When the plane pushes away from the gate a few moments later it is a surreal experience for me. Since March 16, I have tried to make my way out of the country. No matter how carefully thought through, every one of those plans had found its way into the circular file. It is hard to accept that the moment of truth has come and the plan has worked. I feel the elation that comes from reaching a goal and that at long last I was heading home. But all those high emotions are tinged with guilt.
I know I have incredibly good reasons to be headed home. I have medical issues (a mildly irregular EKG) that were scheduled to be evaluated and dealt with months ago. My job had been eliminated at the start of the Covid 19 crisis and I have to begin, now that the crisis has eased, to look for employment. While I could do this from Brazil (we live in a virtual world) my focus and efforts would pay higher dividends from our home in Chatham.
I miss my dog. Probably far more than she misses me as she has been more than pampered for months. But, as a person who works primarily out of a home office, she has been my everyday companion for 4 years. When I was alone, she was there. As Christopher Morley said ““No one appreciates the special genius of your conversation as the dog does.” So it has been true with Rosie.
I want to hang out with my niece and nephew. They delight me in every way. They are of the age where talking on the phone, texting, or other type of communication beyond face to face, is just not worthwhile because they, as teenagers, have far to many activities and distractions.
I can justify going home.
What I have difficulty coming to terms with is the fact that I am also leaving out of fear. As safe as our home in Rio has been, I know that the crisis in Brazil is deepening. The virus is spreading exponentially and with it the chances of catching the disease grow daily. It is far too easy to imagine, especially in the middle of a sleepless night, for me to catch the disease and be taken away to an overcrowded hospital, where no one speaks English, and due to isolation protocols, I am utterly alone. I can forgive myself this fear. I believe that anyone, should they become ill, would prefer to be in a healthcare system in which they have faith and will be communicated with in a language you understood.
What I cannot justify, is leaving Elaine behind. She has her reasons for staying. Both said and unsaid. She has told me that she feels safe in our home. I know that this goes well beyond the isolation of our house and our neighborhood. Beyond the fact we have developed a system to get food and supplies with minimal chance of exposure to the disease. Since long before I met her eight years ago, this home has been her castle, her protection from an often-hostile world, a lifeboat on a unfriendly sea. Leaving it now, when Brazil is on fire from disease, political corruption and travel with me through the belly of the beast is an act of faith she cannot muster. I understand this. Where my guilt comes from is whether I have done everything I can to convince her that coming with me is the best decision.
My father used to tell us about his Uncle Heinrich, his mother’s brother. He was a printer, and because it was an essential service, he was kept in his job even after the war had begun and most Jews had been forced from their occupations. One day, while he was at work, he found out that his wife Risa had been arrested by the SS and taken to a deportation center. He left his job, where he would have been safe, and went to where his wife was being held and voluntarily joined his wife. They were both murdered at Auschwitz. I thought of Uncle Heinrich as a hero. The type of man I would like to be. Yet unlike him who had sacrificed his life so that his beloved wife would not be alone, I was leaving my wife behind.
The plane reached the edge of the runway and has paused awaiting the towers approval for takeoff. My self-flagellation during the planes taxiing had brought me to the core of my emotions. I will miss Elaine. While countless articles had described how difficult it was for some families to adjust to self-isolation, we had thrived. Not that we had not squabbled but those passed as quickly as a summer storm. For a couple that had lived a bi continental lifestyle for over 8 years, our being together for the last few months proved, if nothing else, that we were at our best when we were together. Leaving Brazil meant leaving her with no certainty when I would see her again. This cut me to the quick.
As the plane’s engines roared to full throttle and we launched down the runway I said a silent prayer to the ultimate Jokester. I thanked him for getting me this far safely and implored him to restrain his sense of humor when it came to Elaine and me. That he allows us to be together sooner as opposed to later and that he keeps us safe in the interim.
The plane lept into the night and as it climbed I reached for the entertainment system. Over the last twelve hours I had spent entirely too much time inside my head on endless loops of fears and self-doubt. I needed to watch a movie, a comedy or rom com, that would distract me from those thoughts and the whistling Texan behind me.
One of the circumstances of my childhood was the lack of programming on television. There were only six channels and the amount of content was extremely limited by today’s standards. The stations filled programming gaps with old moview from The Golden Age of Hollywood such as The Marx Brothers, Gangster films staring Jimmy Cagney or Humphrey Bogart o, r even Carmen Miranda films. They were not serious entertainment. They were meant to distract and uplift people from the depths that the Depression had brought into their lives. They were Celluloid valium. When I see one of my favorites from this era offered, I, without hesitation select it.
If you have never seen “The Thin Man” or any in the series, you have missed one of the great comic duo’s of all time in Myrna Loy and William Powell. Their combination of physical comedy, wise cracking one liners and, of course, Asta the wonder dog, take a very thin plot and make it as intoxicating as the gallons of liquor they manage to consume during the movie. I only wish I had a Martini so as to better appreciate the on-screen fun.
Dinner is served without the usual panache of Polaris Class Service. Instead of cocktails, followed by progressive courses and concluding with ice cream sundaes and after dinner drinks we are presented with a single tray crowded with each element individually wrapped. I am glad that United is taking hygiene so seriously even though the crowded tray makes maneuvering a bit of a challenge. The food is as delicious as airplane food can be from the bits of peach in the salad to the mushroom sauce on the Filet Mignon. I miss my sundae but the chocolate truffles are more than an adequate sweet note to end the meal.
The food and the distraction of the movie serve their purpose. I recline my seat to flat, cover myself with a comforter, adjust my mask, tuck my pillow under my head and fall asleep. Five hours later I wake with a full bladder and a stiff neck. I stumble to the john where I take care of pressing business and while washing my hands notice that my hair, which has not been cut in three months, is blossoming into an “Isro.” This amuses me but I quickly lose my sense of humor when on the way back to my seat I notice that “Tex” has fallen asleep without his mask.
To both my credit and my shame, I am not a person who shuns confrontation. In most circumstances I would not hesitate to tell “Tex” that he needed to place the mask on his face. But I did not trust myself to handle the situation with any delicacy or subtly. I doubted he would welcome being awakened by an angry Fro’ed Jew yelling “Put on your fucking mask, asshole.” I went to find a flight attendant instead. She should have noticed this anyway. I found her sitting on a fold down chair next to the galley reading and when she saw me, hurrying to put on her mask. I explained the situation. That United’s policy was that everyone (ahem) was required to wear masks during the entirety of the flight and that my hope was she would enforce the policy with the passenger behind me.
She promised to handle the situation. After I return to my seat I hear her waking “Tex” up, telling him that he must wear the mask even when sleeping. He is the opposite of the booming happy Texan he was upon boarding. He does not appreciate being awakened. He doesn’t appreciate the message he is being given but when the flight attendant suggests he might have to be put in restraints he gives in and agrees to wear his mask.
We still have five hours before we are schedule to land in Houston. I try to fall back to sleep and laugh at myself when I realize that I am hoping sleep will make time fly. I am just about to sleep when I hear an argument behind me. Apparently, Tex had taken his mask off and another flight attendant, this one male, is now telling him that if he refuses to comply with regulations, he will be arrested upon reaching Houston. Tex argues about the amount of money he has spent on his ticket. He mentions his high status on United and the amount of loyalty he has shown the airline and how he, of all people, should not be treated this way. He says that his rights are being violated and tells the steward of his plan to write the head of the airline.
The flight attendant does not argue with him. He is perfectly calm. He tells Tex he can do whatever he wants when he leaves the airplane but for now if he doesn’t put on the mask, he will be arrested upon arrival for disrupting a flight. Apparently, Tex puts on his mask as the steward departs shortly thereafter.
I fall asleep trying to figure out why the inoffensive act of putting on a mask to protect yourself and others seems to be such trouble for some. It is a quandary that has no answer but acts as a soporific. I fall back to sleep.
When I wake again, the plane is touching down in Houston.