Chapter Two

“Crash and die?


please don’t actually

Could you message me when you land?.

I love you

I’m going to lie down and pretend to sleep before my aunt comes in but message me still


i love you very much




Hunched over the power outlet by a trash can without a bag because the custodian who had her vacuum in the plug below mine was sweeping bread crumbs that had fallen from the ripped corner, I turned on my phone to a swarm of messages from Miri. The phone didn’t stop vibrating. I sat between the bathrooms to send my reply because after thirty hours in airplanes or airports from Seoul to Shanghai (where a two-hour layover almost wasn’t enough thanks to Chicago-Chinese relations and added pat downs) then to Chicago to Springfield and the whole time I drained the battery with the only two albums on my phone which weren’t even by my favorite band—I was almost home. A fifteen-minute drive away. But I needed enough of a charge to text.


“Crashed, died, total ghost now and I’m haunting your shower. I can wash your back!”


“What took you so long!!”


No Wi-Fi or time in Shanghai. Too many businessmen hogging the plugs with their laptops in Chicago. “I might’ve caused an international incident in China. Could you maybe come rescue me?”


“Be there shortly”


Texting while charging kept an equilibrium on my battery meter. If only it were powered by love and friendship. The custodian left after filling the bag and I kept sitting there probably while my parents watched my luggage go round the carousel.


“I have to get breakfast started

We’ll talk later?”


“I’ll be up.”


“No, sleep. Tell me all about your flight in the morning

Unless there was turbulence

Don’t tell me if there was a lot of turbulence

Or any at all

I’ll retro-actively worry.

I think this is the longest I’ve gone without being able to contact you.”


“I love you.”


“Love you too,” she sent then signed off.


Half the crew was Chinese and half American, though the passengers skewed more Chinese, so the English-only crew attended to the few of us they could communicate with, and yet the Chinese flight attendants, entirely pretty women, were much more hospitable, giving us slippers and explaining the meals and even closing that awful AC nozzle that the guy next to me opened full blast pointed right at my shoulder then fell asleep. About an hour into the flight from Shanghai to Chicago, after a few bumps, an American flight attendant got on the speaker and said, “Please, please” in a desperate voice “Please buckle up for—OH GOD—turbulence. It’ll be okay. (capital H) He’ll get us through this. It’ll be okay.” I think even the Chinese passengers who didn’t understand her words (I’d guess about three-fourths) were starting to panic from her tone. Another flight attendant rushed down the aisle and we never saw that panicked one again, not even serving ice.


The turbulence got a lot worse after that and a hatch popped open, but most people were asleep so an attendant came by, stored the fallen backpack, and closed the hatch before asking me if I’d like something to drink.


I had a lot of stories from the flight. The kid next to me on his iPad watching plane explosion movies without headphones. The gradient layers at sunset and how they were different than sunrise. All the photos I took with a wing taking up half the frame but I just wanted a view of the oculus in the clouds to the ocean below. The literal fiction I wrote in an email draft to myself because my Africa notebook that Miri had sent was above and the farting man next to me was asleep, his AC nozzle still blasting my shoulder. So much to tell Miri that wouldn’t make her panic.

In the low-security Abraham Lincoln International Airport in Springfield, Illinois, servicing four destinations from a single gate, anyone could walk up to the baggage claim and claim baggage that wasn’t theirs. There wasn’t even a carousel (as I found out) and the security guard who doubled as a baggage handler wheeled in a cart of everyone’s smashed possessions before piling them on the stained carpet. But when I finally got there, the floor was empty of unclaimed baggage.


My parents had grabbed mine.


My mom was all red-faced and watery eyed and shaking with the same nervous hummingbird energy that I had and my dad smiled so big the corner of his lips curled to either side of his caterpillar mustache that he hadn’t shaved off since he was my age.


It was just us in the big room. Over a year since we’d seen each other.


“How was the flight?” Mom asked.


“Long. Fine.”




Just us. A hug would’ve been embarrassing. I made it a quick one.