Through the side window of the 747 I watched our descent into Logan Airport on that beautiful October day, clutching the armrests for support while pretending nonchalance. Glancing nervously over at the nine-year-old boy, I attempted to stifle my own fears while smiling reassuringly into the dark trusting eyes lifted to mine.
After all, hadn’t I, reeking of sheer bravado, marched into my program manager’s office just two short weeks ago with a prepared spiel about the necessity for me to accompany this traumatized child on this very trip? By the end of my speech, I’d been waxing eloquent, throwing out all the favored buzzwords about “separation anxiety” and “easing the transition;” I even threw in some remarks about the efficacy of sticking around over the weekend following the reunion to assess the mother/child bond.
I’d been speaking the truth, but there was a lot more to it. When we lifted off the runway on that beautiful fall day, I’d left behind a semblance of a life, pieced together like fabric remnants whose stitches are threatening to give way, revealing the shoddy work.
Since my flight resume included only a few short trips within California, I was scarcely over my own anxieties about the friendly skies. So how did I expect to ease his fear of flying, much less guide him through the minefields of his unknown future? A sheer novice in this particular mode of transportation, I nevertheless found that distracting Joey from his anxieties about turbulence mid-flight was by far the easier task.
Not having seen his birth mother for over three years presented a challenge all on its own, but first I had to get him past the very real trauma of being uprooted from the only family he’d known for the past several years.
He’d cried when we said good-bye to his foster parents and continued to whimper periodically en route to our destination. I don’t believe in avoidance, not theoretically, anyway, so we talked about his feelings. I knew all the right things to say to him and he soon visibly relaxed. He even laughed a little during the in-flight movie, and by the time lunch appeared his face wore a pink glow of pleasure.
I felt like a fraud as I steered him through the process. While I sat there spewing forth all the appropriate jargon, I cringed as I thought about the wreckage of my own life. Sighing, I checked my image in the small compact I retrieved from my shoulder bag. I smoothed the persistent lines that intersected my arched eyebrows and fluffed out my short blond cap of hair. I certainly looked as if I lived an orderly life, from the coiffeur down to the neat skirt and jacket. Even my dark hose and pumps suggested that I’d selected my attire from a well-organized closet. But I knew that I’d bought the hose and pumps only hours before this trip because I never could find anything appropriate to wear.
As we disembarked I searched the crowds for a familiar face, while clutching our carry-on luggage. I’d seen snapshots of Joey’s mother Hilary, so pulling up that memorized image to the forefront of my brain, I swung my gaze over the expectant faces in the crowd. When I didn’t locate her immediately, my gut knotted, announcing the presence of my steady companion, Anxiety. Then, out of nowhere, she stepped forward, beaming a huge smile in our direction. Her eyes riveted on Joey’s face as she wrapped her arms around him. He responded, almost as to a sense memory, relaxing into her embrace. And as she eased the way with her words, his eyes lit up, remembering. They seemed to slip into a secret language all their own, made up of gestures and glances and code words.
For Joey and Hilary, the years apart seemed to fall away as they faced a new beginning.
Then, almost as an afterthought, she glanced at me, smiled, and stuck out her hand. “Thanks so much, Ms. Courtney Stone, for bringing my son back to me.” As the tears spilled over, coursing slowly down her face, she impulsively hugged me. Leaning back, she blinked her eyes rapidly and shook her head. “I’ve been imagining this moment, being with my son, meeting you…for months now…ever since you first called me back at the beginning of the year. Those wonderful words you spoke then, that my son might finally be coming home, brought all my hopes to the surface again. Even afterwards, I could scarcely dare to dream again…I mean, for awhile there, I thought I’d lost everything!”
“It was pretty touch-and-go for a few weeks, especially when the interstate compact process bogged down with all that bureaucratic stuff…But we had to keep in mind that the court had already reversed its earlier decision, the one terminating your parental rights. It was just a matter of filing all the appropriate documents and eliciting the cooperation from Massachusetts….” I waved my hand, as if to dismiss the very real hassle I’d experienced on my end, thus effectively minimizing my part in the whole happy scenario.
I just wanted all of us to get on with our lives!
And Hilary Jameson seemed to be buying my act. She turned back to her son, hugging him tightly again, as if afraid that he might fade away if she didn’t maintain constant contact.
We settled the details for his transport. I agreed to follow in my rental car and spend a few minutes with them after we arrived at her parents’ home, where they would be spending the night. As we headed toward the parking lot, we hammered out a few details for the rest of the weekend, including my visit to the residence Hilary and Joey would be sharing. It would just be a formality, since all the proper evaluations had been conducted before this state had accepted the compact agreement. But I wanted to assess the two of them in their new home together.
Alone in my car, I settled back into my private thoughts, mentally carving out little pockets of alone time over the next two days. Time to sort out my own life.
In my hotel room I aimed the remote control, only half-watching the late-night talk show host interviewing his celebrity guests. I needed to think, but my mind refused to cooperate! Whenever I mulled over all the sordid details of my life, with the failed marriage and the hopelessness of my current custody arrangements with my ex-husband, I kept coming to a dead-end.
I’d gotten myself into this mess, so why couldn’t I undo the damage?
I guess it had all started when I’d discovered Kevin’s affair. Hurt, I’d reacted in blind rage, seeking revenge. Not the appropriate legal kind. No, not I! I had to get even in similar fashion. So his sordid affair led to mine, but when the dust settled on our mutually disgusting attempts at one-upmanship, we ended up in divorce court anyway.
And typically, money talks. His won him primary custody of our eight-year-old daughter Caely. Relegated to weekends and the occasional midweek sleepover, I felt humiliated and chastened. But in his usual smug fashion, Kevin had convinced the court that I had fewer hours available to spend with our daughter due to my very demanding job, while his more flexible schedule permitted hands-on parenting.
Every month I put aside money in my savings account for that day in the future when I could seek a modification of the custody agreement. There were already built-in mechanisms for change. But they depended on a mutual agreement between the parties. Yeah, that’ll happen! About the same time that hell freezes over!
I tossed and turned, but sleep eluded me. In frustration, I threw on my jeans and a pullover, checked my hair and makeup, and headed downstairs. Earlier I’d noticed a sign announcing a band in the lounge, and now the sounds of music filtering out into the corridors guided me along.
I sipped the Merlot I’d ordered, glancing around curiously. Everywhere I turned, I heard that familiar Bostonian accent and I sank into a reverie. I imagined myself transplanted here, to this East Coast City, with a whole new life to lead. And with all my mistakes magically erased, never again to rear their ugly heads.
I’d started on my second drink when the dark handsome stranger spoke to me. I smiled, oozing charm, and invited him to join me. He said that he’d noticed me from across the room and just had to come over. He sounded like one of the Kennedys, but told me his name was Ian Malone. How musical, I thought, while tipping my glass to his in a toast.
“So what are you doing in these parts?” He studied me curiously, as if memorizing my features.
I felt an exultant little lurch in my inner regions, but I responded in what I believed to be a facsimile of poise. “I’m here on a business trip,” I replied mysteriously, suggesting by my tone that I might be about to take over some corporation, or at the very least, plot a high-level merger.
“Hmm,” he mused, his voice dripping with lusty decadence. I knew where this evening was headed.
On cue he stood up, gesturing with his hand, and we moved together on the dance floor, our bodies merging as the band played on.
Everything seemed predictable but unexpected at the same time. We danced, we drank, we talked.
He walked me to my hotel room afterwards, and totally out of character, I invited him in. I don’t know what I thought would happen, but nothing that followed seemed in the least bit sordid. He whispered softly into my neck while kissing me tenderly. We danced some more to music only the two of us could hear.
So when we made love, I felt like a character in a movie, submitting to inevitable passion.
And when we said goodnight, he invited me to breakfast downstairs in the morning. We talked about driving along the Cape in the afternoon, after my “business appointments,” where we would walk on the beach, watch the seagulls, and have an early dinner in some little out-of-the-way café.
Ian and I walked barefoot in the sand. I felt like a carefree child excused from school early for summer vacation. Giddy with glee, we laughed, tossed sand, luxuriated in the squish of seaweed in our toes, and held hands like two teenagers in love.
My face turned pink with sun and utter happiness, and when I glanced in the bathroom mirror at the little café, where we stopped for dinner, I almost didn’t recognize myself. Who was this woman, looking at least ten years younger? Twenty-two rather than thirty-two, I would have years ahead of me without mistakes or regrets. Fresh from college, I would just have begun my career. A different career from the one I’d chosen. Amazing how magical an unexpected love affair can be!
I slid into the little booth across from Ian, studying every angle of his craggy face, admiring the way his chin, with that cleft, jutted out when he didn’t know I was looking. But best of all, when his eyes met mine, they darkened with something unfathomable, mysterious. Maybe it was lust.
As I savored the lobster entrée, I thought I’d never tasted anything so delicious in my life.
We drove back toward Boston, stopping along the way to count the stars as they appeared, one by one, in the black velvet sky.
I didn’t want this night to end and from the way his hand lingered on mine, I knew we were on the same page. We went to his place this time, a brownstone converted into a loft-like apartment; the rough, hand-glazed walls evoked images of countless illustrations from Architectural Digest.
We sipped our drinks in the jazz-filled space. He lit a scented candle.
Gazing around in the dimly lit room, my eyes took note of the sleek furnishings, beginning with the butternut leather sofa flanked by soft chenille armchairs in a rusty hue. Across the back of the sofa, a red, white and blue Navajo blanket had been tossed casually; now Ian reached out for it, bringing it down to enfold us as we leaned against the red and white floor pillows. Our backs to the roaring blaze of the fire, we snuggled into the blanket; within seconds, our kisses led to the magical slipping away of all encumbrances. Bare-skinned and glowing, we made love once again.
Later he led me behind a large painted screen where his bed stood on a pedestal. Beneath the luxurious Egyptian cotton sheets, we joined our bodies, just to snuggle. I slipped into a deep slumber, only to awaken hours later, wondering if it could get any better than this.
On Sunday we strolled downtown, picking up souvenirs in the Quincy Market area. I found a mug emblazoned in red letters, proclaiming “I Love Boston,” with a tiny heart shape representing the word “love.” Arm in arm we stumbled down a flight of stairs to an underground coffeehouse, where we sipped Cappuccino.
Hand in hand we explored all the historic buildings and monuments.
On Sunday evening, I knew I had to return to my normal life and reluctantly checked out of my hotel, retrieving my luggage. I turned in my rental car.
Ian met me at the airport, our eyes conveying so much that we hadn’t said.
At the very last minute he begged me to stay with him for just a little while longer, and blinking back my tears, I hesitated, almost considering it. But then, shaking my head, I slipped into his arms for one last hug. I felt so complete within his embrace that, for a moment, I feared that separation might result in actual physical pain.
From a distance I heard the announcement to board. Shaking myself, as if to awaken from a dream, I tried to saunter away jauntily; my feet, seemingly shackled with blocks of stone, weighed me down. As I struggled against this encumbrance, I glanced back over my shoulder for one final glimpse of his face. As I memorized his features, his image faded, blurring slowly around the edges, like one of those scenes in old movies, when the hero and heroine are about to make love.
I shook myself again, aware only of an eerie, yet satisfying, feeling of complete and utter bliss.
Leaning back into the cushions, I heard the droning instructions as we prepared for departure. Dutifully I fastened my seatbelt in response to the blinking sign and gazed out for one final look at the Boston skyline as we taxied across the runway. I stretched my arms, pointing them toward the stars, and relaxed, feeling as refreshed as if I’d awakened from a very deep sleep.
Hmm, I thought. I’ve actually had a very productive weekend. I can return to my life with a whole new perspective.
I wrote on yellow legal pads, summarizing my impressions of the reunification of Hilary and Joey, beginning with my observations of their first day together in their new home. I included notations about the excellent support system provided by the maternal grandparents and I jotted down detailed descriptions of Hilary’s child care arrangements. I briefly touched on her educational and recreational plans, frowning slightly as I reviewed all the relevant details. Then, smiling in satisfaction at a job well done, I stashed the notebook into my briefcase.
Closing my eyes, I prepared to settle in for the long flight home.