She must have a window seat.
This, she promises, is her last phone call for the night, reminding me one more time, it must be a window seat. I tell her I will do my best, the plane seems awfully full, and since it’s a last minute booking, it might be hard.
“If I tell you I want a window seat, get me a window seat.”
This phone exchange was not long after she had been diagnosed with moderate stage dementia. She had some scary moments; unsettling, jarring, and confusing moments. Having found her curled up in a ball, naked on the floor in her bedroom in Florida while visiting for a long weekend, she had absolutely no recollection of how she landed there. When I shook her from her sound sleep, she smiled and told me I looked a lot taller than she remembered. “Ma, you’re on the floor.”
“Oh. It feels comfy though, you sure it’s the floor?”
A Bat Mitzvah in Scarsdale, New York spurred her into major travel frenzy. She wanted desperately to go.
“I have to go. I have to see Gertie. I have to go.”
Gertie was her sister. Theirs was a relationship not dissimilar to Palestine and Israel.
“I have to go. Don’t tell me I’m not going.”
The thing about my mom, she was as stubborn as the day was long. God’s honest truth, sometimes it was really hard to tell if it was the dementia, or my mother just being herself.
“Ma, I don’t think it’s a good idea, you traveling by yourself.”
“Oh, really? Fine. I’ll drive to Gerties.”
Having rammed her car into a fire hydrant – a glaring sign that she should never be behind the wheel ever again. “It came out of no where,” she said, “One minute I was sitting there, minding my own business, and the next minute, there it was, crossing the street.”
What do you say? Really? “Ma, it can’t walk, a fire hydrant doesn’t walk.”
Unbeknownst to us, my mother had an expired drivers license.
I worked it out so a car service (a very kind man who lived a few doors down from her) would come and pick her up, drop her off at the JetBlue Terminal, and make sure there was no seen or unforeseen problems. I paid the guy to wait an extra half-hour. I called the airline, JetBlue, and spoke with a reservation agent, who had just the right combination of humor and sympathy and could not have been any more cordial or kind. She promised they would do whatever they could to accommodate my mom, but she needed to remind me that the plane was in fact full, and hopefully someone would be able to move if there was not a window seat available. I ask her if there is a ‘companion’ person – a representative – who can help my mom get settled. Help her with the boarding pass, and the other unexpected frustrations that may arise. Yes, she says, someone will help my mom. I can only hope and pray for my mother to come ‘face to face’ with kindness. I think of all the times I gave up a window seat for an elderly person, or a pregnant woman, or a wife who wanted to sit next to her husband. I am hopeful.
She is picked up at the designated time – standing outside her condo with her suitcase and an overnight bag, having packed enough clothing for an entire month. “Maybe I’ll stay for a few extra weeks,” she tells me the night before when she lists off all the clothing she’s bringing.
I can hear in her voice something I never heard before: loneliness.
She gets to the JetBlue terminal, she checks her suitcase outside with baggage claim, and – I am told by the neighbor/car service driver – that she hands a crisp ten dollar bill to the lovely bag handler, telling him he is a lovely, lovely kind man. He deeply appreciates her gesture. Little does he know that the remaining ten or so crisp ten and twenty dollar bills that she has tucked ever so neatly in her wallet will make their way to others who smile, offer a hand, let her get ahead in line, help her with her carry-on. She makes her way up to the counter, where a ticket should be waiting for her. Yes, there is a ticket, but she must go to the gate, in order to get a window seat.
She goes through the whole security scene – I am told by the neighbor/car service guy – the taking off of her shoes, the removing of her belt, the telling a joke or two about her hip replacement after she in fact set off the security alarm and how the sound reminded her of the old days in Las Vegas when someone won at the slots. It was a sound filled with ‘good wishes.’
“No more,” she says loudly as if telling it to every single person on the security line. “It’s a phony sound, it has no heart. Gimme back my shoes.”
The neighbor/car service guy cannot go any further with my mom. The rules. The companion person from JetBlue now meets her, thankfully.
There is no window seat available.
She has an aisle seat.
It appears that no one wants to give up a seat.
I am horribly sad by this lack of generosity for this old, frail woman, and dare I say, embarrassed, because this old frail woman is in fact my mom. This is where I get to relive the whole crazy scenario as it is repeated to me: My mother throwing a shit storm of a nut-dance, hauling a racial slur at the African American flight attendant, and then, if that wasn’t enough, causing another passenger who was somewhat overweight to breakdown and cry. “You know how fat you are? You have your own zip-code.” The administrator told me on the phone it was like an unstoppable chaotic ruckus. A tornado. A whirlwind. I am sad. I tell her that my mom has the beginning stages of dementia. It comes and goes, but mostly it’s coming these days. I give her all the broad strokes, my dad died, she’s living alone, we know, we know, it’s time to get her settled, she’s stubborn, she’s independent, and there’s the whole question of what to do now? Move her, or does she stay? And she’s always been much more strident and righteous and defiant.
Not going gently into the good night.
She’s escorted off the plane, and somehow manages to get back to her condo by renting a car even though she has an expired license. I would just love to meet that Avis rental person who gave my mom a red Mustang to tool around in.
She calls me in absolute hyper-hysterics. She wants me to fire every single one of those nasty, bitchy flight attendants, and pilots, and the co-pilot, he’s as much to blame. And where is her luggage, her fucking luggage?
“I bet they stole it. They stole it and you should fire them, the whole lot of them. Now. I want you to fire them now.”
“Okay, Ma. I’m gonna fire them now.”
I find out from the very cordial and patient JetBlue rep that her luggage is on its way to New York. I am in Los Angeles on business; my brother is at a birthday celebration on Long Island. Nether one of us expected this hailstorm. I try to deal with the airport bureaucracy and arrange for my mom’s luggage to make its’ way to Fort Lauderdale within 48 hours, barring no glitches.
My mother refuses to speak to anyone. She feels duped and lied to and the fat girl should have gotten up. “My God she took up two god-damn seats.” And then she said, “I always, always have to sit at the window.” Why, I ask her, why? “Fuck you,” she hangs up on me.
Shortly there after, I moved my mom to New Mexico where she was about to start living in an assisted living facility.
“Did you get me a window seat?”
“Yeah, Ma, I got you a window seat.”
“Good,” she said, “Good.”
As the plane revved it’s engines, and was about to take off, my mom took my hand and squeezed it, staring out the window – watching the plane disappear into the gorgeous white clouds – and after a few long, long, moments, she turned to me, and said: “Up here, in the clouds, I can dream all I want.” Then she pointed to two clouds, almost intertwined, and she said with such joy: ‘See that, see that, they’re dancing together. Just like Daddy and me. You can only see this kind of magic from a window seat.”
In that moment, on that plane, it was as if every memory was intact.
She started to giggle. She was so very happy, content. The lines on her face smoothed out, her eyes filled with a sparkle and a twinkle.
It was here – up here – that my mother had always been able to see and feel and imagine clouds dancing, forms taking shape, lovers kissing, the intertwining of souls, and as her hand pressed up against the window, she could, in fact, feel the kindness of Heaven.