01 March 2014
The following is a journal entry I wrote during a flight I took to see my parents. That weekend, I would "come out" to them.
Just boarded Flight 2640, from Newark to Daytona Beach. I’ve never been in one of these new planes before. I’m in a solo seat: window to the left, aisle to the right. Across the aisle, two seats next to a window. (Funny, they call these windows. They’re more like holes.) A woman in one seat, probably a bit older than me, with the sturdy, earthy look of a peasant. But also very intelligent eyes, and in our brief exchange—“I think we got the last seats.” “Yes, it does appear that way”—revealed the clarity and precision of her speech. I compliment her on her nails; “It’s something stupid, like olive gloss,” she says. Another comment or two about the plane: anything to distract myself.
Nothing outside the window could do that. Although this is my first flight in a long time, it’s all familiar: those open flat beds on wheels with a steering wheel and a dashboard but no windshield pulling trains of baggage cars with saggy curtains on the sides that make them look like toys left out in the rain; the beige and black aluminum panels that surround and shade windows kids love because on this side, planes come from and go to places they’d never heard of: planes full of people, some of whom look like no one they’ve ever seen.
Maybe I’m one of them; after all, hadn’t Melanie (Mark’s four-year-old daughter) pointed to me and declared, “He’s a woman!”? I know I confused a lot of people today—including myself. Tried to “butch up” so my parents will recognize me—or at least not start to ask a lot of questions—the moment they meet me at the airport. But I also had to be femme enough to resemble at least somewhat, the person whose photo adorns the state ID card issued to Justine.
Taxiing the runway. Even though I’ve flown a number of times before, I’ve never been so nervous. The last time I flew, in August 2001, I was coming back from a bicycling trip in the French and Italian Alps. It was only two years ago, but it was five or six weeks before 9/11. But that’s not the only reason why that trip, and all the others I took before it, seem so long ago. Now they seem like events that happened to someone else, in another lifetime.
That last trip, and all the others, I took as Nick. And my parents think they’re going to meet him in Terminal #3 of DAB. The plane paused. Now it’s accelerating, darting past a control tower, and finally beginning its liftoff. Less than a minute, and already we’re hundreds of feet off the ground, teetering in the high wind. No way back now. No previous liftoff ever gave me such butterflies in my stomach. Yes, this one is rougher than others I remember. But I still see all the same tract houses, parking lots and tank plantations one sees on any takeoff from Newark. Yet they seem so alien—new without novelty or the freshness of a discovery—and vertiginous, at least to my eyes.
Now we’re bumping through he clouds, and the buildings and the New Jersey swamp are fading away. I’ve never felt so cold in my life. Cold, yet the beads of sweat cling to my forehead. The bumps stretch into blips, and the clouds grow thick yet wispy in the intense sunlight. I’m still cold and nauseous; my breaths shorten. I close my eyes. The sweat dries but I feel tears welling. I take another swallow to unclog my ears.
One of my first discoveries in my transition was that I could cry in public. When you’re a woman, some people seem to expect it from you. But nobody looks at you askance. Today, on the other hand, it seems that everyone has been doing just that, ever since I, butched up, walked out of my door. What’ll I do now?
I cry. I close my eyes. Tears stop momentarily. The drone of the plane mutters through my head. Wake again: tears. The woman in the opposite seat catches my eye for a moment and returns to her book. The attendant—a pretty, round-faced ash-blonde with a slight drawl—rolls a cart up aisle to my seat. “Cranberry juice, please.” She starts to pour; the plane thumps again. She apologizes. “I don’t know how you do that,” I say, more as a distraction for me than a kudos for her.
Distractions are all I want now. Like anything outside the window. Like the bridge threading through eyelets of land wound by a series of streams or inlets—maybe it’s swampland, like the ground near Newark. There are people who drive or walk or pedal across that bridge every day; this is probably the only time I will ever see it. Nothing exceptional; it’s like a lot of other highway bridges: an asphalt platform propped on steel girders. It’s probably no more unusual to the people who cross it than it is to me, and if there’s ever a last time for them to cross it, they probably won’t know it and they probably won’t realize that the bridge has become a part of their past.
As that land is. And this plane, and the people on it, will soon be. We’re over the ocean now, or some very large bay. It’s odd, how much, from here, it looks the way the sky looks from the ground: white wisps and streaks in a field of blue. Slender dartlike objects-- one red and white, the other silver—leave a thin white trail that dissipates in the currents. I feel the plane beginning its descent; any moment I expect the captain to announce it and our approach to Daytona Beach International Airport. Knowing my parents, they’re already there; if not, they’re on their way.
The final approach. That phrase always seemed strange to me. As if you’ll never go that way again. As if neither he nor the attendant would go there again. They’ll probably do this again tomorrow, or some time before the week is over. They may’ve gone this way yesterday and the day before. But it’s always the final approach. Maybe this will really be the last one.
What a way to think when I’m about to see my parents! Then again, it may very well be the last time I see them. The rows of houses, the streets and the industrial-looking buildings are coming into view. A sand-colored ribbon slices through a patch of swampland. Clouds thin and swirl into mist around the wings just beyond my window. Clumps of trees have the petrified green hues of the ones in dioramas. We descend closer to the ground; now it’s possible to tell old from young, mature from dying, and sick trees. A road rounds the field where we’re about to touch down; a red SUV and a white coupe make the turn. The sun, low in the horizon, glares through my window. The Daytona Speedway looms just ahead: rows of bleachers perched on seats I can’t see from here, not unlike the football stadium of a large college. An African-American man in an airline-issue shirt and tie waves an orange cone in each hand, and the seatbelt signal is turned off. All click, except mine.
--13 November 2003