There are so many places you might go! Every gate has a big blue sign that tells you where can travel from there and what time you can get started. Philadelphia seems to be popular; the waiting area there is so full people stand straddling their carry-ons between their legs. But no one seems to be going to Cancun. I would like to go to Cancun, because I can see it is raining outside, and it looks very cold out there. There is LaGuardia, Minneapolis, Denver, and Los Angeles – all in a row. You can go anywhere from here. It is amazing when you think about it.
But when I think about it for too long, my head hurts, because I cannot remember where I am supposed to be going. I am wandering up and down this terminal hoping something will ring a bell. I spend a lot of my life wondering about such things these days. Why did I go into the kitchen? Why did I put on my best dress? Lists help, but I cannot find any list at the moment, and I cannot find my ticket. I have my driver’s license, so I know who I am, but I do not know where I am. I do not know whether I am coming or going. Like I said, this is not unusual, but it is the first time it has happened at the airport. If I were going to visit Gerald, I would be looking for Phoenix, even though he lives in Prescott, about an hour away from Phoenix. If I were going to see my sister, I would be going to Boston, because she is in a nursing home in Newburyport. The last time I went there, she didn’t know me, so I doubt whether that is where I am going. If I were on my way home, I would be looking for Atlanta. Of course, there is the possibility that this is the Atlanta airport, but I don’t think so.
I must look confused, because one of those nice people who push the wheelchairs stopped to talk to me.
“I’m Sam. Can I help?” he asked. He was rigged up in a snazzy blue uniform, and he had braids that went down to his behind and a ring on every finger. It was a strange combination, but he had a very nice smile.
“Where am I?” I asked, and immediately regretted it. If someone could just tell me which airport I was in, I thought if I could figure that out, the rest might come. On the other hand, it immediately occurred to me that this lovely man might think I was crazy and notify the authorities, who would call Gerald, and then my world would fall apart. I thought as fast as I was able.
“I mean, which terminal is this? I need someone to help me with my ticket.”
“Can I see your ticket?” My new friend Sam looked at me with a mixture of pity and concern.
Of course he couldn’t see the ticket since I couldn’t find it. I shook my head.
“Which airline?” he asked hopefully.
Of course, I didn’t know that either, so I said never mind and headed for the ladies room. As I sat and peed (I can pee upon any moment’s notice), I thought about what I said to him: “Where am I?” My memory is shot to pieces, but that question brought back the clearest recollection.
It was as if it was yesterday instead of almost fifty years ago; I can even remember what Sally and I were wearing as we sat on the bench under the gingko tree and ate our lunch. She was in a tenty blue dress (she was a big girl) and I was in one of those pretend-suits that women used to wear with bows at the neck rather than a tie. Neither of us wore pants. Those were different times. Hard times. It was the seventies, and we had full-time jobs, young children at home, and uncooperative husbands. We were former hippies who had foregone pot and free sex for a white gown, a house in the suburbs, and a chance to reproduce our species. And somehow, we also got demanding jobs and cascading stress and obstinate husbands.
It was a new world. Our mothers had never worked, but we were informed that it was the only way to fulfill ourselves. And, even if we didn’t believe in self-fulfillment, that house in the suburbs had a 9% mortgage. And, of course, if we were going to work, we had to have two cars. 12% interest on the car loans. And we needed daycare and sitters. It was an endless cycle of expense and work to pay for it.
But the money was the least of it. We had to get everyone fed and out of the house in the morning and back home at night, put dinner on the table, and make sure there were enough clean towels and diapers. When Gerald was sick and couldn’t go to the minders, I would have to beg my mother-in-law to take him. God forbid my husband would ever call in sick to mind his son.
As girls, we never figured that it would be this way. We changed with the times. As boys, our husbands never figured it would be part of their world to cook dinner or fold laundry or change diapers. They didn’t change. We bitched about our husbands all the time, and the men surely crabbed about us. I think the men got more sympathy than we did. God knows their mothers never expected men to clean bathrooms. The whole situation was pitiful, and don’t let anybody ever tell you any different.
Everyone was telling us that women were now liberated, and there we were working fifty hours a week and staying up until 11 to do the dishes and fill the lunchboxes. What went wrong? We came from a world where homemaking was full time work, no one got divorced, and children were not hustled off to day care in the morning. We had no models; we didn’t know how to do this. Our only comfort was in realizing we were not alone. And so we sat on the benches at noon with women like ourselves and ate our lunch and complained to someone who understood. My favorite lunch companion was Sally, who had an even worse husband than I did.
Constant kvetching gets boring, however, and we would eventually move on to dreaming about how we might be marvelously spirited out of our unsatisfactory lives. Our favorite version of this magical thinking was that we would take a plane to an exotic location. When we arrived, we would destroy all our identity documents and claim amnesia. “Where am I?” we would ask with a bewildered look on our face. “Where do I belong?” We believed that somehow, miraculously, no one would ever figure out who we were and where we came from. And we could start a new life. Silly? Of course. Our husbands would have reported us missing once there was no more clean underwear, and a search would ensue. Callous, perhaps? That’s one word for it, but not the one I would use. Ready to leave husband, children, parents behind? Yes, there were moments when we surely were. Life had pulled the rug out from under us and left us with the joys of motherhood, the responsibilities of a breadwinner, and the hardened hands of a kitchen maid. Callous, maybe. Desperate, definitely. We were desperate for relief, and since there was no relief in sight, we were desperate for escape.
Of course, we never did it. We eventually divorced our husbands, changed our jobs, and sent our children to college. Life got better. We never ended up claiming amnesia in a strange airport, yet here I am.
I do have identity documents. I know who I am. And I know what I am – an eighty-two-year-old woman with an undependable memory and an even less dependable bladder. I live outside of Atlanta in an assisting living facility that looks a lot like my college dormitory but is a lot less fun. But I still don’t think this is the Atlanta airport.
I know I can get help just by identifying myself to a security person or an airline office. But that might end up with someone official notifying Gerald and him moving me across the street to the memory care facility. There was no arguing with Gerald when he was a fussy toddler and there would be no arguing with him now. He’d definitely send me to memory care. I’ve never been over there, but it is greatly feared at the assisted living facility. The other place is the way it is referred to. When people transfer over there, we never see them again. Not only have they lost their memories, but all memories of them are lost. I am definitely not ready for that.
Maybe I could just go to the ticket counter with my ID and credit card and buy a ticket for somewhere exotic. Well, I don’t have a passport, so it can’t be too exotic. But maybe New Mexico. Or Wyoming. Those are places I’ve always wanted to visit. When I got there, I would just tell them I have amnesia. But, no. I know. If you are young and pretty and claim amnesia, you can hope that people help you start a new life. If you are eighty-two, they’ll surely slam you into an institution. Plus, the internet makes any kind of disappearing act almost impossible, I suppose. Now they have DNA testing and God knows what else to make sure that is no escape. So escape isn’t really a possibility. It wasn’t really a possibility when Sally and I were young either, but the fantasy made us laugh and helped us get through those awful days. I could use a laugh right now.