I’d had worse days in my life, but not many.
That particular day from hell, which just so happened to be my 49th birthday, was a horrific, perfect storm comprised of the following elements: one lousy night of sleep; my kind, sweet nature completely trashed; and a long-awaited birthday celebration with all our best friends for me that very night.
Oh, and yes, two hormonal, pubescent girls.
Not a good combination.
So as I lay in bed watching the sun finally rising over the distant hills – after a torturous night of staring into the darkness and getting damned pissed off because there’s nothing I hate more than a sleepless night – I made up my mind, at precisely 5:45 a.m., that a certain cousinly adolescent had to go home. Today. Not tomorrow as scheduled. But today. This morning. ASAP.
And no one was going to change my mind.
The two girls I am referring to were my daughter, Bailey, age twelve, and her thirteen- year old cousin, Sarah, who was visiting from Tucson. Sarah had been with us two weeks, during which they’d both slowly driven me mad. The two of them had fought, bickered, cried, screamed, slammed at least a dozen doors. Much of the drama had taken place during the first week of what was supposed to be a fun vacation at Bass Lake for a family wedding. But the squabbling had continued once we got home, for a another entire hellish week. So I had to figure out some drastic measures, i.e., empty threats. Because every time I said if they didn’t start behaving and that I’d have to fly Sarah home early, they’d turned into angels and promised they’d be good.
But the very next day, they’d be at each others’ throats again.
Stupid, stupid me. Twelve and thirteen year old girls together for two full weeks? In one house? When the hormones are in full percolation? I was naïve. I just didn’t see it coming. I was an idiot.
Oh, I take that back. It wasn’t a full two weeks. Because when it came to the thirteenth day, I was done. See, her plane reservation wasn’t until tomorrow, but my party was tonight. It was my birthday party (the last one I ever planned to celebrate), and we’d been planning it for months. All our best friends were coming, and it was a much anticipated event. And on top of it all, Rick was spending a ton of money on it.
I was going to have fun, dammit, whatever it took.
But as I sat on my bed watching the sun casting a warm glow on the valley below, it occurred to me that perhaps I was overreacting. Maybe the girls would appreciate that it was Sarah’s last day and everything would be fine. They’d laugh, and be playful, and be buddies again, just like they used to be. Yes, I had to think positive. Besides, the last thing I wanted to do was drive all the way to San Diego and back to take Sarah to the airport. On the day of my party.
But then my imagination started to take over. I imagined I was at the party and it was in full swing. I was holding a glass of wine. I was in my element: laughing, talking, a little drunk. I was out of my house wife drudgery and having the time of my life with my friends.
But suddenly the phone rings loudly. Brrrrrrring. Brrrrrring. It is obnoxious and shrill, and it demands to be answered. My wine glass crashes to the floor, and slowly, tentatively, I lift the receiver. It’s Bailey on the other end, and she’s hysterical. She’s screaming that she hates Sarah and I have to come get her. I can’t waste a moment, I have to get her now.
No no no! Sarah had to go home, and she had to go today! This very morning! As soon, in fact, as I could drag her out of bed. I’d lived through thirteen days of misery and wasn’t going to take it anymore. This was my party. This was about me! I’d be damned if two hormonal, irrational juveniles were going to ruin one more day of my life!
“Bailey! Bailey! Wake up, my little girl. Time to get up.”
I shook the motionless blob under the flowery pink and orange comforter and pulled it down just enough to reveal a tumble of golden hair, strewn every which way. I brushed it aside to see her sweet freckled face, and she looked up at me with dreamy innocence.
“What, mom?” she mumbled, then she turned over and feigned sleep.
I found my iron heart melting. Just a tad. I adored this child. Unabashedly. She would never know how much.
She was my one and only. She was my heart. I was already in my thirties before I felt ready to have a child, I just didn’t feel grown up myself. But when Rick and I finally – so excitedly and with sweet anticipation – decided to try for a baby, well, the weird thing is it didn’t happen. Not for five excruciatingly long years. Finally, though, with the help of a very nice, encouraging specialty doctor in Honolulu – we had moved to Kauai by this time – we were blessed with what our delivering doctor exclaimed was, “…A bald one! We have a bald one!” And it was true. There was not a stitch of hair anywhere on her body… much less her head.
Sweet baby Bailey eventually grew some peach fuzz up there, but it wasn’t until she was three that her head finally started to sprout a few little ringlets which suddenly grew in so profusely that they piled straight upward on her head instead of down. Her “fro” as we referred to it. Over time it grew long, and her hair relaxed into lovely blond curls.
In time she began to use a flat iron to make it straight, which – combined with mascara and perfectly-applied eye-liner – transformed our little girl into a beautiful, budding pre-teen girl.
“Bailey,” I repeated. “You need to get up. Sarah’s flying home today.”
She sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes. “Today?” she asked in her little voice. “I thought it was tomorrow.”
“Well, it was,” I said as gently as I could. “But I changed it. You’ve had a wonderful time together, but I just think it’s time. Come with me to get Sarah up.”
I held my breath awaiting her response, but she only nodded and climbed out of bed, so small and waiflike as twelve-year-olds can be.
Together we went up the few stairs to Sarah’s room and Bailey tickled a feather under her nose.
“Sarah, wake up. You’re going home today.” Sarah blinked open her eyes, and stared blankly for a moment into the distance. She had long light brown hair and the sweetest cherub face, which opened into a yawn. Then without a word, she slipped out of bed and began to stuff scattered clothes into her suitcase.
Two hours later, we were on the 5 heading south to San Diego in bumper to bumper traffic. Sarah and Bailey were sitting in the passenger seats behind me quietly playing a word game, breaking out in subdued giggles every so often.
“It’s your turn, mom,” said Bailey. “Animal, mineral or vegetable?”
We were creeping past San Juan Capistrano and I was starting to sweat. We had left at ten-thirty and now it was eleven-fifteen. The flight was scheduled to leave at one twenty-five. I’d thought I’d allowed plenty of time, but I didn’t know the traffic to San Diego would be so horrible on a Saturday morning. We’d be okay as long as traffic opened up. There was no option. I loved Sarah. She was sweet, fun loving, and smart beyond her years. But I was intent on getting her on that flight if it was the last thing I did. I was going to enjoy my party tonight if it killed me.
“Mom,” Bailey repeated. “Mom!”
“What?!” I demanded, glancing into the rear view mirror. Their heads were together like Siamese twins, looking at me like two little angels attached at birth.
“Oh, okay.” I searched my mind, but had a hard time focusing. “Okay. What is shiny and people love it?”
“Wait! You have to say if it’s an animal, vegetable or mineral.”
“It’s animal. No, I mean mineral.”
“It’s shiny,” I said, feeling the perspiration dripping down my arm. “And people die for this stuff.”
“Mom, why does Sarah have to go home today?”
I paused. An early model green Porche was trying to sneak in front of me. People should stay in their own lanes. Moving around from lane to lane in freeway logjam was always futile. I felt the irritation growing in me like wave in my body. And the color of the Porche was ugly! Forest green? Give me a break!
“I told you, sweetie,” I said trying to sound reasonable. “It’s just time. You’ve been fighting a lot. It’s just one day early. Just one day.”
“But I don’t want to go home yet,” said Sarah. “I want to stay with Bailey.”
I took a deep breath. “I know, Sarah. And we don’t want you to go. But they’ll be plenty of more times for you to be together. You’ll always be cousins.” I glanced back at them with a smile.
“Mom if we don’t want her to go, why is she going?”
There was pounding silence in the car.
“Listen, girls. So what do you think my mineral is? People rushed to California to pan for it back in like I think it was 1849. They were called …. Er, the 49ers!”
“Gold!” They chimed in together.
“Yay!” I said, over-excitedly. “You got it!”
“So now can Sarah stay?” asked Bailey.
“I promise we won’t fight anymore,” said Sarah. “Not one peep!”
“Yeah, we promise,” said Bailey.
I gritted my teeth and tried to calm. But I couldn’t keep the irritation out of my voice. “You guys, it’s too late. We’re on our way. I’m sorry. Besides, it’s my party tonight.”
All of a sudden I heard a wail coming from the back seat.
“But I don’t want to go home!” Sarah broke into sobs. “I love Bailey!” Her yowls filled the car with unabated sadness. “I promise I’ll be good,” she blathered. “I promise! I don’t want to go home!”
Then Bailey joined in the chorus, with howling sobs that were every bit as miserable as Sarah’s.
“Mom, pleaaaase,” she begged between sobs. “I want Sarah to stay. Pleaaase, mom, pleaaase.”
Then in unison, they sang, “PLEAAASSSEEE!!!!”
It was a symphony of tears, constant and non-stop, and as we crept along the freeway for the next hour and a half, my car became the perfect amphitheater for their anguish.
We turned onto the Terminal Access Road for San Diego International Airport at precisely twelve forty-five. I had forty minutes to get her on that flight.
“We made it, girls,” I sang cheerfully. “We’re here!”
It had taken them quite a long time to wipe their tears and settle down. The silence in the back was palpable.
“Maybe the flight will be late,” said Bailey’s little voice.
“Maybe it’s cancelled!” chimed in Sarah.
“YAY!” they exclaimed simultaneously. Suddenly they were babbling excitedly, saying things like “Wouldn’t that be so cool?” and “You could stay another week!”
“No, no, no,” I butted in. “I don’t think that’s possible. I called just this morning, and I’m sure the flight’s on time.”
Just then, as we turned the bend to the terminal, my jaw dropped. There was a horrendous line of passengers coming out of the terminal building and snaking its way down the block. It was at least a hundred yards long. Maybe more.
“What the….?” I said, as we slowly drove along it. When we got to about the midpoint of the milling travelers, I pulled over and rolled down the left-seat window. “Excuse me,” I yelled leaning over to a guy that was standing there looking at his watch. “Excuse me, what line is this?”
“Southwest Airlines,” he said looking very bored.
“But what flight?”
“All of them. They’re all merged together.”
“What?” I demanded. “You got to be kidding me! But her flight’s at 1:25!”
“Good luck,” he said rolling his eyes.
I floored the Siena burning rubber, and made an illegal u-turn, then gunned it down the street toward the back of the line, where I swung the van into another u-turn and screeched up to the curbside.
“Get out!” I barked to the girls. “Get in line and I’ll be right there.”
They didn’t move, so I jumped out and ran around to open the door for them. Then I sprinted to the back of the van and reached for Sarah’s suitcase, which was one of those oversized purple ones and must have weighed over fifty pounds, which meant we’d have to pay extra. I struggled to get it out without breaking my back, and then dragged it over the curb and to the end of the line.
I got back to the van out of breath and saw the two girls were huddled there still in the backseat whispering serruptisiously.
“Hey, let’s go.”
They looked up at me like I was the grim reaper.
“Come, come, don’t be shy!”
They exchanged glances and got out of the car with an obvious lack of enthusiasm. Together they slowly sauntered to the suitcase and turned to look at me. I felt a bit guilty. Sarah, a full head taller than Bailey and obviously adoring of her, at least at this moment, was like the sister Bailey always wanted. This is why I’d nurtured this relationship and arranged these vacations over these years. Bailey had always felt a certain loneliness at not having a sibling, and I’d hoped she and Sarah would forge a life-long, sister-like closeness…which they’d have to continue at a later date.
“Back in a few,” I said, and with that I roared off to find a place to park.
It was ten after one when we made it to the Southwest check-in counter. Fifteen minutes before flight time.
“Let’s see here,” said lady representative madly clicking away on her computer. She smiled at Sarah. “So Sarah, you’re traveling as an unaccompanied minor?”
“She sure is,” I said. “She’s fine. She came that way. Very brave girl. By the way, how is the flight doing? Any chance it’s late?”
The rep had bright red lips to match her red tie. “Nope. Right on time.” Then she looked at me disapprovingly. “Boy, cutting it kind of close aren’t you?”
I noticed the girls snickering to each other. On top of that, they had their fingers crossed behind their backs.
“Yes,” I replied, “thanks to Southwest and your poor way of doing things. The line was out the door!”
The rep stopped mid-tap. “Well we always advise our passengers to arrive an hour and a half ahead of time,” she snooted defiantly.
“Okay fine, just give me the ticket.”
“Oh but one last thing,” she said. My heart sunk. What now? And with that she handed Sarah a little pin that looked like flying wings. “These are from the captain. Have a good flight, young lady.”
Then she scowled at me as she threw me a blue folder with the tickets inside.
The security line wasn’t terribly long as there were only about twelve people ahead of us. I glanced at my watch. Quarter after one. Ten minutes until flight time. As we inched forward, I felt my mouth going dry and my heart starting to pound, so loudly in fact I could barely think of anything else. Just the thump, thump, thump of my heart knocking in my chest, getting louder and louder, which wasn’t healthy, not at all, because people at the ripe old age of 49, a birthday which I was celebrating so wonderfully today, did have heart attacks and I was pretty sure this was one of symptoms of having one.
Bailey and Sarah were chatting away, as chipper as could be, making silly jokes and acting like goofballs without a care in the world. Normally I would have marveled at their relationship, and how sweet it was that cousins could be as close as they were, but my face felt hot and I needed something cold to drink or else I could possibly die very soon. One thing I knew for sure was that there was no way in hell I’d be driving all the back to Laguna with Sarah. Suddenly I felt like a horrible person, but it didn’t faze me too much. Someone had to look out for me once in a while.
Finally, we were at the front of the line. It was one-twenty. I handed the TSA agent the Sarah’s tickets, my driver’s license, and the papers that showed that Bailey and I could accompany Sarah to the gate. The agent was a no-nonsense military type with a scowl on his face, and he scrutinized our credentials for a few interminable moments. Finally, he motioned us ahead.
Sarah looked back at Bailey, then went through the electronic scanner, glancing around the intimidating machine as she did. She arrived at the other side without a glitch. Then Bailey walked through as seamlessly as her cousin. As the two girls waited for me on the other side, I straightened up and began my own journey through the electronic devise, smiling confidently at them as I strutted through.
The sound of an obnoxious honking alarm filled the air, and I must’ve jumped three feet in the air. Then I heard the words, “Ma’am you’re going to have to come with me.”
As I stared at the agent and followed him to the side, I heard an eruption of jubilant cheers. It was Bailey and Sarah jumping up and down in sheer ecstasy as though they had won the million dollar lottery.
“But sir, her flight is leaving right now!” I cried desperately. “She’s going to miss it!”
“Please lift your arms, ma’am.”
“Sarah, take these tickets,” I yelled to her, as a stone-faced woman agent who looked like a man with boobs stepped in and circled a metal detector over and around my body. I held out the tickets and tried to throw them to Sarah. “Here, take them! Go! We love you!”
“Ma’am do you have something in your hair?” asked the woman. “I’m getting a response on your head.”
“Mom it’s your bobby pins!” cried Bailey, and they both doubled over in hysterical laughter. She was right, they were in there to help control my sometimes unruly, curly hair. I fumbled around my head finding the buggers and pulling them out. When the agent whirled the scanner around me head, this time it was was happily silent. The agent nodded and I bolted away, like a caged bird granted wonderous, freedom.
Sarah got on that flight that day, with not a moment to spare. When we arrived breathlessly at the gate the lone agent took her ticket, and stepped aside to let her through. It was one twenty-five exactly.
Sarah turned and engulfed me in bear hug, burying her head in my chest. Then she looked at me with the sweetest brown eyes.
“I love you, Aunt Lisa. Thank you for a wonderful time.”
Sarah and I’d always had a special connection. She’s always been respectful and had looked up to me as her auntie. She was a lovely, beautiful girl.
“I hope you’ll forgive me,” I said, “for….”
“It’s okay,” she interrupted. “I understand.”
Then she turned to Bailey with tears in her eyes. “I love you, Bailey.”
She and Bailey clung to each other, and the tears started again.
“I love you too, Sarah,” I heard Bailey whisper.
And then she turned, waved at us, and disappeared down the gangplank to make that long walk by herself to the plane.
In the years that followed, and as they grew up, we continued to have Sarah come visit and even join us on a vacation in Hawaii. But in time they went their different paths, as they found less and less in common. But I hope that Sarah knows that we’ll always love her, that she remains in our hearts, despite the differences, despite the distance.
As for my party, I made it home in time, but barely. And it was perfect. Rick had decorated the house, and our sushi chef came to provide a most amazing dinner. I was able to relax and enjoy my friends, and the food, and a little too much wine.
Copyright 2016 by Lisa Padgalskas Hand