“Ladies and gentlemen,” buzzed a tired-sounding women over the microphone. The noise reverberated in the corner of the waiting area. “Flight 605 to Spokane has been canceled due to understaffing. Please make your way to the concierge to arrange accommodations. We apologize on behalf of Alaska Airlines.” The mood in the room was resounding confusion as persons raced to the desk.
“This is just perfect,” my mother said. Apparently, our flight to Washington had been cancelled because the pilot neglected to show up for work that day. As my brother and I stood in line with her, I saw my mother’s frown deepen. I felt a bit guilty then—and admittedly feel a bit guilty now—but at that moment I was elated, aglow, like a child opening presents on Christmas morning.
I had not always been afraid of flying. My mother loved to tell our relatives the story of me at the age of six, on our way to Hawaii. “Thank you for attending our flight,” my mom would say to my aunts and uncles in a soft voice, recounting the time I hugged our flight attendants. “She said it just like that! Big grin on her face.” I liked flying then, but perhaps my fear had always been inside me, festering, ready to emerge. I can remember many nights sitting at the window sill in my room as a teenager, just waiting for my mom to come home from her business trips. She would take one every few months back then, and on the nights of her return, I would not be able to sleep until I knew she was home safe. I’d watch the moon for hours and pray that the next car to pass would be carrying my mother.
Ever since my eighteenth year, I have felt that boarding a plane is a death sentence. In the line at the airport, surrounded by groaning adults and alit by the harsh fluorescent lights, I felt that I had been delivered by God, safe to live another day. “We need to get to Washington by 9AM,” my mother told the man at the desk. My brother and I were visiting colleges on the West Coast and had an appointment at Gonzaga the next morning. To my mother, who is just as paranoid as me, not making it to our meeting seemed life or death.
“We have no more flights to Spokane tonight,” the man said, “but we do have an option for you, if you are up to it.”
The rental car was a small, four-door Honda the color of an old nickel. It was 6PM and the sun was beginning to set. Seven hours. In seven hours, if we drove fast, we could make it to south Washington by midnight. My brother, annoyed, hopped in the back seat. He had no desire to go to a school like Gonzaga—Christian, slow-paced, situated in a town that that prides itself on its one Chipotle. My mother, on the other hand, looked more determined than upset. She had a mission: get her kids into college, by any means necessary. I myself welcomed the fibrous upholstery, made of some cheap synthetic. It was better than a plane seat. Pulling away from the airport, I once again thanked God.
My first realization was that the car ride would be painfully boring. My mother turned the volume on the radio down so low that it might as well have been off. “I need to focus on driving,” she told us in the back seat.
“In 300 miles, turn left,” the robotic women on the navigation instructed. This was going to be a long car ride. The only thing left to do to satiate the mind-numbing inactivity was to look out the window. On one side along the narrow, two-lane highway, a sheer cliff-face met the road, covering our small stretch of civilization a shadow. On the other side, a blanket of evergreen trees (more green than we can get in drought-stricken California) were cradled against the road, slowly trying to overtake it. Between the trees and the massive mountain range in the distance laid an immense river, illuminated, sparkling in the golden light of the encroaching sunset.
“Mom, what’s the name of that river?”
“It’s the Columbia, I think,” she replied. I saw a subtle smile form on her face. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” She was right. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
As the sun finally set, there was nothing to see aside from pitch-black and a small portion of the road lit by the headlights. I looked over at my mom’s face. She looked weary but intense. It was a look of sheer determination. In that moment I realized for the first time in a long time how much my mother loved me and my brother. She did everything for us and believed in us more than we could ever know. She would drive us to the moon if she had to. I looked over at my brother, who looked back at me. We were both thinking the same thing, and for a while we just sat and thought about being loved. At midnight we finally arrived at the Davenport Grand, a hotel too opulent for Spokane. I had expected my mom, worn from the drive, to want to go to bed immediately, but when we entered the hotel room, a bright smile stretched across her face. Her eyes said we made it. Before going to sleep we all sat on one of the beds together, which we had not done since we were much smaller, and talked about my brother’s upcoming play and my next Comedy Sportz match, properly exhausted but with smiles on our faces. Now that I’m here in England, and my brother is in Japan, and my parents in California, I miss that trip more than ever.