B4

Seeking a metaphor smart enough to spark inspiration, I scan the room for irony and contradiction. But Gate B4 at Laguardia on a Sunday afternoon in November isn’t exactly the sampling of New York’s errata that I hoped it would be. There’s not much from which to draw yet. Just a room full of mostly-polite and quiet adults, mostly-smiling, and mostly-ready to get on with the trip.

B4 — there’s gotta be something there.

B4 the initial boarding call, travelers huddle around the newly-established charging bars where the airport has strategically enabled us to feel even more like cattle, shoving and elbowing for room at the trough. In their infinite wisdom, the managers of this publicly-subsidized, privately-owned port of travel have decided to ‘promote’ their new energy feeding counters by ceremoniously disabling the old power outlets against the walls. Apparently, sitting on the floor next to the wall in a pile of cables and devices is a national security threat — along with the 4.6 fluid ounces of Listerine still in it’s wrapper that they threw away from my bag, and the half-empty bottle of water. “You can buy both of these and more in our gift store at your gate.” What about a 300% markup on the retail price qualifies these things as ‘gifts’? I wonder.

B4 I reached the arrivals entrance for this afternoon jaunt from the Northeast to the Southeast on Southwest, I mixed a playlist of nostalgic jams for my volunteer chauffeur. Complete with an album title referencing the Devil selling snake oil, a flamboyant songwriter complaining in grandiose production about the overwhelming ‘straightness’ of New York, and a glitchy slam poem from a native of our nation’s capitol in which the chorus features “The N Word” no less than 6 times; this session of handheld DJ’ing brought me back to my youth, and smack-dab into a sense of longing to see my friends and family.

B4 this morning, I was standing on stage in a gray vest and black tie, riffing on hashtags and references to political hyperbole amidst my best possible impression of my younger self; covering all of my musical heroes in a style only an older version of myself will be able to truly appreciate or critique. As my old habits of dynamics, inflection, and reverse psychology dripped onto the microphone after years of torment from having held it all in, I couldn’t help but reminisce of a youth in which my own perfectionism and complete lack of self discipline and focus drove me to some of my most prolific and expressive musical work.

B4 my show last night, I was reeling through old writing as a form of self-therapy to bring myself through the emotions I’ll need to access over the coming week. Inadequacy weaves through the journals of my youth in the form of voyeuristic descriptions of the experiences of those who I most closely observe and resemble; leaving me grateful for the pains of growth, the trials of life, and the grace of survival. Among the few remaining connections to those feelings are my sense of responsibility to maximize my potential amidst an onslaught of implied responsibility from a lifetime of learning, abusing, and fighting with a superhero complex in which I am the savior of the world, and my own arch nemesis.

B4 I reread the heaviest, most painful blogs of my 20’s, my grandmother drew her last breath. It was a strained, squeezing moan; timed meaningfully with the crescendo of a simultaneously gentle and operatic song from my uncle, while my aunt and my mother oiled and massaged her hands, feet, and legs; repeating a soothing mantra that it was now “ok to go.” That the family will “all be just fine.” That it was “time to let go.” That she could finally “see Daddy again.” She had been delaying inhales for up to a minute at a time for nearly 9 hours straight by then, while organs and internal systems draw curtains, and her heart and lungs cheered and roared like a weary and committed audience, calling for one more encore — after another.

B4 my grandmother died, I was hiding behind the curtains in the theater of my own mind, hoping not to see the final bow. Hoping my memory of a wild and unpredictable but mostly-harmless old woman would stay in tact. Hoping to remain unaffected by my mother and her siblings navigating a lifetime of pent up resentment, regret, and regression. Hoping this week would end in a blur that came into and went out of my life without impact — like a meteor big enough to change my orbit, missing me just close enough to leave an array of beautiful colors in the night sky.

Instead, she just died. In my mind, in my life, and in my memory. Suddenly, the 3 visits I had with her last year — at the end of a stretch of 18 years without so much as a birthday card, a christmas call, or a passing message through my only lifeline to an ancestry that has now come and gone — fall woefully inadequate to enable a clean cut from regret. The only anecdote to the pain of a self-awareness for my own sins of omission is gratitude.

I’m grateful that she didn’t die in year 17. That when I did see her, she was lucid. She rattled off my full name from memory, and engaged in conversation about her youth and heritage in every bit as much clarity as I could have desired. She gave me the most I could have asked for — a chance to say goodbye. I’m grateful that she had the courage to tell my mother which outfit in which she wanted to be buried, and why it was meaningful to her.

That with this information, my mom was able to turn the tides. A half-century after learning to paint her own nails from a woman with matching hands to hers, my mother spent her last day with her mother painting ruby red onto the slowly stiffening and cooling fingers that once rocked her to sleep. The ones with such patience and precision to repeatedly produce elaborate quilts of complex patterns with the perfect amount of stuffing to keep Louisiana winters bearable, and still be kept nearby for their comfort in the summer. These hands, expertly crafted, painted, and shined, rested in the matching hands of her daughter, now a grandmother herself, until the blood pumping through them slowed to a halt, and that last breath was drawn.

I’m grateful for the life I’ve been given, and for the chance to now sit in Gate B4, ready to visit my family in a Louisiana autumn, for the closing of a chapter I could have never predicted would end this way, and could have never designed more eloquent and apropos. I’m fresh out of regrets. All of those volumes are now filled with gratitude.

Tomorrow, I’ll dawn the same gray vest and black tie, standing at the site of my grandfather’s grave, where the woman he married, the son he adopted, and the sons and daughter they raised together say tribute to a woman who was, among many things, a survivor. She is survived by a family closer now than ever, even if the general consensus is that it all feels later than it should be — still, thankfully, not too late.

Gate B4, and the gathering hoards of increasingly anxious travelers waiting to start the next chapter of their lives, among which I am privileged to be a member; goodbye for now. The call to the skies above has now begun.