Outside of the JFK airport, the air was moist and thick. You could tell without even opening your eyes it was thunder storm weather. The clouds were almost orange as if telling departing planes “Caution”. I sit alone by gate 6, waiting for my son Kyle’s plane to arrive. He was coming back from visiting his mother in California. I would have gone with him, but my ex-wife wouldn’t “allow” me to come after our complicated divorce. Even if I dared disobey her rule, I had to stay in town to cover for my boss.
This past week has been hard without Kyle. He is usually the one to pick out my suit and tie for work. Yes, I let my seven-year-old son pick out my clothes for me. I would pick them out myself, but I have the fashion sense of a blind monkey. I ended up sulking to work with a poorly tied half windsor and wrinkled, black dress shirt. Fashion mistakes aside, the true reason I missed him was home didn’t seem complete without him. Yes, he is only a scrawny 57 pound kid who only uses a fraction of the apartment, but his presence seems to flow through all the rooms when he is there. Without him, the cluttered apartment seems empty.
I look around at all the people walking through the airport. A man sprints by me carrying a black briefcase, seeming to be talking to himself between gasps for air. He must have a blue tooth, I conclude. Another man walks by in the opposite direction holding a map of Michigan, giving his wife orders as she directs her kids through the traffic of people. Everyone seems to have something to do, or somewhere to be.
While I continue to watch the commotion of frantic travelers, I notice a newscaster on one of the suspended TVs in the waiting area with a large red banner across the bottom of the screen that reads “Breaking News”. She seemed to be in the middle of her report. I squinted to try and read the headline, but it was too small to make out from where I was seated. Almost on cue, a fat lady moves right in the way of the television. I decided to get up and move in front of her so I could see the TV. I usually don’t watch the news, but I might as well since it seems Kyle’s flight won’t be here for a while.
I plop down onto a purple couch in front of the TV. The report was still on, but now there was a picture of a plane crash in a large corn field. Oh no. It couldn’t be… Dear god, no. I searched the screen for the headline, my head starting to feel heavy. I felt like I had just gotten off of one of those rides at the town fair where they put you into a metal cage with a seat and spin you upside down and in a circle simultaneously. The caption read, “Plane Crash in Massachusetts, No Survivors”. Wait. Kyle was on flight 814 flying from California to New York with a layover at O’Hare. His plane wouldn’t have flown over Massachusetts, right? I sigh, feeling some relief, like a million pounds were just lifted off my chest.
I continue to watch the reporter talk, as she explains more about the flight. I am only able to hear pieces of her report because of all the people talking. She mentioned something about JFK so the flight must have been expected here. I wonder if there was anyone like me waiting for their kid at the gate for this flight. I don’t know what I would do if anything ever happened to my Kyle, it just terrifies me thinking about it.
I decided to stop listening to the report. It was too much to process under the circumstances. Too…real. I scan the terminal, looking for a distraction. A loud tone sounds and a preppy female voice says, “All flights coming in or out of JFK International Airport have been delayed due to storms. Flight routes may be changed to avoid the storms. We thank you for your cooperation.” Great. More time I have to sit here and wait. I look outside to see if weather may have changed in the past few minutes, but it was still the same dreary, foggy day. A crack of lightning startles me as I literally jump out of my seat. I look around, hoping no one noticed.
After waiting for another two hours, I notice something. People were starting to leave the waiting area. Why are so many people changing their flights? I look around for clues, and notice the red L.E.D. message above the gate. It reads, “Flight 816 Canceled. We are terribly sorry for the inconvenience.” The airline representative at the gate tells me, “Please visit our front desk to move your flight to a different gate.” Confused, I look out the window looking for my son’s plane. It’s still not here. What is going on? I turn back to the lady, still behind the help desk at the gate.
“Hi. I’m wondering when flight 816 from Chicago will be arriving at the gate?” I asked, worried, again.
“I’m sorry sir. Please visit our customer service desk in the main terminal for more information.” The lady didn’t make eye contact with me at all, apparently too consumed by whatever was on her computer screen.
“No, you don’t understand. I am waiting for my son to get off this flight.” I said quietly, my voice noticeably breaking .
She looks up at me for the first time. “Oh….” She says awkwardly, looking down at the ground. “ I’m so sorry. The storm changed the course of the flight and they tried to go around New York and fly in from the West but….” She trailed off, looking at me with anguish in her eyes. I stood there, frozen, trying to figure out what she meant, and then it all came flying back. The newscaster, the cornfield, the smoke and debris, the caption, the storm; it all made sense. The emotional tidal wave consumed me again, except this time it was a lot stronger. I fall to the ground as reality comes rushing to me. I was drowning in the truth and I couldn’t seem to breath. How could this happen? What did Kyle ever do to deserve this? Such an innocent little boy who’s life was take before he even got to experience his first ball game, and the worst part was, he was my entire life. It was that moment that I realized that it wasn’t my apartment that had felt empty the past week, it was my heart and it would never fully recover.
The last thing I remember before blacking out was looking up at the gate that Kyle would never walk through.