The first time, I take you with me. The KLM 747 idles on the tarmac of Mehrabad Airport, July 1978. Carter has visited the Shah, skirmishes already burgeoning in outlying villages. The carry-on bag is packed with bottles, formula, pacifiers, The Three Bears, pencil and pad; one suitcase in the cargo hold stuffed with artifice, lies of coming back.
Actually, the first time is in Chicago, when you are just a figment of false pregnancy. A short jaunt, only 24 hours, but an attempt, nevertheless; returning after threats of hurling one’s self off a 33rd floor balcony overlooking Lake Michigan. Much later, I learn more about falling from great heights—the descriptions of 9/11 jumpers and their pink mist rising on impact—but I didn’t have to know this then to be afraid and come back.
In the air, the flight captain announces a cargo door not fully closed, requiring descent to a safer altitude and a slower speed. We arrive in Copenhagen too late for the connecting flight to the States. I break down in the airport’s lobby, no sky caps, no help, where to start to find a hotel. You tug at my pant leg and also cry. I call your grandmother and cry some more, then locate a maid to warm your bottle. We draw elephants through the night.
There is a time before Chicago, even before the impending marriage, that I try. Your father’s pleas and my father’s cold stares stop short thoughts of escape in the family car down I-35 to Dallas. How could I take the family car?
Tehran, Copenhagen, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Holdenville, Atwood, 48 straight hours we flee, to the backwoods, to the farm, to twin beds in the backroom. You’re on a jet lag high. I read.
“And, Goldilocks said, ‘Who’s been sleeping in my bed?’ Who’s been taking the time off the clock and putting it in the milk bottle?”
You brush your small hand across my face and say, “Mommy, those aren’t the right words.”
In three months, your grandfather dies. Dead before he hit the ground, the coroner says. The following weeks a blur of burial, frost and dew, the discarding of his recliner, harvest moons, Halloween bonfires, a drawn on pirate eye-patch. You stand in Grandpa’s room, wearing his gift of buffalo cowboy boots, asking when he’ll come back. I cave and your father returns. We buy a blue Chevy station wagon and slide on I-40 ice all the way to California to start again.
A short-lived plan, the final flight is without you.
Phyllis Brotherton grew up in Oklahoma. She lived for three years in Iran prior to the revolution and her son, Mehdi, was born there. She speaks Farsi, albeit very poorly now. In 2000, at the age of fifty, Phyllis received an MA in Creative Nonfiction at Fresno State University. A glutton for punishment, she has returned to Fresno State and is completing her first year in the MFA Creative Writing Program there. She resides in Clovis, CA with her wife, Denise, and works at the local PBS station.