June 8, 2004
The Stranger Beside Me

I am boarding the plane, getting ready to fly to TicTac for my son's high school graduation. 

It has been a long, nightmarish morning at the airport: pay phones that go dead in my hand, escalators that lead nowhere,  monitors that display flight schedule information in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, rather than in English.  Plus they've moved my gate to the outer reaches of the airport, AND I've been walking around the concourse wearing nothing but a tank top and a pair of sticky underpants for the past few hours. I've finally reached my gate, with minutes to spare: now all I want to do is get on the plane, settle into my window seat with a club soda and a magazine, and enjoy the flight.

But of course it isn't that easy. 

"I'm sorry, ma'am," says the snooty young boarding clerk, stepping in front of me to block my entrance. "I can't allow you to get on the plane with those." And she points to the balloon bouquet I am carrying in one hand: three gigantic balloons, one for each Tot  ...  pink for Jaymi, yellow for Kacie, blue for Kyle. "Balloons aren't allowed on interstate flights," she sniffs. She tells me that if I'd like to leave them at the ticket counter, an authorized agent will make sure that they are shipped to TicTac within 7-10 business days.

"We'll have to deflate them first, of course," she adds.

I am furious. "If these balloons don't get on this flight," I snap, "*I* don't get on this flight." What I'm not telling her is that these are not ordinary balloons. These are 'life-force' balloons  ...  filled, not with helium, but with a special psychic mixture of love and energy and good karma, designed to keep my children safe and healthy for the next ten years or so.  Each Tot received a dose of this special psychic mixture when they were born, and then again when they became teenagers. Now that the youngest Tot is graduating from high school -- now that, technically, all three of them have reached adulthood -- it is time to dose them again with another ten years' worth of protection.

And I am the only one who can administer the dose, using these special balloons.

"Then you leave me no choice, do you?" she says.  And with that, she pulls a hatpin from the center of her natty pillbox cap  --  a hatpin as long as a broom handle  --  and before I have a chance to open my mouth in protest, she systematically pops each balloon, one after another, as I scream hysterically.

End of dream.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

I am wrenched from sleep (and from this latest in a series of Stoopid Travel-Anxiety Dreams) by the sound of voices outside my bedroom window: a cluster of noisy inebriated young men, from the sound of it, wobbling their way home after a long night at The Shamrock Tavern. 

"No fudking shidt!" shouts the loudest drunk in the group. "I fudkin' TOLD her I don't fudking put UP with that fudking shidt! FUDK that!"   

For a few moments I lay there in darkness, waiting for the buffoon parade to pass ... waiting for the aftershocks of my stoopid dream to dissipate ... waiting for sleep to return and carry me back to the dream airport (where, presumably, I can go back and kick that snooty boarding clerk's dream ass).

My attention is drawn to a noise from the other side of the bed ... a gentle, liquidy 'bzzzzfffp, bzzzzfffp, bzzzzfffp' soundemanating from the center of a mountain of blankets. In the dim light of the bedroom, I can see a man laying next to me, flat on his back, his face partially obscured by pillows. His mouth is hanging open, a little, and he has managed to kick off the sheets and comforter, leaving his naked legs and feet exposed. He looks totally comfortable, completely vulnerable, utterly at peace. But here is what I find really spooky about the whole thing.

I have no idea who he is.

I know who *I* am, even through the fog of half-sleep. (I am Secra. Hear me roar.)  I know where I am. (At home, laying on my own lumpy mattress, on the side of the bed closest to the bathroom.) I know what time it is, approximately. (At least two hours until it's time to get up and get ready for work.)  But the handsome man slumbering peacefully next to me is an enigma.  

Who is he? How did he get here? Why are we laying in bed together? I don't even know his name. I lay quietly and study him carefully for a while, in the moonlight, waiting for memory to come back. 

He has a nice face, whoever he is. 

I'm neither disturbed nor threatened by his presence in the bed next to me, nor by my failure to recognize him. I understand, on some level, that he is important to me: a friend, a family member, a loved one.  I sense that he means me no harm. I know that eventually I'm going to remember who he is, and that it's going to be a pleasant remembering.  Mostly I just feel puzzled by this sudden brain lapse, and by what may have caused it. Was it the trauma of the stoopid dream?  The Benadryl I took before bedtime?  The tabouleh salad I had for dinner?  I also feel a sort of vague, bittersweet sadness ...  the sadness that comes from looking into a face you know you love, without feeling the slightest glimmer of recognition.

How awful it would be, were this ever to become a permanent condition.

A few seconds later -- as the neighborhood quiets down, as my dream anger resolves itself, as I'm finally beginning to drift off again --  the memory finally snaps into place, like the flight schedule monitor suddenly flipping over from Egyptian hieroglyphics into English.

David. Husband. Partner. Beloved. 

I reach across the bed and gently cover his legs and feet with the comforter.  And then I climb aboard the dream escalator, once again, and begin the slow effortless descent back into sleep.


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i suppose it would be worse if i couldn't remember who *i* was.