Day after Thanksgiving. Airport in my hometown. The fluorescent lights make it feel like we're in a boring imagination. My daughter Celia is asleep in my lap and we're surrounded by people in a hurry to leave family they didn't want to see for more than twenty-four hours. People firing their past lives.
Near us is a boy, perhaps four, who says to his mother, "I saw a plane take off."
Behind her newspaper the mother says, "They tend to do that."
"How do airplanes fly?"
"It's magic," the mother says. She carries the slightest of lisps.
The boy nods and goes back to a coloring book using a pink crayon. The book's cover overflows with dinosaurs.
Just before security check, not more than twenty yards from us, a man hugs a swarm of relatives. They are all older than he is—he's at least fifty. A forced smile is razored onto his face. He steps from one to the next quickly, as if he has just set each one on fire. One woman pushing ninety has tears in her eyes. Her cheeks tremble, her jawline as fragile as pixie bones.
This city no longer feels like my hometown. I give speeches on behalf of a LGBTQIA group and all I've done since Celia and I have been here is treat it like one more stop in the circuit. But I grew up here; it's where I met Tucker, who I'd been more or less together with until a few months ago when he told me he wanted to get out of my life and focus on the not-so-gay-friendly career of professional baseball.
Last season, Tucker led a minor league division in some statistic that I can't remember. My mother was his biggest fan and has passed away. Cancer—like everyone's mother, it seems. She died last spring on a shamelessly sunny day, the sort of day that makes you feel guilty if you aren't outdoors. Celia seemed to cry for decades when she found out. She's ten; in five years she'll hardly remember.
Tucker said he'd dedicate his season to my mother and I didn't comment on the fact that nobody cares who dedicates their season to what when it's the minor leagues. And so, this is it—seven months later. My daughter and I spent one day here, ignoring that this is where I come from. One day is enough.
All these people in the airport share my perspective—they just want to be away. Unwashed hair. Untucked shirts. Unshaven faces. It is still early. I feel their chests steaming, calling, "Get me out of here." I can see the frustration in the bottom of her eyes. The clatter of footsteps on tile dulls the scene. Echoes nobody will remember. This is the stage for a commercial for a product nobody ever buys.
This will be the last time we visit this place, but Celia does not know that. I've been trying to come up with ways to tell her we won't be seeing much of Tucker anymore. Last week I asked him, "Don't you want to be there when she hears we're separating?"
He said, "I hardly see her anymore. You've been her legal father since we've had her. Take some responsibility."
I think of Tucker playing in his pathetic little baseball games, but I can't help but imagine that the crowd's noise is so energizing, so bolstering. When I give the lectures, my voice is as blank as a closed door. During my speeches people applaud in all the right places which only lulls us all further. Their groggy clapping says, "Isn't it time for this to be over yet?" If I were listening to myself, I'd be staring at my watch. I always start the same way—why not?—"Let me tell you a little about what I do." Then I proceed to tell them nothing but what they can probably deduce from my face, my job, my clothes, my marble posture.
But here everyone is moving. Passengers swamp the automatic walkways that Celia used to call magic carpets. A college-aged girl struts by, saying into a phone, "Yeah, uh-huh, yeah." There must be someone talking at her, someone she has no interest in speaking to. She looks around at the screens checking gates, delays, departures. Her neck is as fluid as smoke. Skin pallid, wan—the color of a dead fly's wings. She has a sticker on her backpack that says, "I am not the bottle I'm served in."
Celia will become her someday. In a couple years—if not sooner—she'll resent me. Guilt me into giving her money every day. Wear clothes I'll complain about. When we fight, she will stare at me like a killer. She will tell me I'm not her real dad, and I will look as if it were news to me. We will never smile at each other.
I imagine Tucker pitching a no-hitter. There are maybe a hundred people watching. They watch the game with their kids, their cameras—snapping photos of their family outing, not of the players on the field. Flashes leak from the stands, and Tucker pretends it's for him. But it'll be one more family photo and he'll be lucky if he's in the background. Someone's child will look through the photo album after a parent dies. They'll look at the picture and see my ex, the scoreboard behind Tucker showing that he had a good day. The child will turn the page on the photo album and wait for their tears, remembering what is unavoidably behind them.
And so, I decide to tell Celia. What's the point in waiting?
"I think I should tell you something." I clear my throat. "You're—well, you're going to grow up with me. Just me. Tucker's just—he's just out of the picture."
She says sarcastically, "You're kidding." She sits up, more awake than I anticipated, and sprays her insults. "You mean the guy who visits once a month? The one who mooches off of us? The loser who thinks he's going to be a baseball star at, whatever, thirty-four? Should I be, like, sad about that?"
I shrug. She lies back down. Where is the sadness I expected?
I pet her head. A tumble of hair falls over her face. Has she always had highlights? When did I forget to know her? Her earrings look like the bells that chime when you walk into a small store. I feel like one of us should say more, but I have nothing to impart.
The boy watching airplanes asks his mother, "Where's that plane going?"
"Australia," the mother says with her lisp; her posture straight as an exclamation point.
"Mars," she says.
Celia asks me, "Why's that kid such a dumbass?" I hear her teeth grinding—her voice thick and grating as tires over gravel.
I say, "I'm sure you sounded just as stupid when you were that age."
Against my leg, I can feel her face push into a smile.
I ask, "You want some ice cream?"
"We're at an airport. They don't have ice cream here."
"Later," I say. "Once we get to—" but I've forgotten where we're going. "Whenever we get there."