There are a lot of people here at the airport terminal today. All the seats are filled with men and women and loved ones sitting next them. There are even more of them that are sitting alone in a circle against the wall, playing cards and showing pictures of people in their wallets. Outside the terminal building, a few smoke cigarettes. They wear their desert camo. So does my father, because the man’s shipping him out today to fight for us in the middle east.. I don’t know who ‘us’ is but the knot in my stomach makes me feel like this isn’t right.
“Be good to your mom,” he tells me. “You and your brother are the men of the house now.”
Pops says this with his usual demeanor: straightforward and as if it’s his last words on earth. My sister’s not here today to see him off, otherwise I would turn to her and see her shake her head at how dramatic pops was being. She’s at college out west, but she wishes she could be here.
Instead my brother is here. He’s graduating high school this year, so he’s really going to be the man of the house. We didn’t get to hang out a lot this year, because he works a lot and he is going to graduate. This was one of those days where he took off to see Pops off.
I nudge brother. Most of the time when I do nudge him, he turns to me and says an inside joke to diffuse to tension, like “look at me mustache!” while holding his two pointers under his nostrils. He doesn’t budge.
“Stop it,” he says without looking at me.
I stop it and turn to mom.
Mom’s silent too. She drove slowly on the highway slowly before we got here. When I looked out the window during the ride, it made the grass at the other side of the highway barrier looked dead. It didn’t sway in the wind like usual. It was just a bunch of dead blades of grass that no one ever cuts.
I look around the airport terminal from where we sit. I look for any friends of mine. I see one classmate that has been in other classes – not really a friend, just a face I always see. He doesn’t look like his usual happy self. I also hear his baby brother or sister crying. It cuts through the room, which makes everyone silent.
There’s something very wrong with the picture. All is quiet. There are no more conversations. Soon, all the men and women in camos turn their attention to a man in an important looking cap. He stands in the middle of the terminal. He’s talking to someone who stands next to him, telling him something in silent. Then he turns to everyone else and starts talking.
“We will be boarding soon. Make sure to tell your loved ones farewell and hug them tight. It’ll be a long six months soldiers! Remember their touch for until you come back!”
The soldiers stand up and begin lugging on their backpacks and their drab supply bags. Their boots squeak. Their crisp uniforms ruffle. They have not touched foreign soil just yet.
Before we help Pops carry his things, I ask my brother and mom when he’s coming back.
“I’ll be back soon,” he says. “Remember to take care of your mom.”
Then, like a timebomb ready to burst, I wonder why Pops has to go. My friend’s dad doesn’t have to go. Was it because he was ranked higher? Was it because he was a coward? It just didn’t make sense that a man with callused hands like my father could not get a break, while my friend’s dad stays back pampering his greasy hair. I think t about his cheeky smile, the one he must have because he was staying home.
Pops gives us all one last hug. He doesn’t say much, but he just keeps on putting his hands on our shoulders. His hands feel heavy on my shoulder. It makes me think about the guitars he’s played in his life, or the times he held hands with my mom. He lets go and walks towards the line that leads through security. He’s near the end of the line, so my mom, brother, and I watch as the line dwindles down.
Soon enough, it’s his turn to walk through the security gate. My brother puts a hand over my mom’s shoulder, and she leans her head into him. I let my arms hang loose. I still feel his hand on my shoulder. Before he walks through, he turns look over his shoulder to give us glimpse. I feel my feet ready to run to him, but my brother puts his hand on my shoulder.
He disappears, leaving one last glimpse for us to keep.
When mom drives home, I keep my eyes closed. I don’t want to look out of the window. There’s nothing out there anymore. Maybe a few cars or a planes in the sky. Then, I think about Pops in his airplane over the fields. He must be in one of those planes where the seats are nets and the windows are right behind your head.
I wonder what he must see outside his window when he finally sees out the window through the clouds. I wonder if he thinks he sees our car from the window, and pretends to reach out at it as if he had the hands of God. I wonder if he prays, watching over us like an eye in the sky.
And I wonder if he closes his eyes, thinking about the ifs of life. What if he wishes he could rewind time when we were all just babies Stupid babies that have no idea what the feeling of loss feels like. I imagine he wants to watch us all grow up again.
I wonder if he still feels the weight of his father’s hand on his shoulder when he tells him “You’re the man of the house now.”