Where were you?

Where were you that day?

I’ll never forget… I was watching cartoons with my younger cousin Reed at my aunt’s house. Normally my grandparents watched him, but my grandfather was recovering from surgery, so I had taken a few days off work to go help out. Back then, Reed was obsessed with Bob the Builder, and we were still watching on VHS tapes. Around 9:00am, one movie had ended and I took it out of the vcr to change tapes. Through the static on the screen, at first I thought I was seeing some awful movie. Suddenly, the realization came over me that it was not a movie but the news.

And then… the second plane…

How little did we realize in that moment how much the world was about to change forever?

I distinctly recall the difference in existence before and after that day. All innocence that I had vanished. This was different from Kosovo or East Berlin or the Persian Gulf of the 1990’s… this was something bigger. Something scarier. I had never watched the news so much in my life before that day, but spent the next several days glued to CNN, unable to tear my eyes away. Fearful… we don’t live far from a large military munitions base; were we still safe here, despite being far from a big city? Working at the church, I spent hours getting in touch with parishioners and families who were living out of state, including one whose husband was in the Washington Navy Yard that day. All were safe. I didn’t lose anyone that I was personally close to. And yet, the loss lingers… it makes my throat close up any time I spend too long a moment in thought of it.

Seventeen years ago, I didn’t know Antonio. He was here in the States by then, but he was in college and our paths hadn’t crossed yet. Back then, he hadn’t even finished his private pilot license, but he was well on his way. Today, seventeen years later, I can’t help but feel a more profound sense of trepidation over what that day meant for aviation families.

That morning, 8 pilots and 25 flight attendants headed out for an early report. They called their final cross-check and taxied out for the last time. Those flight crews never made it home.

I deliberately try to avoid thinking about everything that can go wrong when Antonio is flying at 35,000 feet. As a pilot’s partner, as the granddaughter of a pilot, as the friend of an FA, I know how (relatively) safe the sky is. I roll my eyes along with other passengers at the ridiculousness of TSA sometimes as we stand in line to remove our shoes or throw out the coffee we haven’t had time to finish yet. The anthropologist in me balks at the racial profiling, just as Antonio – as a Latino – tries to ignore the stares he gets in airports sometimes as a “brown” man in a pilot’s uniform.

But sometimes, if I let myself think about it… in the pit of my stomach, I am grateful.

Because the pilot-wife in me wants bags searched. Wants the extra scans. Wants everyone to have to remove their shoes and open their laptops.

Because the pilot-wife in me wants my pilot to come home.

What happened on 9/11 will probably never happen again. The world learned a tragic and immeasurably catastrophic lesson that day. And yet… never again will we ever say “that could never happen”. Because that day, it did.

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How I met my pilot

Three years ago today, I woke up nervous. I drank my coffee, took a shower, and took an extra long time getting ready.

Still nervous.

Because I was about to do something that felt totally crazy…
That afternoon, I drove an hour to the airport. To pick up a stranger.

*****record scratch*****

*****freeze frame******

Okay, let me back up.

It was early February of 2015, and I had grown pretty fed up with the whole online dating thing. After more bad dates and more verbally abusive or just gross online interactions, I decided to take a break for a while. So one afternoon, I logged on to deactivate my accounts.

Which is when I discovered I had a new message.

It was only two words long: “Storm tested?”

That’s what caught my attention. Because that simple question meant that whoever he was, he had actually taken the time to read my profile. We all know I tend to be a bit… umm… *verbose*… and I was never good at keeping my profile short and sweet. So to know that someone had taken the time to read that far said something.

I replied.

That reply became a months-long conversation.

He was a pilot, just getting ready to advance to the airlines after years of private and instructing work. He was from South America, and working in Florida, but had gone to school here and was looking to move back to Indiana. He spoke French, just as I was learning. He was divorced, too.

So we talked. And texted. For months. And finally started talking on the phone. He was in training, back and forth between PHX and YYZ. By that point, I knew I was starting to feel something for this handsome stranger who seemed too good to be true.

Then he offered to fly to Indiana so we could meet in real life.

*cue freak out*

I mean… on the one hand, who does that? Is he some sort of crazy person? On the other hand… that may be the most effort that one man has ever gone to for me. (Including my ex-husband!)

So I did something I’d never done before…

I paid for a real background check.

I felt so shady. But I am a survivor of date-rape from a previous very bad online date-gone-awry. So to meet someone who wasn’t originally from this country, and who had very little online presence, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. (Okay, I had a choice… I could have said no. But all along I just had this feeling… this Gibbs-gut-feeling that I just had to meet this guy.)

His background checked out. (I should have known… who gets hired by a commercial airline if they didn’t pass a background check?) So when he offered to fly into IND on what would have been my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary?

I thought it was a sign.

So despite thinking I may have been completely crazy, I accepted.

Those of you who have been to the new IND terminal know there’s a spot right in the center where you can watch arrivals entering from both concourses. And it was there that I stood, my heart pounding. It was hot and humid. I was wearing a jacket anyway, wearing heels with my jeans… trying to play it cool and feeling anything but.

And there he was. Antonio. Coming out of Concourse A… dark shiny hair and beautiful brown skin contrasting a crisp white Oxford shirt, striding in with the swagger of… well, a pilot.

The drive home was a little awkward, I admit. I still couldn’t get over the idea that I wasn’t completely nuts and that this was really happening. This guy really flew in all the way from Miami just to go on a date with me?!

We went out for Indian food that night. Then we walked around downtown, which is the first time I discovered he walks too fast for my short little legs. We walked down to Hartzell’s for ice cream, which is when I first actually met the real Hartzell, who happens to be an old friend of Antonio’s from when he lived here years ago.

That night we shared a first kiss over a bottle wine while the radio played “This Magic Moment“.

I know… it’s so terribly cheesy. So cheesy, in fact, that I held my breath and didn’t tell our story for a long time. I was afraid if I said too much or talked about it too much, I would break the spell. I’d jinx it somehow. I had been divorced for years, and in that time my longest relationship had lasted less than a year. Most of them only a few dates.

But now it’s been three years now. So maybe it’s safe.
………………*fingers crossed*………………..

A lot has happened since then. It hasn’t always been easy. I won the Cox Scholarship just about 6 weeks after we officially started dating. Antonio changed airlines. He has been based out of no less than 5 cities for work. I’ve learned by fire what it means to love someone who works in the aviation industry. We’ve dealt with a cancer scare (mine), losing my grandfather (another pilot, to whom Antonio had grown close as well), a hurricane (we got lucky when Irma turned left at the Keys, saving the MIA house from more damage than just the roof and the fence), sick family members in foreign countries, job changes, and so much more.

We also saw the 2016 election turn the world upside down. I went through a lot of emotional turmoil realizing that the country that I grew up in wasn’t really what I thought it was. I have learned more than ever what it means to be an immigrant and a non-white person in America right now. Antonio’s experiences have opened my eyes on a personal level of what it means to love someone who is constantly “othered” by our society. Antonio, who has never been around small children or sick people, has learned how to love both my Munchkin with all his quirks, and this girl living the fibro life. We’ve had times of frustration and misunderstanding. We have learned that we are both stubborn, and both sometimes short-tempered.

But we have also learned how to listen more. How to walk away when we need to so we can come back and work through things together. Antonio is learning to speak fibro and I’m learning to speak pilot. We’ve learned how to maneuver around language and cultural barriers. We’ve made our relationship official (at least in the state of Florida). We’ve learned to manage a relationship lived mostly apart, and take pleasure in the times when he is home. We have dates by FaceTime and Skype when he’s away. We practice French with the Munchkin and dream of traveling the world together. We’ve shared each other’s families and traded traditions. We talk about the future.

Today is the third anniversary of the day that a pilot took a crazy trip to Indiana to take a chance on some random girl from the internet. The day our lives changed. Antonio is in TUL, getting ready for a transfer to MKE, while I’m wrapping up the last of my undergrad coursework. The life of an aviation family isn’t always easy, and it’s very rarely predictable. We may have to only share a glass of wine in spirit tonight. But we’re happy. He supports me and I’m immeasurably proud of him. We’re not sure what, exactly, comes next.

But whatever it brings, we’re going to do it together. The skies ahead may not always be smooth… but it sure looks sunny from the cockpit.

P.S. I did eventually confess to Antonio about that background check. And you know what? He said he was glad that I had been so smart about it. Told you he was a keeper! 😉