What if I told you that every ideology that your favorite politician wants to sell you as the key to making America great again has an actual body count, a human story behind it?
American Airlines flight 605 was fully boarded this morning, as far as I knew. Any minute, a flight attendant was going to walk up the aisle, shutting the doors to the overhead storage, and it wasn’t going to matter one bit that I didn’t get my customary, complimentary bump to first class; one row behind was just fine because my seat in row 5 was the only one that had a butt in it. I had the whole port side of the plane to myself for my flight to Cancun, Mexico, where I still had a two hour drive ahead of me. Until.
Instead of readying the plane for takeoff, the flight attendant backed herself down the aisle and motioned to someone I could not see yet. What does one call an airport candy-striper? A porter? A people transporter? Whatever his job title, a strong man dressed in an ambiguous uniform that was part pilot and part maître de wheeled a feeble Latina woman to my aisle and stopped. They were followed by a señorita with a wavy black mane and dressed in a Marine Corps tee shirt. My seat mates had arrived.
And you know what? It didn’t suck, not having a whole row to myself. I had the window seat and it was barely even a three hour flight. It would have been hard to find something to complain about, even if I’d really been in a mood to. Not that I’m in the habit of quoting Kanye, but how you gon’ be mad on vacation?
I struck up a conversation because going to Mexico to hang out with authors and screen writers can really only change a girl so much. Or so little, truth be told.
My very up close neighbor asked if I had gum. She hit the jackpot because I had a bag of 180 pieces of Trident White in my laptop case. Realizing this, she asked for two. She wanted one for her grandmother, too. I know the trick; that’s why I was prepared. Chewing helps keep the ears clear during ascent and descent.
I wish I asked her name. She was from Detroit, but we ended up on the same flight out of Raleigh this morning on account of her family moving south a couple of years ago. She lives down near Fayetteville now. The Marine Corps tee shirt, she told me, was something she picked up when she went to her cousins graduation from boot camp at Lejeune. He, like she and her sister, were born here. In the US, I mean. Not here. That was hours ago and I’m in Tulum now. She was definitely not born here. This was her first trip to Mexico. She was a little cagier about her parents’ origin, but it didn’t need to be said. While she filled out the customs declaration forms for the two of them, I noticed that Grandma was traveling on a Mexican passport.
Grandma, coughed and her granddaughter doted. Grandma drifted off to sleep and she resumed our conversation. She told me about oversleeping and how rushed that made everything because she lives about seventy five minutes from the airport. It was hard, she told me. They were already running late but they had to hurry through security and it fell to her to break up the final hug between her mother and her mother’s mother. “I’m sorry that I had to tell them to stop, but we had to go!” She was still justifying, but she didn’t need to.
I asked, but I don’t know why. “Can your parents maybe go to Mexico to visit her?”
My God I’ve never seen so much sadness on such a young face – and I have daughters.
They can’t, she told me, because they wouldn’t be allowed back into the US. They’ve lived here twenty five years, guys. That’s longer than my own three children.
My seatmate told me she’s turning nineteen on April 15th. Tax day.
Today, a woman who’s probably about my very age just had to hug her own mother goodbye. She won’t be there to hold her hand or hear her last words. She won’t be at the funeral.
There’s already a wall, and there are a million other families just like this one who have been making payments like this for a hundred years.
God, help them.