Dennis

I do not jump today. Tomorrow's events have gotten me thinking too much of the finality of death, and so I do not jump today. I loved Delia. Or, I loved her as much as a person like me can love a person like her.

When my mother died, there were only black people at the funeral. They were the only ones who cared that she was dead. She had lived among them for years, had even lived with one for a while. Her neighbors had been black, and so were her neighbors' friends and families. Her nurse had been black, and so was the nurse's family. These were the people at my mother's funeral. I remember looking around and thinking, "Isn't there anyone better to honor my mother?" At the time, I was angry that no one was white. I'm over being angry at that; I know now that I was mostly angry that my uncles weren't there, or my brothers or my sister. I was angry that my father wasn't there. It wasn't that everyone was black. It was just so painfully obvious that no one from my mother's family was there, except for me. And what was I? How did I matter?

I do not jump today because I am needed tomorrow. I am needed to honor Delia. I don't know who will be there, but for all I know, it will be stocked like my mother's funeral: the families of the few people who knew her. I am needed, then, to be someone who knew her. She needs me there because I loved her. I am needed to be someone who cared.

I want to prepare a speech or a poem, but I'm afraid. I don't know who will be there. Chances are, even when I get there, I won't know who the people are. Beth is going. I heard her mention it to someone. Beth, at least, is going. I, perhaps, can sit beside her. But I won't deliver a speech or poem because I don't know who will be there. If she has family, they will speak. I don't know if Delia has family. I'll be there in case she doesn't. I won't write anything, because I'd probably lose the nerve to speak, and whatever I'd prepared would sit in my pocket like a burning coal, and I'd end up feeling guilty. If you write something, you should share it, and I wouldn't be bold enough to do that. So it will be easier if I write nothing, prepare nothing. It will be easier because I won't feel obligated to share.

My building is tall. I only live on the third floor, so I walk up to the roof when I feel like this. And from the roof, I can go off the other side and no one will say, "Look, it's Dennis Iverson, finally jumped at last. That's his place right up there. Musta just hopped off his balcony." No one can see my balcony if I go off the other side of the building. No one has to point and say that's where I lived, musta gone off my balcony. I find myself up here a lot.

I was staring at my toaster last night, thinking of how sad it is. Bread goes in, but it never comes out. It goes in and turns into toast. Bread goes in, toast comes out. The bread will never be the same again. That's what I went to bed thinking of. I dreamt about it last night, too. When I woke up, the hopelessness of the idea still dogged me and I came up here. I find myself up here a lot.

You can see all the way to the Inner Harbor from here. It's sort of beautiful today, all gray and ready for a storm. The poor ocean, it always prepares itself for a storm, even when it's only going to be a gentle rain. You can see it there, all nervous, this big mass that is so blue-green that it might be black. It's scared, and there's no calming it. I took a paddleboat out once before a rain to tell the ocean not to worry, but there's not calming something so nervous. I've tried, and it can't be done.

Delia would have told me to try again. I told her once about feeling bad for the frozen figures atop my old basketball trophies, not knowing what to do to help them. I always felt bad looking at them because I bet those guys would much rather be playing basketball than sitting on top of my trophies. They're all obviously athletes who love the sport, otherwise they wouldn't be on the trophies, but they're all frozen in place. No matter how much they'd love to release the ball from their hands and finish taking that jump-shot, they can't. I told her about this as we sat at the lost luggage booth, and she listened with great compassion. She said that maybe they'd like to at least feel as if they were in a stadium, even if they couldn't move to play, so I went home and drew two sets of stands with people in them, and set up the trophies between the two sheets of paper like they were marching down a corridor. And whenever I pass that setup, I make sure to cheer for one of them. That's on my coffee table, so I find myself cheering a lot.

I miss Delia. I miss Delia a lot. I'm going to miss her even more when she's really not there every day. For the last two months, she's only been working weekends because she's been sick. She loved the lost luggage booth. We all knew that she would have to stop working there one day, because one day she just wouldn't be here anymore, but it's too hard. It's one thing to go home on Sunday morning and know that you won't see Delia until Friday night when she comes in for the redeye flights shift. That's one thing. But it's completely another to know that she won't ever be coming in again. Not for a redeye flights shift, not for a morning shift, not for an afternoon shift, not the evening shift. She won't be coming in at all. I hope they bury her with her nametag.

I want to jump and land in the ocean. I wish I could jump that far. I'm feeling sick to my stomach and I felt myself crying a moment ago. I want to disappear. Delia's never coming back. I will never see her again. She'll never smile at me from her window when I show up for work, she'll never stand behind me when I'm tracking down a bag to make sure I've done everything I can to find it. She's not going to be there ever again. I didn't even know she wouldn't be back on Friday.

She never stayed long in the hospital. I'll never believe it was only cancer that killed her. I don't think she could have stopped fighting it long enough to die from lack of willpower, but I refuse to believe that it was strictly the cancer. She must have been nursing a broken heart or something that I never knew about. A woman as strong and wonderful as Delia doesn't go home from work and die of cancer. That simply doesn't happen. There must have been something else.

I can't believe the ocean. I hear it crying. It's saying, "Someone, help me. A storm's coming and I don't know what to do." I could sit at the pier for hours, telling it that things would work out, but it would never listen. If Delia were here, I could see if she'd go with me. She might have an influence. The ocean's especially restless today. It must know that Delia's gone. It must be mourning her.

I feel very alone. I am always by myself when I come up here, but there's always something that reminds me that I'm not really alone. That's what always brings me back to my apartment. But today, I only feel alone. I miss my mother. I never told her goodbye, and I can't remember the last time I told her I loved her. I miss Delia. Once someone's gone, you can never take back anything you've said. You can never change how you behaved. Can't apologize. You don't even get to explain. She'll never know I loved her. Neither of them. Neither Delia nor my mom will know I loved them.

I do not jump today because I loved Delia. She never would have wanted it. Maybe she's the only person on this earth who'd be saddened by my jump. She might have been the only one, but I can't take chances. What if there's someone else out there? What if there's someone else who actually cares about me? Maybe I just don't realize it. Delia never realized how much I loved her, or how badly I would feel when she finally died. So maybe there's someone out there like that for me. Maybe it will be enough grief for them when I am called, and they don't need me to shorten my time.

I'm so confused. I can't see any solution. Toast will never be bread again. The ocean will never be calm. My trophy figures will never get to play their sports. How can you pull yourself away from that much heartache? Those are very serious problems. How can I keep living and still think about all of that? It's too hard. Delia will never come back. I feel like I owe her something. You can never please someone who's dead, but you can always disappoint them. I never want to disappoint Delia. I don't. She needs me. She doesn't know it, but she needs me. She needs me tomorrow. I do not jump today. I do not jump tomorrow. Delia needs me to love her and miss her.

Perhaps bread wants to be toast. Perhaps some pieces of bread spend their entire lives aspiring to be toast. The toaster fulfills that dream. I fulfill that dream. Delia needs me to love her and miss her. The bread needs me to transform. Perhaps bread wants to be toast. How remarkable.

I do not ever jump.

*************************

Art

Six-sixty-three? That's awfully expensive. What did I get? Dollar, dollar, two maybe, dollar-twenty, right? Maybe it's--no, I'm sure that's too much. But I haven't tasted a fry in months. Who cares if it seems double what it

Christ, bozo, haven't you heard of a turn indicator?!

It'll kill me one of these days--I'll just up and have a heart attack but I don't really care. Everyone in my family has heart attacks. It would be wrong for me not to die of one. Oh I'm running early. And I thought I was late. Must have been because I caught that light right. Light right.

Light right. Lisht risht. Likht rikht. Professor Mark Allenton. Chaucer, what a cool guy. Li-g-h-t. Lu-gu-hu-tu. Light right right right rrright. M-M-Mark Alllllenton. Come on, traffic. Speed limit's fifty-five along here...

Are turtlenecks still in vogue? How dressy is one expected to be? God I love fast food. I don't own a black suit.

Oh hell! That explains it!

Two things of fries? Why on earth would they give me two things of fries? I only ordered one, didn't I? I think so--two hamburgers from the dollar menu, medium drink, large fries. No, wrong order: two hamburgers from the dollar menu, medium fries, medium drink. I wish the screen display were working so I could see what they punched in. Six-sixty-three! Why that explains it! Isn't that the funniest thing! I just reach in to get a sandwich and stick my hands into a bunch of fries! And I thought they were stray--but there were so many, and so tightly packed. Funny another box! I'll have to tell Angela. She'll think it's funny. Grandma threw Cousin Lizzie's fish across the room, and Angela laughed for days. She loved that story. Why? It was Grandma's ghost. Angela's a strange girl for liking things like that--silly ghost stories of wicked grandmothers punishing their surviving kin. Terrorizing, not punishing. Haunting? Does every ghost haunt? Delia...

It smells like rain in here. My hall bathroom senior year of college smelled like black sex. Freshman year, mayonnaise; senior year, black sex. There wasn't a black guy in the dorm! A guy I sat next to in Allenton's Chaucer smelled like cream cheese. Light right. Chimp

Chimpanzee. Chimpanzee. Chimpanzee. Chimpanzee? Chimpanzee.

I used to want to be a primatologist. Instead I find lost luggage.

Luggage. Baggage. One lugs a bag. You lug it, it's luggage. Lug lug lug!

"Emotional baggage" is bullshit, reminds me of circles under women's eyes, bags. Women with problems have the bags, claim having emotional baggage. Baggage claim! God I'm clever, I'll have to write that down, make it into a song if I were musical. Everyone has problems. People who say others have "issues" haven't taken time to get to know anyone. What're my "issues"?

Do beautiful people know that they're beautiful? I swear Mellie has got to be the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my entire life. I wonder if she just stares at herself in the mirror sometimes. God I envy her damned husband. Does she ever just stand in front of the mirror, thinking, "Wow I'm beautiful"? I would. If I were a woman and looked like Mellie, I would. I'd also be a lesbian so I could find another woman just as beautiful as me to be my girlfriend, and I'd put up a mirror so I could watch us make love, two perfectly beautiful bodies. Perfectly beautiful, beautifully perfect. In the mirror. I'd have mirrors everywhere and we'd walk around naked.

Stop, Artie... that's weird. I wouldn't really do that. And my God, that's my boss I'm talking about! I wouldn't really do that.

Do spiders have summer homes? Not summer homes because I don't know how many summers a spider sees in its life, but do they have vacation homes? Back-up homes, in case one web doesn't catch any dinner one night? I'd build two webs if I were a spider. I'd have my regular one, and then I'd make a second one, right across a street light. That would be the back-up, in case I was really, really hungry and didn't have anything in my web. And other spiders could use that web, too, if they needed. And if they got stuck trying to get to a catch... ah well, spider juice for me, huh? Is that cannibalism to eat a spider who gets caught in your web?

There's Mellie's car. It has such a cute rear end. So does she. Bad Artie! ...Good Artie. Hahaha.

Strange that I'll never see that Oldsmobile again. Wow. I'll never see that again. I just saw it last week and never knew that I'd never be seeing it again. Poor Delia. How I'll miss that old bird.

"Baggage claim." I need to write that down. Paper... paper. Napkin! Aha... No, had better use a real piece of paper once I'm inside. Who's working tonight, Beth? I think so. A double, I think. God she's been pulling a lot of those lately. Things must be hard at home. Maybe Charles got laid off. Maybe they want to start a family. Awfully late. Ah well, better late for some than never. Funny, good Christian woman like Beth, I hardly ever imagine having sex. But I guess she does.

I hate that Mellie's pregnant. I'm so jealous of her damned husband.

Keys, Artie. Don't forget your keys again.

I like the sound of my car door closing. It's a good, clean sound. Like, the door is really shut when I close it. There's no question about it, and it doesn't sound like the car is about to fall apart, or like I'm hurting it in any way. Good, tight sound.

Two things of fries! I'll definitely have to tell Angela that one. "Baggage claim." And if I can come up with a single, clear, concise sentence about that, I'll have to tell her that too. It's too hard to tell as an idea. And I talk too much anyway.

Baggage claim. "You ever notice how women with bags under their eyes are usually the ones with emotional baggage?" Or wait--is that where "emotional baggage" comes from? Is it, like, baggage like the bags under the eyes, caused by being emotional, so they're "emotional bags" or "emotional baggage"? Huh. "I'd like to make a baggage claim--I've got emotional baggage." No, stupid. I can't think of anything clever. Or imagine someone walking up to our window, saying, "Excuse me--my wife seems to have lost her baggage during the flight." And we'd say, "Of course, sir. Do you want us to track it down for you?" And he would say, "No, I'd like to thank you--it was all of her emotional baggage, and we've never gotten on better!" No, even that's not funny. I wonder if it's genetic to not be funny. Some days it feels like a disease.

Hey Jim. How's it going? Stop anyone peculiar today?

Mellie will be in her office. Beth's at the desk. Why is she at my computer? She knows I like that computer. How mean of her! Oh well. It's not really that big of a deal. I guess. I should try to make her feel bad about it, though. Just for laughs. She's so fussy, it's fun to antagonize her.

I don't really have anything black. The turtleneck, and that's it.

Hey Beth.

I'm such a bad person. Really, I'm a bad person. Art, you're a bad, bad person. You have a terrible sense of humor--and by "terrible," we really mean "nonexistent"--and you're just no fun to be around. You think too much about women, and you don't concentrate enough on having real relationships with anyone. You're selfish, Art, that's what you are. You're just selfish. You don't care enough about anyone else to ever make relationships work.

Who's the right girl, Artie? You keep telling your mom, your family, that it's just the right girl, you've gotta find the right girl. But who's the right girl, Artie? You never talk to anyone long enough to find out what's beneath the surface. Your love-life is made up of one-night stands and people you meet in clubs. You're not a clubber, Art. By nature, you're not a clubber. Why do you hang out in clubs? You don't even like the people who come into clubs. The girls are all young and stupid, and half of them are there on fake IDs.

What's Mellie's personality? You don't even know. Bastard.

Afternoon, Mellie.

She seems sweet enough. But you don't really know her. You don't know anyone. You don't care about anyone. You're pathetic. You should stop being so selfish, Art. Just stop being selfish. You can have substance to you if you stopped to think about it. If you tried to find your substance... Find your substance, Art. Don't keep going through life like a zombie. And you have, Art, you have! You've gone around like a thoughtless zombie your entire life!

After I stop working here, will Mellie remember me? I wonder if Mellie even thinks about me outside of work. Will Beth remember me? Or Angela? Or anyone? What about Jim from Security? Will anyone miss me? Or will I just fade out of their memories? Substance, Artie, find your substance. Care about people, and they'll care about you. Ask people how they are. How's it going, Beth? Things all right? Give a damn. Miss people when they leave. Be nice. Beth can have my computer today--I don't care. It's just a computer. There's an identical one at the next window. It's no problem. I hope things are all right with Beth. She really has been working a lot lately. I'm almost surprised that she's going tomorrow.

Tomorrow. Delia. There was a woman who cared. Oldsmobile. I can't believe I won't see it anymore. I am going to miss that old bird. She cared about everyone. She was beautiful. I've never known a nicer woman all my life. There... she was a woman that I knew about and cared about... and I'm going to miss her. Right there, Art, that's your first bit of substance, isn't it? Missing her. Knowing her. She was an amazing woman, really.

We can learn a lot from Delia Alderman.

*************************

Sophie

I have spent all day feeling petty. And it's not just about tomorrow. God, I feel petty about that, but that's not the soul of the issue. Or maybe it is? Yeah, maybe that's it, and so everything else seems incredibly more petty because of tomorrow. Like, I'm being selfish and mean about tomorrow, but I'm also being spiteful today, and somehow that just seems worse because of what's happening tomorrow.

Also today I kept reminiscing about the day we spent at the Newseum shortly after it opened. Somehow, I can't put all the pieces together about that day. It feels like that marked the end of something real, but I can't figure out how. I know something happened that day that completely changed the dynamic of my group of friends, but I can't determine what or how. All day I've been lost in memories of slipping through down-lit passages and the smell of new carpet. I just remember it smelling a bit like a hotel room. There was something about that day that I just can't figure out. The same thing happens when I think about all of elementary school. I just remember being so clueless, and even now I don't understand why we did certain things and why they weren't explained to us better. In elementary school, that is. Like running the mile. I never understood why, and no one ever told me until we were well into middle school. "We're running around the football field five times today," I remember Mr. Priestly saying. And that was that. We ran around the football field five times and he kept a stopwatch on us all and yelled our times to us. Would have been nice if he'd explained why or even what we were doing. Would have been nicer yet if he'd told us the day before. I wore my jellies that day.

So I've been petty all day and caught in a nasty fit of nostalgia. I know I've been spaced out all day. I could blame it on tomorrow and ask to leave early, but wouldn't that only make me more of a bitch? Mary-Katherine's a bitch. And a cow. The only reason Jack's with her is because she had the good fortune to meet him first. I shouldn't be so mean. Yes I should. She's a bitch and a cow and I don't like her. Her teeth stick out too far, her forehead's too tall, her eyes are sunk too far into her skull, she has bad posture, and she's just too big to be a woman. She's got the shape of a man and her hair is just too coarse. Go home and be a man, Mary-Katherine. Leave Jack alone. Leave him to someone who won't boss him around or try to make him feel stupid. Give him to someone who wants to take care of him.

I shouldn't even like Jack. He's not my type. But it's not pity, because I've felt like this since before he even started sleeping with Mary-Katherine. Of course, his sleeping with her and her transferring to our department didn't exactly serve to lessen my feelings. I'm just glad I'm not at the airport anymore. For one thing, if I hadn't started working at the labs, I never would have met Jack. And for another... no, that doesn't apply because it deals with Mary-Katherine, and if I hadn't moved to the labs and met Jack, Mary-Katherine wouldn't even be an issue. God I wish she wasn't an issue. But the lab is so much more interesting than finding luggage for stupid people who don't think to only deal with carryon. No, I shouldn't say that. A lot of people need to check their bags for one reason or another. And I'm supposed to be compassionate. Those poor people, our stupid airline--or airport or city or state or country, depending on the guest--lost their luggage and they just have no possible way to fix it for themselves. No, I don't mean that. Some of them I really did feel sorry for. Some of them you do want to help. Once there was this woman who came up to the desk and somehow her luggage--including the gift she'd brought for her six-year-old granddaughter who she was meeting for the first time--had ended up in Boston. I did feel genuinely bad for her. She told us nearly her entire life story. She got married at seventeen, for one thing. Her husband had gone off to fight in Korea just before she discovered she was pregnant, and then he went MIA. Distraught, confused, pressured by her parents, she gave the baby up for adoption. And that day was one of those classic cases you always see on "Maury" and the like, where Mom meets Daughter and family for the first time in thirty or more years. Forty-four for this family. I genuinely felt bad for her. Mostly, I guess, because she didn't get mad or explosive with us--she just got real sad and explained why everything was so important. We tracked it down to Boston and it came in on a flight a few hours later.

That was the day that Delia told me about everything that had happened to her. Maybe hearing the other woman's story brought it out of her, I don't know. I had assumed she was a widow, but I never knew she'd been more than thirty years one. I never knew she had children or family nearby. Delia was never a private woman, per se, but those were things she just never talked about, so you forgot that she had a life, too.

Yeah, I've been thinking about Delia today. And why not? But that's been part of the nasty nostalgia. It's not just the confusion of the trip to the Newseum, though that did pop into my head and make me wonder about its significance as a catalyst for whatever happened to my friends. My friends have all split up. My secure little group no longer exists, and somehow I feel like I can trace it back to that day. I'm so alone right now, I'm just floating. I've been on this job seven months, which seems like it would be long enough to make friends, but I haven't. I never made friends at the airport, though I was there for four years. Maybe I can't make friends. I want to be friends with Jack, and I feel like we could be... except for Mary-Katherine. I once told him that if he ever got tired of the same social company day in and day out to give me a call. "I'm the only Haarstrufdt in the phone book," I told him. But of course he never called, so I tried to pretend like I'd never made the offer.

I want to tell him that Mary-Katherine is a bitch and never treats him well. She treats him like an idiot. He's not an idiot. He's a sweet guy. Mary-Katherine needs to get a life away from Jack, away from me, away from the labs. Somewhere far, far away where they worship sharp, un-brushed buck teeth, humongous foreheads, sunken eyes like those of Death, and men with breasts and vaginas--that's where she should go. They'd worship her there, and she could rightly feel like the deity she strives to make everyone realize that she is. God I'm feeling mean. Earlier today, under the pretenses of not knowing whose it was, I surreptitiously shook up her drink in the lab. But I don't really feel bad about it--she shouldn't have had it there. The kitchenette, yes. The break room, yes. But not in the middle of the fucking lab, for Christ's sake! I say, if you can't follow the rules, don't transfer to our department. Just don't do it. She shouldn't have even transferred. You're not supposed to work in the same department if you're family or dating. Go home, Mary-Katherine. No one wants you here.

Earlier today I buzzed Sam in and he walked behind me as I was filling out some paperwork and said, "Thank you" very softly almost into my ear. I turned to watch him walk down the stretch of tile between the aluminum shelves, hoping no one realized how badly I wanted to jump his bones. He's married. Why are all the good ones married? Married or dating or somehow hopelessly unattainable... all of them. Sam's a sweet guy. A little sarcastic and mean at times, but he's got these blue eyes and this dark hair, and he smiles just like a Disney cartoon character. Prince Eric, I guess. See, and it's people like Sam that make people like Jack think that I couldn't ever like them, I'm sure. Jack's got blonde hair and a reddish goatee, and he's sort of backwards. Not backwards, really, but Sam has so much more class. He's much more educated--he's got his doctorate--and lives in a nice home with a nice car parked out front. That's not Jack's style. But everything I rave about--because Jack has asked--has been dark-haired men with brains and a major hip-factor. I can't stop it! Whenever Jack asks, it seems more and more obvious that he would never be my type. But he is--oh he is! Damn that Mary-Katherine that she had to meet him first.

They've known each other since high school. Maybe I'm just envious that two people who have known each other for that long can still keep up with one another. A few months ago, Olivia called up from Richmond and invited me down for the weekend. We spent the entire time gallivanting around with some of her new friends. It wasn't very fun. We went to this club to see a band, and they were good--they reminded me of early R.E.M.--but I didn't really enjoy myself because Olivia and her friends sort of left me at the door. I stood in a corner and tapped my foot to the music, as if I knew the beats and words. I don't think I fooled anybody. Afterwards, one of the band members was snaking his way through the crowd and thanked me for coming as he passed, which was maybe the only nice thing about the entire weekend. Olivia watched me get into my car and leave from her dining room window. I haven't spoken to her since.

I couldn't believe how much she had changed. We were so close in high school and even a little through college. I don't even know what happened. I should have seen it at the Newseum when she went off with Trent and Ellen went off with David and I was left to wander the museum alone. Whenever I ran into Olivia and Trent, they were badmouthing Ellen for betraying them--us--and whenever I ran into Ellen and David, they were spying on Olivia and Trent and spreading nasty rumors about them. One can only imagine what both parties said when I wasn't around. I should have known it then that it was the beginning of the end, but I didn't. And we all four--Olivia, Ellen, me, and Liz, who wasn't there that day--were drifting apart and were doomed to explode as a group. I can't hold on to anything. Everything good I have ends up... I don't know where. Far, far away. It goes, and I don't even realize it's gone or that I needed it or just how good it was. Like my friends.

Like Delia Alderman.

I didn't even know how important she was until I found out that she had died. I didn't even think I cared that much, but Monday night, I found myself crying uncontrollably. Literally, uncontrollably. I suppose it was good because I hadn't had a good cry in ages. Months, at least. But I couldn't figure it out. I mean, yes, I'd known her for four years, and all of us looked up to her as the paragon of lost baggage hunters. She had been the first on the job when the place expanded from Friendship. She came over from Washington National, where she'd been working for two years, commuting. All that way, commuting. And she worked the late flights that no one ever thought to provide with luggage retrieval. That was Delia. But I didn't know I cared enough to cry. And I never would have known that I'd have cared enough to go to her funeral. I don't make it a habit to go to funerals.

Maybe I see in her my friends. I couldn't keep it together with them, and her death is like the failure of that relationship. I just walked away from her. I walked away from my friends without much thought, didn't I? I didn't even try. There was nothing I could have done for Delia, but I didn't have to just walk away. After four years, I didn't just have to leave the airport. I still go back and visit, yuck it up with the folks just for the hell of it, but it's not the same. Roaming around Richmond with Olivia wasn't the same. Hanging out at the lost baggage center isn't the same. Once you're on the other side of the desk, it's a different world. There's too much going on that you're not privy to anymore. And Delia... well, Delia died without my knowing. It's bad enough when someone gets a new stapler or switches word processing programs, but dying is something completely different.

She and I were chum-chum at the airport. I'd go back to visit, and it was less so. And now she's gone, and there's nothing I can do. I can't take back those moments or those memories and fix them. It's way too late for that. All pettiness aside, I screwed up. I lost touch and now it's too late. She was only a coworker, a woman I knew casually from work and never saw outside of the airport, but really, I think she was much more than that. I can't believe I screwed up that relationship, too.

Tomorrow, after everything, Olivia's getting a call.

*************************

Beth

Every time I go to the airport, I expect to see her. I hope to. I always hope to, but I never do. For three years, I've been going to never see her. For three years, I've been standing behind that counter, hoping that she'll come through and have lost her baggage on the carousel and need me to find it. Everyone travels. Everyone flies. I saw her here before, three years ago. You'd think she'd come back at some point. If I saw her waiting at the carousel again, I'd personally go and steal her bag, just so she'd come to my window. You know, it's been so long, I've almost forgotten her real name. I call her "Light" because for a while, she was the only good thing in my life. For five semesters, she was light and beauty and perfection. She showed me things I wouldn't have been able to see, and taught me things that I never knew were there to be learned. She taught me more than I let on. I owe her. I'm not in love with her. I'm married. And some say violently Republican.

I use the code name because that way, I don't have to think about how she herself influenced me. If I call her "Light," she might as well be God, don't you think? Some greater force than a person? And I can worship a greater force. I can't in good faith worship a person. I can't revere her as just a human. It simply isn't right.

She taught history and history through art at HCC, where I studied after earning my GED. I'm not stupid. Lots of folks look at people like me, we who earn our GED and go to community college, and they think we're stupid and incapable of finishing high school or going to a "real" university. They never stop to consider that sometimes family emergencies arise and things stand in the way between a teenager and a diploma. For me, it was a grandfather dying of ALS. And after he had used up all of our family's funds in medical expenses, he died and became another statistic. There's no cure for ALS. All you can hope to do is help out and try to ease the pain, but there's still thousands of dollars worth of tests that have to be done, and dozens of hospitalizations that just aren't covered by some insurance plans. My brother's college fund, my college fund, both went into my grandfather's hospital bills and into equipment: power wheelchairs, HC-accessible vans, chair lifts, ramps for the house. And for what?

Peter went straight into the workforce. He graduated the spring that Grandpa was diagnosed, and he went straight into the cannery. He's been there ever since. Yes, he's the day shift operations manager for the floor, but he's still in the cannery. I left high school, helped out around the house until Grandpa died, got my GED, got married, found a job, started the family, and then started taking classes at Howard Community.

That's where Light was. I've gotten my degree. Actually, I've gotten two. Light inspired me. Neither really helps me, they're mostly because I was interested. History and Art History. I went into my first History class not knowing what to expect, and planning to earn an English degree. Light was there. She was so young that I mistook her for a student. She looked like one of those types, the types I've never liked. I had never exactly been considered attractive, and Light was one of those people that probably always had been. That was the kind of person she struck me as. And of course, being older than she, I was self-conscious that she was looking at me and judging me. I was sure that she was looking at me and thinking, "That ugly old hag, she sticks out in this room like a sore thumb." I hated her in 121, and when I found out she was the only one teaching 122 in the Spring, I almost opted not to finish the sequence. On the advice of my husband, though, I did.

I'm not in love with her. She saw in me potential that no one else had seen and encouraged me to do well. But I wasn't doing well in order to receive her praise. It wasn't like that. I did well to please myself, not her. It just happened that whatever made me happy also made her happy, and seeing me putting forth an effort and succeeding because of it... that made her happy, too. In two years, she turned me around full circle. I was enthralled with history and with the possibility of exploring it through art and vice versa. So I earned two degrees, neither of them English. Even in the year that I resented her, she still taught me things. I thought I wasn't learning anything, but I was wrong. In more recent years, I've read newspaper articles or seen blips on the TV about historical events, and my ears perk up. I try to think of when I'd heard about the mentioned events, and faint memories of HCC come to mind.

After I earned my degrees, I thought I'd never see Light again. After about a year, I started wondering how she was doing. I'd heard that she'd left HCC for a position at Morgan. Deep down, I was thrilled for her.

I later discovered that I'm only a year older than she is. I wish I'd known that then. I wish I'd known so that I could have pursued a relationship with her outside of class. A friendship, that is. I wish I'd pursued a friendship with her.

Three years ago, she came through the airport. She had lost luggage on a flight from Cleveland, so she came to my window. It had been a while since she'd seen me, and she didn't recognize me at first. I tracked her baggage as best I could and helped her fill out the necessary paperwork, all the while watching her closely so that I couldn't forget how she looked. After I was through, I moved in such a way that my nametag was visible around the computer. She must have seen it, because she said, "Beth! Beth Rogers! I thought that was you!" She commented on how much I'd changed, while she hadn't changed a bit. Still looked exactly as she did that very first day of class. Then she introduced me to her husband, and I realized that she very clearly couldn't have been all polish and glitter, because he was more dud than stud, and if she were really that type that I'd thought she was, she'd have married a stallion and not the stallion's runt brother. And he really was a runty guy. Maybe five-five, no more than a hundred pounds, with a wiry little beard and big glasses. If it weren't for the beard, I'd have guessed that he was twelve. My Charles isn't anything to write home about, but he's certainly better than Mr. Runt.

I wanted to tell her that I was working in the airport because I liked it and because I'd been doing it for ten years. I wanted her to know that I hadn't simply gotten my degrees and done nothing with them. True, I'd done nothing with them, but that was only because I already had a job that I liked. Who knows, maybe one day I'll go back to school. Maybe one day, one day when there's more money, I could earn a Masters. Maybe I'll spend my golden years restoring artwork or acting as a museum curator. Who knows, I might. It could happen. Maybe I could even enroll at Morgan.

I haven't seen her since the day she came to my window. I've thought about her plenty, but never seen her. Sometimes I drive by the main drag of Morgan's campus, just to see if maybe she's strolling to her office. I don't know where the history building is. I don't know what her car looks like. Peter's teenage daughter does basically the same thing with the boys she likes; she drives by their houses. Part of it is to see them, and part of it is to tempt fate, I should imagine. And maybe part of it is to feel like a guardian angel.

Am I a guardian angel? Can angels guard gods? Light is a power greater than human. She's a god for me. That's the only way to explain or justify my feelings of loyalty, devotion, and admiration. When I drive by the University, am I acting as her guardian angel? Do I feel like that? Maybe. Some people call that love. They'd hear me talk and think I was in love. Devotion doesn't mean you're in love. Admiration doesn't mean you're in love. Christians aren't in love with Jesus, and yet we admire him, devote our lives to him, and demonstrate our loyalty in everyday acts of Christianity. How is that any different from my relationship with Light?

I'm not in love with her. There's no one else on this planet that I feel that way about except for her, so it's clearly not love. Clearly. I don't feel that way about Charles. And I know I love him because I married him. Would I have married him if I didn't love him? Besides, I can't be in love with her because she's a woman. And I'm a woman. And that sort of thing just doesn't make sense to me, and it shouldn't happen.

What if she comes tomorrow while I'm away? What if she's flying in from Cleveland again and loses her luggage again? I haven't had a day off in months, madly hoping she'd come to my window one day. It would be just my luck if I took tomorrow off for the funeral and she happened to pass through. Would it be possible to set up a surveillance camera? I wonder if Jim could let me see the security tapes from tomorrow? Maybe she'll be on them. Maybe there will be a close-up of her on one of them. Maybe Jim would print off that frame like they do if there's a suspected criminal in the picture. Maybe I could keep it in my nightstand drawer so that I could see her each night. Because seeing her each night would make me so... No! I won't think it! I'm not in love with her. It isn't right. "God would have created Adam and Bruce. God would have created Adam and Bruce." I just won't think it.

But how will that stop me from knowing it?