes.
I blink and move forward. Did I remember my pencils?
Yes, I did.
I shuffle along with everyone else, barefooted, until
I pass through the metal detector. Oh, the things I’ve seen
people get caught with over the years—guns, drug paraphernalia,
tiny switchblades in unusual parts of the body. Some people are flat
out crazy and criminal.
Criminal. Crime. Why would anyone ever return to the
scene of the crime? For closure? To find that part of them that was
lost there? To make things right? I’m going back for all of
these reasons. I can’t believe it. I never thought I’d
see the day.
The airport is fairly empty this time of the morning,
but our wait isn’t long. A cup of coffee and a People magazine
later, we’ve entered the plane. It’s a Boeing 737. I look
into the cockpit to see who’s flying us. I’m looking to
see if a certain old lover is there, but that would be too much of
a coincidence, even for me. I nod at the pilot, a fifty-ish gentleman
I have never seen before, and carefully eye the flight attendant.
She’s about thirty-five, a little heavy in the hips, blonde
hair, nice looking. Back in my day she never would have gotten a job
here. Back then, getting and keeping a stewardess job was as hard
as making the cut on American Idol. But not today. Times have changed.
Part of me wants to relieve this lady and do her job for her. I could
take care of this entire plane, all these passengers, all their needs,
without blinking an eye. I’m not too old, no matter what they
suggested. So what, my back went out and I dropped a cup of coffee
on a passenger. It happens. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore
and when your passion leaves you, well, it might just be time to move
on to something else.
To be honest, flying turned painful emotionally as the
years went on. I was always torn between wanting to fly to the other
side of the world and keep searching—or going back to see him.
A woman is lucky in life if she finds true love. Twice as lucky if
she holds onto it. Three times the luck if she loses it and it comes
back to her even stronger than before.
I’ve got to go back. I can’t believe I’m
going back. I left in the first place because of him, and now, I can
feel this strong pull within me—he’s pulling me. He’s
leading me, telling me I must go return to the scene of the crime,
where my whole life changed in an instant. It’s now or never.
No more wasted time.
I close my eyes as the plane rumbles to takeoff. I’ve
never been much of a praying woman, but this time, I hear the faint
mumbling of the young lady beside me. I turn to look at her, a pretty
girl, obviously nervous about flying today too. Her eyes are closed
and fists clenched. We all have our fears, don’t we? Our own
stories. And our reasons to go back to the place that changed us.
She catches my eye. I take a deep breath and give a reassuring look.
I squeeze her hand like I’ve done a thousand times with passengers,
then turn to the window as the plane lifts off the runway. My heart
lifts along with my stomach, and I say a little prayer to the clouds
for the both of us. Great white bird, take us over the river. Make
us brave and remove our fears.
I think of his rugged face, those dark eyes, those sweet
lips smiling for me. I know what I promised you, but you know me,
Vesey. You always have.
Sometimes stepping back in time is the only way for
a girl to move forward.