Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Lisa and I met as we landed at Salt Lake City airport. We hit the ground with a jolt. A moment before we'd been flying through whiteness, and from my window seat I had seen . . . nothing.

No depth. No space. No sky. No ground. It was as if we were buried. Or else suspended. And then all at once, the earth caught me under the chin and I let out a little cry.

"First time landing in this kind of weather?" she asked.

This after hours of silence, both of us quietly reading our books.

"Yes. It's all new to me."

"Where're you headed?"

"Colorado. You?"

"Home. To Montana."

"So you're used to this?"

"Pretty used."

She pulled her turtleneck up under her chin. The flight attendant announced we'd arrived but that we couldn't proceed to our gate because every plane was delayed, since every plane had to be de-iced. We would have to sit and wait.

"I hope you came from some place warm?" I sighed.


"Me too."

We introduced ourselves. Lisa, it turned out, had been in Brunswick for a long-overdue family reunion. She and her brothers and sisters had flown in from every corner of the country to see their aging parents. All but one brother, who like her lived in Montana.

"He didn't go?"

"He drove. He won't fly anymore."

The flight attendant interrupts again, this time to offer her congratulations to all those on board about to enjoy the luxury of staying in their seats and continuing to Honolulu. Gloating cheers floated up and down the aisle.

"Have you ever been there?" Lisa asks. "Hawaii?"

"It's been years."

"I was there. Just before this trip. And I told my brother I was going, and he asked if I was going to see Pearl Harbor, and I told him no, I wasn't planning on it. He doesn't talk much. He's never been there. But finally he said he thought maybe I ought to go, and if I did, maybe I could take a picture for him. So I said, well, all right."

"And did you?"

She nodded. She didn't expect it to be so beautiful, she said, standing over the water where those men were locked away, never coming off their ship. She not only took pictures, but bought one of the flags that had flown over the monument.

"You know, every day they fly a flag--well I guess more than one--and you can buy one if you want to. So I got one for my brother. Like I say, he doesn't talk very much. We live in the same town, but he never talks about his time in Vietnam, or why he won't fly. He started crying when I gave him that flag, though. That's something at least," she leaned forward, looking out the window.

"You're a good sister."

"I don't know," she said, and looked at the frost growing steadily on our wing, at the ice that would have to be removed before this bird could lift toward the islands.