I arrived at Chicago O’Hare about an hour before my flight. It was Christmas Day, so I thought it’d be a lean travel day. I was wrong. The airport was packed. The four throbbing lines at security bottlenecked at the only two scanning docks that were open.
On the air was a general worry of missing flights. A woman in the line next to me would tiptoe, stretch her neck to gaze at the line in front of her, shake her head, then turn around, tiptoe and look at the line behind her, then shake her head again. The fellow behind me kept pushing up against me, huffing and mumbling to himself.
Throughout the lines, divorced mothers and fathers stood in line with their kids, who they were shipping to their ex-wives and ex-husbands for Second Christmas. The parents would stay with their kids until it was time for them to go through the X-ray chamber. Then they’d stand off to the side on their tiptoes, making sure they put on their shoes, belts and coats, grabbed their carry-on. One by one, each child waved goodbye, then disappear into the terminal. One by one, the parents left with the same expression.
It took almost the entire hour to get through security. After I got my shoes, belt, coat back on, I grabbed my bag and fell in with the hurried mob to the gates, and got to the gate just in time to board my flight to Charlotte, North Carolina. From there, I would catch a plane to San Antonio and home. I found my seat, sat down, closed my eyes. I was cold, feverish and had a rather tubercular cough. I’d slept very little in Chicago and was very tired but couldn’t sleep. I opened my book, but couldn’t commit to read, either. So I simply, blankly occupied my allotted space in The Universe until Charlotte.
At Charlotte, there was a mad, collective rush to get off the plane. Angry, anxious passengers shoved their way down the aisle. “I gotta get to my connection, dammit!” exclaimed one bull of a man, as he pushed through the line like a fullback. “I’m trying to get off this damn, plane, baby,” he said into his cellphone. “But everybody’s clogging the line up.”
The flight attendant just shook his head. “They’re holding all the planes, sir, so please-“
“You told me I won’t miss my plane,” the passenger growled back.
“You aren’t sir, so please-”
“You better be right.”
Soon, the man barreled into the end zone and off the plane. All the little step-kids stood in the aisle, with their carry-ons clutched against the chest, their eyes size of silver dollars, helpless in the bubbling froth of impatience. “All of you are gonna make your flights,” said the attendant. “No need to worry at all.”
I wasn’t worried. I had a two-hour lay over and felt like shit. My feet were cold and my face was hot. I hadn’t eaten but wasn’t hungry. I’d dumped so much coffee and Dayquil down my throat that I shook like Katharine Hepburn in her later years. So this Christmas, and what have you done...” I sang silently. Another year over…
My mom picked me up at San Antonio that night around 9pm. I walked out of the airport into the warmer and more humid weather and finally shook off the Chicago cold that’d grasped me with its icy talons. By the time we got to my mom’s house in Jourdanton – 30 minutes later – I was finally ready to sleep.
I did very little but sleep over the next week. When I’d finally wake up, I’d drink coffee with my mother and my sister in the living room. My my teenage niece and nephew would wake up a little after I would, go to the kitchen, grab a poptart, then disappear. My sister’s newborn baby girl, Arabella Rose, would be locked into her swing. Muzak played from the swing’s mobile as she gaped at the world, speaking in gaga language. The world she appeared to see seemed a world filled with much more wonder than what the rest of us saw. She’d escalate her gagas every now and then, looking at me as if she’d made some discovery, and that nothing whatsoever was more important for me to know than this discovery – such a simple yet profound discovery that not only me, but my mother, and sister, and the entire world needed to know. She gaga’d and gaga’d until her eyes grew red and wet. Then she’d cry. Then she’d fall asleep, grow older and forget the discovery.
One day – I’m not sure which – I walked out of my mother’s little subdivided neighborhood, crossed Texas State Highway 97 with all its fast 24/7 oilfield traffic, walked past the giant peanut factory with it’s loud fans blowing hard, then down a little dirt road where farmers and ranchers dumped dead wild hogs they’ve shot on their land. That day there was a fresh pile of about 5 dead hogs. Only their eyes had been eaten away, probably by buzzards. They were still bloated and their legs stood straight out like they were balloons for some kind of upcoming parade through Hell. A few days later, after their bellies had popped open, the entire countryside would smell of rot. Bones of hogs that had faced the same fate were scattered about the ditches alongside the road, with all the empty beer cans.
A little further down the way, I hopped onto another road that ran alongside a pasture. A herd of cows grazed at the fence line. They all looked fairly young with blue, numbered tags on their ears. You’re all gonna be chopped up and on sale at grocery stores by Spring…
The cattle meandered in the pasture peacefully, but as I came upon them, a little black bull looked up, stared at me. One by one, the other cows stopped grazing, stared at me. Then the little bull made the decision to trot. Then the others trotted behind him. I kept walking. Then the little bull moo-ed, began to run. The others ran. Soon the entire herd was stampeding down the fenceline to the corner of the pasture, where they stopped, began grazing again. When I came closer to them again, the little bull looked at me again, ran again, down the other fenceline. The others did the same. They stampeded hard all the way to the next corner of the pasture, where they stopped again. Grazed peacefully again. Ground up, slapped into a patty and grilled on a summer afternoon…
On Sunday, my flight back to LA was delayed. Dreary passengers hung out in the waiting area next to the gate – headphones, iPhones, laptops – looking to be in no hurry to reach their destinations. But when one man made his way to the gate – to be first in line when they called general boarding – others quickly followed him. Then more and more did the same – including me – until we formed a giant throbbing glob of humanity. When it was time to board, the airline rep picked up the intercom…”Ok, at this time we’d like to invite all first-class ticket holders to board, all first-class passengers only…” Three people boarded, the glob throbbed closer. “Ok, at this time we’d like to invite all premium ticket holders, all premium passengers only…” A handful of people boarded. The human glob inched its way to the tunnel, condensing into a dense force, nearing the point of singularity and utter calamity…“Ok, at this time we’d like to invite all passengers seated in Zone 3, passengers in Zone 3 please…” until, fortunately, the glob ruptured like a boil and we began to ooze down the tunnel, into the plane. “Zone 4…” Ooze. “Zone 5…” Ahh…
It was a long, smooth ride to LA. I was ready to get back West, ready to rehearse the play I’m in, ready to keep writing, ready to line up some carpentry work and get 2014 rolling. But I was still tired, too. The cough was still with me, though it seemed like ages ago I was slipping around the icy streets of Chicago, on Christmas Eve. A real fatigue had anchored into my bones. But somewhere over the great desert of the Southwest – passing by so tiny below me – I accepted Wintertime. Just keep going. In the Spring would come a new energy. In the Spring we’ll be strong again. New calves would’ve be born by then, too, running for their lives from fence to fence until…