After J.R. was injured I became an airport pro. Flying from Wisconsin to D.C. and back again once every month or so made me very comfortable with airport policies and has often made me wonder if I should just work for the airlines. After all… there wouldn’t be much left for training. I’ve got the crabby look, the short text book responses of “ID PLEASE!” and “NEXT IN LINE” and “your bag is overweight give me money.” I sometimes wonder if they just pocket that money.
As I walked into the terminal this morning I wasn’t surprised to see a million people all in line and holding passports. It takes forever to check these people in. Language barriers, passport checks, a million bags. I hate people that can afford international travel. I made it through the check in process with no problem and entered the security check point. This step went surprisingly fast. It wasn’t until I walked up to the first ID checker that I ran into an issue. Typically when I fly I use my military ID card to make my way through security. Fewer hassles, faster checks, and much more friendly TSA agents. Not today.
“This ID is expired.”
“Really?! I’m sorry, my husband and I don’t live on a base. We’re a national guard family so I rarely have to use my ID. Let me grab my license for you.”
“How do you not know your ID card is expired?”
“……I.Don’t.Live.On.Base. National guard.” (I resisted the urge to use jazz hands as I tried to make the national guard sound extra fabulous and special)
She stares at me with a blank face. After spending an extra few moments staring at my license she returns the ID cards and again comments on the fact that I wasn’t aware my military ID was expired. It’s not like a license, I don’t get some cool reminder in the mail saying “Hey guess what… we need you to come stand in line for five hours so we can take a nasty picture and slap it on an ID.” Doesn’t work that way.
I made it through the rest of security without a hitch. After redressing myself and putting all of my gadgets back in my bag I reached for the boarding pass to check where I was off to next.
I wasn’t surprised to be flying out of concourse E. It seems that every time I am in the Minneapolis airport I am in this same concourse. As I walked through the concourse and pass every gate memories come flooding back.
I made my way to the end of the concourse. As the hallway opens up into a large area with the six remaining gates I stand and hold back tears. There before me is E15. For a few short days in November of 2006 this gate carried with it a happy memory; the memory of J.R. returning home from Iraq for his R&R. That day I stood next to a fellow Army wife and took pictures as her husband walked through the gate and saw their newborn child for the first time. Shortly after I snapped a picture I was able to wrap my arms around J.R. It was a hug full of relief, full of love, and even a few tears. It was as if our bodies had melted together and I could no longer tell where one began or ended. We were one for a few sweet moments. There was no one else in the airport, there was no world around us, no stress of Iraq, just us. To this day it remains one of my most memorable embraces.
As I continued to stand in the concourse my mind raced ahead to two weeks later. I found myself once again in concourse E standing by gate 15. This time I was saying goodbye. We sat in the chairs holding each other in silence. This goodbye was different than all of the others. We knew in our guts that something was changing, something wasn’t right. We held back tears as we whispered the only words that could come out, “I love you.” The first boarding call was made. As the tears started to flow we held each other closer, not wanting to let go but knowing that it was inevitable. Determined to make every moment count we allowed the boarding calls to continue. It was a moment when you felt that everyone was watching you, and for once you were right to feel this way. One brave woman gathered enough courage to approach us in our final minutes together. Seeing us struggle with saying goodbye she came up and told us how much we had touched her and how proud she was of our family and thanked us for what we were doing. There were tears in her eyes. Seeing her emotion I broke down. As the attendant called the third final boarding call the tone in her voice was authoritative and we knew that this was it. The plane was leaving. A quick kiss and I turned and ran. It was too painful to watch him walk through the gate and board the plane. I literally ran through the concourse crying. As I exited the airport through baggage claim “Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas” played over the speakers. Disgust filled my body and I ran faster. I made it to the car and broke down. For half an hour I cried, unable to put the car in gear and drive home I let go of my husband and for a moment I made peace with the knowledge that life was going to be different soon. I didn’t know how it was going to change, or when, but I knew it was coming. As I left the airport I began to accept this feeling.
A few days later the phone call came. J.R. had been injured and the mystery of what was waiting to happen had been solved. In a few days I would once again find myself in the airport. This time sitting in concourse E, exhausted, stressed, and lacking nutrition. For days I had been able to eat very little. I was so anxious to see J.R. that food didn’t matter. I sat in my chair watching the seconds tick by, willing the minute hand to move faster and attempting to eat a bag of trail mix that would eventually end up in the garbage. All around me people were smiling. It was Christmas day and the airport was relaxed. I wanted to scream at people. I wanted to lash out and punch someone. I needed someone to feel what I was feeling, to understand my urgency to arrive at my final destination. It was the longest wait of my life.
In the following nine months I would fly in and out of concourse E more than I could have ever imagined. The Minneapolis/St. Paul airport began to feel a bit like home. There was always a sense of excitement as I returned to concourse E and a sense of dread as I left. When I enter the airport today it can be hard at times to hold these memories at bay. Even as I sit here now and reflect about my time in E I am holding back tears. How bittersweet military life is.