I am not overly brave. I feel I must preface my story there to ensure no one gets the wrong idea. I do not feel peace because of some astounding courage. To be quite honest, it is not even because I am certain that death will bring me to a better place. It certainly is not because I feel that we will survive.
No, I am quite certain we are not going to survive.
It may seem a cliche, but nevertheless it is true that my life is flashing before my eyes. Perhaps flashing is not the best way of describing it. Perhaps more of a montage, a series of scenes. Some of them inconsequential like a memory of eating strawberry ice cream and getting some on the tip of my nose. I can feel exactly how cold it is, that slow awareness of the wetness on my skin penetrating through the cold.
Other memories are more what I would expect to think of. Turning points in my life, as it were. Choices I made that were important for one reason or another. The day I stole a candy bar from the corner store as a child. I had wanted it so badly but my mother had said no. I knew everyone was busy and it was oh so easy to put it in my pocket. I had eaten it under the covers in my bed that night, savouring it. In retrospect it was a stupid thing to do, but at the time it had seemed like it was perfectly acceptable. It was the first time I realized that the rules of the world only truly seem to matter if one does not get caught.
In my mind I can see the day of my mother's funeral, her casket slipping down into the ground. My father's hand on my shoulder, holding me steady. His fingers bit into my skin through my coat, and I remember recognizing that he was trying to hold himself together more than hold me still. For a moment I smell not the scents of too many frightened people crammed together in a confined space with recycled air but the cool autumn breeze and fresh dirt.
I am grateful for the surprising clutching of my hand by the woman seated next to me. It pulls me from a memory that still hurts, still marks for me what I see as the beginning of the path I took, a path I now regret in what I expect to be my final moments. I am a bit surprised to notice that my own fingers had clearly been digging into the metal and vinyl of the arm rest and I relax my grip to squeeze the hand of the woman. A quick glance at her, a tight smile, and my composure is shattered. My heart begins to race, or perhaps I simply notice it racing. Perhaps my body has been more aware of my fear than my mind.
I have not been the best man I could be. I have stolen, far more than a candy bar. I have not been the best husband, leaving my wife on her own to pursue my own interests far more than I should have. I have let my relationship with my father lag in the wake of his grief over my mother's death more than 20 years ago. So much of myself I chose not to give, preferring to take instead. Visions of the stereotypical fire and brimstone waver before me and I tighten my hand on the woman's beside me.
I can't look at the woman next to me, however. She is too close, to immediate, and I am not quite sure I want to speak to her, hear about her life and her regrets. I am certainly no cleric to be anyone's confessor. It is then that I look ahead, across the aisle, and see the little girl. She peeks around the side of her seat, face pale but jaw clenched. She can't be much more than eight or nine and I seem to remember the flight attendants paying her extra attention. The card hanging on a string around her neck clinches that she is flying alone. What a thing to happen!
Her hair is well combed, tiny barrettes perfectly placed, hinting at someone's having taken good care of her before sending her off. There is a tiny smear of ketchup at the corner of her mouth, but aside from that she is tidy, what I can see of her. Her wide eyes, however, suggest that she is as far from calm as I now find myself.
It is not fair. Her life should not be over. Not like this. Not so soon, before she has had a chance to choose, make better choices than I have made.
I find myself wondering about her. She does not look at me, allowing me to stare without any need to present a reassuring adult face. I am not sure I could manage it. But I wonder who put her on the plane, and who was to greet her at the other end. Who would be missing their little girl? The girl is the passenger in seat 5F.