Mamma’s Boy


The flight attendant announces that it’s okay to use our laptops. I reach into the seat-back pocket to remove the black neoprene case that holds the device with which I connect to the world. It’s a silver MacBook pro with a sticker that says, “This machine kills fascists.” That’s borrowed from Woody Guthrie. His guitar had that written on it. I don’t really want to kill fascists. I don’t want to kill anybody anymore. I want to help open people’s hearts, to help them move forward out of limiting ideologies like fascism.

I’ve finally stopped crying. Our dear friend Shana Taylor rode with us to the airport this morning. I’m so grateful to her for all the kindnesses she has shown my family and me, and especially for her willingness to come with Mom to drop me off. I’m glad Mom won’t be driving home alone. I knew it would be hard to say goodbye to Mom but it was much, much harder than I thought it would be. Oh no, here come the tears again. Everybody on the plane has already identified me as “the crying guy” I’m sure. I could barely hold it together in the waiting area at the gate. I basically just stood at the window looking out at our plane and letting the tears flow. There were/are lots of tears. My eyes flood again right now, the screen goes blurry, I blink them away hard and they leap out onto the keyboard.

Mom’s arm is in a sling (torn rotator cuff) and she’s in a back brace awaiting surgery (vertebral compression fracture). I felt like this was the worst possible time for me to leave, like she needs me to stay and take care of her. She insisted it was time to go. I let myself believe she was tired of having me there to make it easier. At the drop-off curb at the airport we hugged goodbye. I reminded us that I would be back in a month to collect the pets and furniture when I’ve found a place to live so it won’t be that long before we see each other again. When I got about ten yards away, my mom, the most important person in the world to me yelled out, “Have fun!”

Her voice sounded different, strange. My mom is a real Southern lady and I would have thought nothing if what she’d yelled had that songlike quality. But it didn’t. It was hearty, loud!  It’s like she yelled it from the bottom of her soul. It is the most familiar voice in the world to me. It’s a voice that can yell two words and have it mean something it would take a day to explain.

I wish the captain would turn off the fasten seat belts sign. I need to pee! I’ve been pounding water like crazy. You’d think I would have cried it all out. I’m losing water like a faulty dyke. I look out the window and down at the clouds be low. The words, “I’m grateful” flash across the screen of my mind. I am grateful too— even if someone in this section of the plane did just fart. And it wasn’t me.

So much of me was pulling me to stay in Alabama today. I hate it there. I hate the oppressive theocratic political culture. I hate the ignorance. I hate the close-mindedness. I hate the homophobia, the misogyny,  and the racism. And part of me loves it there— like I am a part of it and it is a part of me— as if my flesh is made of Alabama clay, as if the water of the Black Warrior River flows through my veins. It’s as if that peculiar cadence of Appalachian Foothills Bluegrass beats my heart and my brain is always swimming in Jazz. Part of me finds it so hard to leave Alabama you’d think my big-ass feet were actually stuck in that pungent black mud. I waited until the very last minute to pack. We were late leaving for the airport so I had to speed to get there. I was hoping I would get pulled over so I would miss my plane, have to stay one more day so I could look after Mom just a little bit more. I’m afraid she’ll—

The flight attendant just delivered my orange juice. The cocktail napkin had a little note on it: “I’m so sorry. If there is anything we can do for you, please let us know. Love, Megan.”

I believe there is great value in allow others to see us cry. It gives others permission. It reminds us all that we have other emotions in common other than the ones that are “acceptable” to show in public. I also don’t want to make a show of it either so it’s not like I was saying “hey, everyone, look I’m crying!” (You may doubt that given what you know about my personality from the blog and whatever other ways “Jeff Key” has been formulated in your mind. But it’s true.) Especially after we started to board the plan, what I’ve really been trying to do is hold it together. At one point, I was afraid I was going to start sobbing openly. (There was some of that when I walked alone through a corridor in an empty part of the airport.) I didn’t want anyone to think I wasn’t competent to throw them out the window in case of an emergency. That exit row is mine.

I ended up having a great conversation with Megan, the flight attendant who left me the sweet note. All three of the flight attendants were so sweet on that trip. One of the two non-Megan ones offered me tissues as I surfed in through forward hatch on a tidal wave of my own saltwater. I’m a big fan of Southwest Airlines and the people who work there. Megan and I talked about what’s important in life. I told her about my Dad and about saying goodbye to my mom to whom I’m very attached— that that was the reason I was crying. I told her I’m a Mamma’s Boy. I am a Mamma’s Boy. I told her that her little note on the cocktail napkin was a demonstration of one human’s kindness toward another and that I would never forget it. I told her I was going to save the napkin to remind me. It’s in my wallet now. I’ll put it in one of my books when I’m reunited with my books in a month. When I reread all those books when I’m old, I’ll see the napkin, remember Megan fondly, wonder where she is, hope that she and her then-husband-now-boyfriend John are happy.

I’m in Chicago now on a layover— a nice long one. I really don’t mind long layovers. I like to watch the people, get some work done, and usually, when I’m at Midway Airport, enjoy one of those Potbelly sandwiches. But today, I had chicken and dumplings lovingly prepared for me by my sister, Jin. I went by to say goodbye to them last night and she packed me up some lovin’ dumplin’s  to go. Jin and her husband Philip are the parents to my godson Cedar. I hated to say goodbye to them. I told y’all that before— well, actually from a position of dreading its happening— now its happened.

Okay, I’m not going to ramble on. The next time you hear from me, I’ll be home in New York. I plan to kiss the ground when I land. For those of you who find the thought of kissing the ground in LaGuardia Airport gross, you should know— that’s exactly why I belong in New York and you don’t. 

Aw relax. I’m jus’ fuckin’ wiche.

See y’all tomorrow.

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