I was in my early twenties. I was not at that time dating anybody. I sat at my parents’ kitchen table (always the gathering and talking place in that house) explaining to my mom and seemingly half-listening dad about what my life was like.
“I go on these sort of extended trips for work, and they’re fine. I mean, the people I work with, are super-nice, and the work is good, and the cities we go to are really cool, and all, but, whenever we get back, you know, when we fly into the airport, and we’re trudging off the plane, everyone has people waiting for them, to greet them; wives, girlfriends, husbands, boyfriends, kids. There are smiles and hugs, and I just kind of shuffle by on my way to baggage claim, then to my car, then out to the apartment, you know. I wonder what it would be like to have someone waiting for me when I got home, who was glad to see me.”
“Lucia is always glad,” my mom pointed out. Lucia was my cat.
“True. For whatever reason though, she never drives out to the airport to make it a few minutes earlier to see me.”
My mom laughed. “She would if she could.”
I had to agree. That cat was very affectionate.
At that time, I lived about twenty-five minutes away from my parents (if traffic was light) in a little apartment out on the beach. I think it safe to say I was feeling rather sorry for myself. I was getting ready to go on a three week work-related trip to Washington, D.C., and environs, and I needed to get back home and finish my laundry and packing. There is no way I know of to pack three weeks worth of clothes, so you pack something less and plan to do laundry while you’re there, which is what I did after making the drive home.
The next morning, after a few words on the phone with my friend Janine who would be feeding with the cat while I was gone, I was up and off to our local airport. Several of my co-workers came in after I had arrived, and we greeted each other in the customary early-morning fashion, that is, without undue enthusiasm, to show the proper level of grief at having lost sleep getting up so early. Once in DC, we headed over to our crummy hotel, where others (who had flown in the night before) were already encamped. Our first official meeting was that afternoon, so after leaving our bags (the hotel wasn’t ready for check-in) we headed off to work.
I remember it rained a lot those three weeks. The first two weeks were working with another project team, then the last week was a series of presentations to various department heads, ending with a presentation to the Secretary of the Air Force. We were in and out of cabs every morning and night, usually in the rain. On the two weekends, we went out as a group, seeing the Verdi Requiem at the Kennedy Center (Dies Irae, indeed), and spending a memorable night near the waterfront up in Baltimore.
I was chosen to be the presenter for our joint teams, and the various presentations were nerve-racking adventures in a place somewhere between aeronautical engineering and rhetorical fatuity. Still, when our final presentation was over, we had approval of our project, and the team celebrated that last night down in Old Town with genuine enthusiasm.
There was one last task to do the next day, which I didn’t quite understand, but that kept any of us from leaving until late Friday afternoon. Our flight was delayed two hours (at least it was a direct flight), but it did finally take off, and we left D.C. sweaty and exhausted. As we touched down back at our small-town airport, I realized it was raining there, too. But in a just a little bit, I’d be clicking the lights of my little apartment on, and I’d see Lucia, and she’d greet me by standing up on my dresser and purring. So I had that to look forward to.
Rusty, one of my co-workers, was just ahead of me in the slow line off the plane, I was very near the back. As we rounded the corner off of the tunnel leading out of the plane, I saw his wife and kids smiling as he moved towards them, and they began a round of hugs. I pulled my brief case up to get a better grip on it, then saw something else, something I hadn’t expected.
It was my father. He was standing by the guard rail, smiling.
He was waiting for me.
“What are you doing here?”
“You know, I just thought you might… like having someone here to greet you.”
I did, very much, and I told him so. You see, it not only never occurred to me that he would do that, it never occurred to me that he was even listening.
But, looking back on it, it is easy for me to see now which one of us wasn’t paying attention.