Thursday, March 4, 2010

Due to Popular Demand...

I'm reposting this blog due to recent news of airplanes and children.

(No, this doens't mean I've run out of blogs to post. I've got more...oh yes...I do.)

Boy On A Plane
by Lupe Fernandez

At 5:45am, I board Delta Air Lines flight 3248 at McAllen Airport. A week of humid, sweaty research in Texas for a memoir manuscript about my father is over. The twin jet engine plane is cool and dry, not sticky and exhausting like the Rio Grande Valley weather in May. As I relax in the aisle seat, I hear a boy cry at the front access door.

“Don’t worry,” a brunette flight attendant says to a small blond boy, “it’ll be okay.”

The flight attendant escorts an eight year old boy down the aisle. They stop at my row. The boy, thin body, pale skin, and glasses, has a plastic identity card around his neck. I get up and allow Barry P. access to the window seat.

“It’ll be all right.” The flight attendant leans over and smiles at Barry. Other passengers stare at us.

I want to say to them, “We’re not together.”

Barry’s chin slumps on his backpack. He draws in shallow, stuttering breaths and wipes the snot from his nose. I think Barry is afraid of flying.

I’m a 47 year old stranger with no children; I’ve never changed a diaper. But this boy is upset and alone. I could reach over; pat Barry on the shoulder, and say, “Don’t worry, son. Everything will be all right.” Barry might scream at being touched by a stranger and a Federal Air Marshall would escort me off the plane. I could ignore Barry if he rolls into a ball of tears, shrieking for the entire flight. The other passengers would then give me the evil eye as if I were his neglectful father.

Perhaps an innocuous conversation will calm Barry.

“Where you headed?” I say.

Barry stops crying to answer. “Memphis.”

I nod as if the boy and I were two business men talking about traveling. “I’m going to California,” I say.

A flight attendant asks for carry-on luggage to be stowed in the overhead compartments or under the forward seat. Barry shoves his backpack under the forward seat.

“We’re going to Memphis,” Barry says. He’s eyes regard me as if I’m lost.

“It’s a stopover,” I say, “The plane goes from Memphis to Los Angeles.”

Barry nods and stares out the oval window as the plane takes off. After the plane reaches cruising altitude, the brunette flight attendant pushes a metal cart down the narrow aisle.

“Peanuts or pretzels?” She stops the cart next to us and talks over the engine roar.

“Peanuts,” I say, ears plugged.

“Pretzels,” Barry mutters.

The flight attendant gives him extra packets.

I munch on my salted peanuts. “I like peanuts,” I say to the boy, “not a pretzel fan.”

“I like pretzels,” Barry sits up and munches on a tiny twisted braid.

“Visit McAllen often?” I say.

“I was visiting my Dad. I don’t want to go home.” Barry frowns. His jaw quivers.

“How do you like McAllen?”

He shrugs. “My dad runs a big warehouse. I sat around in his office and watched them do stuff. They distribute things. I don’t want to go home.”

“Who’s at home?”

“I live with my mom.”

Barry feels the pain of separation from his divorced parents. Time and distance break his heart.

“Who’s picking you up at the airport?”

“I don’t know. My mom’s supposed to. If she’s not there, I’ll have to call my grandmother.”

“Why don’t you call your mom?”

“She’s probably sleeping. She sleeps a lot. Grandma will be mad.”

I wonder if his mother suffers from depression. There’s nothing I can do or say to take his pain away while we fly over Texas and Tennessee. After two hours of flight time, Flight 3248 lands at Memphis International Airport. Seat belts unclick like metallic applause. I move out into the aisle to let Barry pass.

“So long,” I say.

“Bye.” Barry drags his backpack down the aisle and I never see him again. Maybe his mother will be waiting for him at the airport with hugs and kisses. Maybe not.

I imagine Barry gets home, tosses his backpack on the floor and throws himself on his bed in despair. Then he reaches for a book on the floor or under his bed. Barry opens the book to the first page and for several hours or days, however long it takes him, the boy loses himself in a story about heroes and villains, about adventures in faraway places, and forgets his pain.

Today, I will write for kids like him who need a book for solace, as I did when I was his age.


  1. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

    Great concept to blog together!

    Children’s Author
    Write What Inspires You Blog
    The Golden Pathway Story book Blog
    Donna M. McDine’s Website

  2. Love this, Lupe. I flew between parents as an older child, but it was never fun. And, I've never outgrown the need or the ability to find solace in a book. Thanks for the post.

  3. Ms. McDine and L.W. - thanks for your comments.

  4. Lupe,

    From my perspective, this is a compelling piece. I like how the interaction with the boy is touching, warm and comfortable... while simultaneously being distant and awkward. Involvingly written.

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  7. I think at some point we can all relate to that; escaping our pain by finding solace and escape in a book. It worked for me to find solace in a story during my parents split.

  8. Christopher - I'm glad you found a healthly outlet for comfort.

    Lupe F.


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