My assistant, Andrea, is curled up by my side, sleeping peacefully, yet has a death-grip on my left arm. I have never given thought to the distress one might experience at the prospect of flying over the Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps, it is an error on my part that I will surely have to consider next time, when searching for the new Emily that must be found soon. There is simply no way I can allow this sort of conduct to continue. Having Andrea stuck to my side is a disruption to my perpetual need for productivity, and highly inappropriate. Isn't it? Yet, I've let this go on for how long? How many hours have been squandered away, spent glued to my seat, unable to do a single thing?
The first time this happened, I remained stiff as a board, mind and body having collectively decided to rebel against any desire that I might have had to rid myself of such an intrusion. Meanwhile, Andrea slept, restless and fidgety, unaware that she was holding onto my arm as if it were not just a simple lifeline, but a pillar that had managed to endure the test of time from the likes of ancient Greece. Things like that have been around so long, it only makes sense to embrace them securely. So, as she held on, I stayed still, bearing a continuation of that same test, and unwelcome onslaught to my senses.
That day, my assistant's hair smelled of honey; it tickled the side of my neck and face ever so faintly if I turned toward her. The arm looped through my own, and hand griping my bicep were cool against my skin at first, gradually gaining warmth as the hours passed. The motion and sound of her breathing came evenly, steady and gentle, not loud at all, but caused my ears to ring.
The enormity of the situation was almost too great.
Andrea was afraid of drowning; she'd said so, murmuring the words in my ear, unconscious of the act. I, however, heard every word and against my wishes, responsibility swelled inside my chest. So, not only was I unable to speak or move, but I found myself liable for more things than I could put a name to, except for her safety. I did, at least, know that much.
I cannot say if the second time was better, or worse. What I can say, is that I was surprised. It appeared she honestly had not a clue of what had transpired before and I had no voice, obviously, to scold and admonish. So, of course, it happened again on the return flight. My senses were just as overloaded as the first time, with the added weight of said trip, heavy in my soul.
There was much to think about.
My husband was divorcing me, Irv had nearly gotten the best of me and my assistant had nearly left me. The first, I could deal with easily enough. The second, I had dealt with it, but grace was sufficiently lacking in the dealing thereof. Andrea—unlike my ex-husband and future ex-husband—had come back, gone only a moment. In fact, the act was so brief; it was hard to tell if that even counted as "gone" at all.
I quickly decided that it did not count.
Within those few heartbeats, something just told me that Andrea was not the type to give up on anything; whereas I am the type to give up on everything, without cause. Days later, having been on the receiving end of her kindness, the depth of my responsibility doubled as we passed over waters that would surely swallow me whole since saving her life was now more of a priority than my own. For the first time in my existence, I knew I was solely accountable for something else besides my children and making sure that I did not lose the Book somewhere between my bedroom and my office every morning.
This time—we are off to Italy now—I am in the same predicament. My assistant's arm is looped through mine; her head is on my shoulder. She is sleeping through whatever terror this type of travel causes. Why did I not arrange for her to sit somewhere else? I have no answer but to say that when the time came for such things, I was again silent and here we are.
To be honest, the smell of her hair, the softness of her skin, the feeling of her breath on my cheek, is beginning to lose its paralyzing effect. I could move, if I wanted movement. I could have a voice if I wanted the words. But I don't. Andrea is at peace and I am growing accustomed to being responsible for much more than I ever bargained. Whatever discomfort there is or work that is being left undone can wait in line. The words can wait, too. Whatever things there are to say, well, it's been my practice lately to keep my mouth closed. After all, my mouth is my worst quality. Or the things that come out of it. I am able to bring about devastation, with fewer words, than anyone else I know.
We are scarcely over solid ground again when I realize I must have fallen asleep at some point. My head is leaned against hers, Andrea's right and my left hand are clasped together, fingers intertwined. I look at the picture this makes as if I am again in the presence of a surviving fresco in the city of Pompeii, where fire rained down, causing time to stand still. Never have I been as captivated as I was that day. Until this day. Until this girl, my assistant, decided that I—the worst sort of person in the world—am the equivalent of safety.
That's when I understand that I am more than "accustomed" to this. The closeness and familiarity, that has gone unacknowledged for quite a long time, is a part of my own survival. I have been hanging onto her, just as tightly as she has been hanging on to me. She is like an ancient temple that cannot ever be brought down, no matter what I do. She is like a painting, somehow untarnished by all my attempts at destruction, waiting patiently to be discovered and cherished…meaning that this cannot stop. I will drown in a cold, black ocean and burn in hell's hottest fire all at the same time if this becomes a thing I let go of due to foolishness.
With her, I cannot afford to be foolish. She is too precious.
As I caress the top of her hand with the pad of my thumb, and reason out all the ways that Andrea is now responsible for my soul's salvation, I feel the slightest tremor pass through the aircraft. And then another, and another. At first, they are so faint that no one around us seems to care a thing about it. But I know what's coming; each tremor is stronger than the last.
My attempt at disengaging myself from Andrea's grip is far easier than I anticipated. My hand, then arm, is released as I pull away, only to place my arm around her to pull her closer. Reaching out with my right hand, I place it across her so that she is surrounded; her face, buried in my neck and shoulder. This is as safe as I can make her in the little time I have. Andrea is not going to deal with this well, but hopefully my continued presence will be enough to hold off any real damage. She will not drown today. I will not let anything happen to her.
This time, it is not just a slight tremor; the plane is violently shaken about like it is nothing. Even for me, someone who spends more time in the air in one year than most do in their entire lives, this is a bit much. Andrea wakes with a startled cry…and it all just keeps coming. The violent tremors. The voice of the captain, who does not sound quite as convincing as he should. The noise of passengers, their fear is now apparent. The rattling of the overhead baggage compartments.
My assistant, my Andrea, well, her arms are awkwardly wrapped around me, hands grabbing fistfuls of my shirt. She asks me to make this stop and I have never felt so helpless. Thinking that I am responsible for Andrea and actually being responsible are turning out to be two different things. I never considered that there would be limits to my abilities because, usually, there are none. In this plane, however, I am quite limited.
All this turbulence has probably encompassed only a single minute of time. But good Lord, what a long minute. My mouth is open now and I seem ready for words. Any words will do. I hold her tighter with each one, apologizing for my lack of power in this situation.
Before I can finish, we fall.
In reality it probably isn't by much, but it's enough to teach me how it feels to have my heart reside not in my chest, but in my throat. At least I know for certain now, that I do have a one. I have a heart. For years I've been wondering…
For all the practice of keeping my mouth closed lately, there's no telling what is coming out of it now. There are words from Andrea, too. But I don't know what they are. Everything is so loud in here and she is more or less speaking into my neck. All I can make out is the feeling. They don't feel like harsh, awful words. Whatever they are they feel like truth, like something that will never change. Never mind that Andrea is crying and scared. Even through this, there is something about her that is eternal. She is like all the places that I love the most. Places in various stages of ruin and repair, surviving beautifully, finding a way to continue through life in spite of whatever man or nature have put upon them. Andrea is just that type of person.
Perhaps, that is why she has been able to put up with me all this time: She knows how to endure the worst and keep living for the best. Except, I have not given her my best, lately, or ever. It is my worst that she's had to endure.
We fall again.
So hard and fast this time that I am positive we both would have been in the air if not for our seatbelts. From the sound of it, there are a few idiots aboard, that will likely be wishing for quite some time that they'd put theirs back on a while ago. For a split second I worry about Nigel and the rest of our crew. We only have a few people with us but still, I suppose in some way I am responsible for them, too. Though it's never really felt like that. Not like this. My level of responsibility toward Andrea and toward my children is…
God. My children.
The fingers of my right hand slip into Andrea's hair and I kiss whatever parts of her face I can reach. My girls will be fine. I truly believe we'll be fine, too, once things level off. But you never can tell with things like this. Either way, Caroline and Cassidy know how much I love them. They're getting older and so am I. We've had talks about this before. They know that no matter what happens, I love them fiercely.
But Andrea doesn't know how much I love her. She has no idea that I've just figured it out. No idea at all. And that isn't right. Andrea must be told; she has indeed been discovered and is cherished. She has to know.
"I love you," I repeat this with each kiss I place on her cheeks, lips and forehead. Somehow I've managed to raise her head from its hiding place in me. "I love you, Andrea. I love you." Over and over again I say it... Not a word or kiss can be wasted because I don't know how many will fit inside this moment, and I want this moment to be as full of my love for her as possible.
She must be sure of me.
I must make Andrea understand that I am here.
That I have been here all along…
Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. "Pooh?" he whispered.
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's hand. "I just wanted to be sure of you."