“You have a very promising career right here. You know that, don’t you?” Mr. Philips says. He sits behind his desk with his hands folded neatly. His phone rings but he ignores it, he doesn’t even steal a glance to check the caller ID.
I am the one to break eye contact and I divert my eyes to the window behind him. I focus on the greenery and blooming spring trees, they are at odds with his stark white office. A squirrel scampers out onto the limb of the nearest tree. It is thin from the long winter but it is energetic and full of life and freedom. It brings a smile to my lips.
His voice brings me back inside and my smile vanishes as I lose my connection to the fuzzy critter outside. “Yes, Mr. Philips. I know.”
“There are going to be excellent opportunities in the very near future. You just need a little patience,” he says. His brow is furrowed and the intensity with which he stares at me makes my stomach flip-flop.
The dread that has been building in the pit of my stomach makes me want to give in. It makes me want to surrender and say ‘yes, I’ll be a good little powder monkey,’ but I can’t. Not now. I have come too far.
I take a deep breath. “I know. But this isn’t about my career. It’s more personal than that. I feel like this is the right decision.”
Mr. Philips frowns and finally drops his gaze to his folded hands. He unfolds them and tents them, tapping his fingers together. Suddenly he looks ancient and tired. His thinning hair seems just a little bit thinner. The grey seems a little bit greyer. His bright eyes, always ready for a challenge, look cold and dull. “I understand, I just . . . I had hoped you would be my replacement.”
My shoulders slump under the weight of the guilt that is piled high. “I know, Mr. Philips. I feel terrible about this.” I feel like I have betrayed him, like I have abandoned him. “I want you to know that appreciate everything that you have done for me.”
He nods but continues to look like a broken man.
“I feel like . . . I just feel like I would regret missing an opportunity like this.”
“Yes, Kate. I understand. Since it seems like you have made up your mind, I wish you the best of luck.”
“Miss? What would you like to drink?” the flight attendant asks me.
I am slow to respond. I had been staring out the window at the endless clouds, re-playing the conversation with my boss over and over again in my head. “Uh, I’ll have a Coke. Thanks.”
“You can’t be serious about this?” my mother screams. She is furious. Her face is beet red and a vein stands out in the middle of her forehead. Tears stream down her face.
I stand in front of her with my arms crossed defiantly. But there is nothing defiant about me; I can’t even bring myself to speak.
“It has just been the two of us for so long and now you’re going to leave me?”
I had promised myself I would stay strong and stand my ground but I can feel my resolve breaking apart as the tears begin to well.
“Aren’t you going to say anything? Or are you just going to stand there and stare at me?”
My throat burns as I try to hold back the emotion and I try to make the words come out. “I have to do this,” I whisper.
“Ma, I have to do this. I want to see the world.”
She glares at me, deadly fire dancing in her eyes. She rakes her hands through her dark hair and shakes her head.
“Ma, I’m afraid I’m gonna spend my whole life in that office, just working. I want to do something crazy. I’ve never been anywhere. I’ve never done anything.”
“It’s just two years?”
The fire in her eyes dies to a smolder. She crosses her arms and shakes her head again. “I guess you’re gonna do what you wanna do.” Her voice cracks and sounds weak. I have never seen my mother lose her fight, until now.
I awake to the ding of the plane’s intercom.
“This is your captain speaking. Please return to your seats and put on your seatbelts. We are approaching a little weather and may experience some turbulence. Thank you.”
“What do you mean you don’t want to get married?” Andrew asks as he rolls out from beneath his jeep.
“I can’t marry you,” I squeak.
He jumps up from his creeper and stands in front of me wiping the grease from his hands on his coveralls. “Is this about that damn job? I told ya if you really wanted to go, I’d go with ya.”
I shake my head ‘no.’
He wraps his arms around me. “Baby, I love ya. I’ll do anything for ya, even if that means movin’ half way around the world ta’ live with them China people.”
His arms are so safe and secure. His words are so comforting. He does love me. He always has. The tears flow freely as I nuzzle into his shoulder. I have caused so much disappointment. How can I do this to him? How can I do this to the people that love and trust me? How can I just walk away from everything I have here?
I push away from his embrace and cross my arms to keep him from trying again. “I have never been alone. I have never been on my own. I have to do this. I have to find out about myself.”
His face falls flat as he realizes I have made my decision. “I’ll wait for you. It’s only two years. I’ll wait for you.”
“You don’t have to,” I say, letting my eyes drop to the ground.
“I’ll wait for you,” he says.
My eyes snap open as my stomach drops and there is a collective shriek from the other passengers on the flight. I am jostled about as the plane shutters and shakes from turbulence. The little yellow masks have dropped from the overhead.
“Ladies and gentlemen we have experienced a rapid drop in cabin pressure, please put on your oxygen masks and remain calm,” a female voice says over the intercom. Despite her request, she sounds anything but calm.
I reach for the mask and place it over my face. I turn to the man sitting next to me and I see his eyes are wide and filled with fear. Children are crying and the woman behind me is sobbing. The plane groans and creaks. It dips and pitches. The plane sounds as if it is going to rattle to pieces. A man begins what sounds like a prayer in some foreign language; he is quickly joined by others until it is a panicked chorus, pleading to whatever god they follow.
I have abandoned my family. I have left everything I have ever known. I have left my only home. I am all alone on this plane that surely seems like it will never meet its destination. But somehow I am calm. There is something oddly reassuring about this horrific situation, as if it is validation that I needed to experience more; that I needed to be my own person and find my voice. Well I have found my voice and if I make it safely through this, I will make sure to use it.
Copyright © 2012 by Leigh Fischer