[ToC]

 

BACK AGAIN

Sean Ennis

 

I am more afraid of flying than my son, and if I have a vodka soda that might crash my life, so instead I ask him urgent questions about our favorite sports team as the plane rackles and clacks down the runway. I've been told by someone who is not a pilot that there are ninety critical seconds after a plane takes off. Survive that—you're golden—so just count.
    My son listens to worse hip hop than I did at his age, but at least we don't have the generational fight about whether it is music. He bobs his head through the cloud ceiling and I lose count after forty-five, thinking on the three stories in the last month I've read about passengers trying to open the emergency exit mid-flight. What a move! When we're at cruising altitude, I let him lift the window shade and he says, "Beautiful," a word only few thirteen year old boys remember.
    For his grandparents waiting in the terminal, my son is from a different country and in the future. 
    Precious time. You are hardcore. It's been fifty years since we went to the moon and once, thirty years ago, I remember seeing an alien at my bedroom window, and saying, wait right there. Now, mentally, I know it must have been a trick of the light, maybe some climbing nocturnal critter. But my heart, which can be skeptical and small, has no doubts on this occasion. Like my son, who quotes YouTube that the moon landing was fake, is just trying to get a rise out of his old man.

Asked at a dinner party once to describe the Mothman phenomenon, I said, sometimes it is best to think past what you know. And duh, there's grilled pork tenderloin and squash, fried mozzarella with tomato, black rice. There's its red eyes, its symmetrical wings, claws—either believe or don't. Just because they recorded it doesn't make it real seems to be the attitude in 2020.
    But back to dinner—no, it just got pleasant and uneventful after I shut up, the rain never materialized, the pound cake dusted with sugar was somehow perfect. But Google deep fakes and tell me that in the future the past won't be made up.

Off that aforementioned plane and back in Old City after fifteen years, somehow it seems safer and more modern, watching the sunlight on the street, awash in free wi-fi. I get historical on my son over water ice. Short Betsy Ross' house is just blocks away, we could barely fit through the door, don't you want to go? It's the Fourth of July in Philadelphia, so I take a photo for some tourists. They called me Buddy in English, I was happy to do it, Welcome America is really self-care.
    Now back home, always back somewhere, my coworker is in excruciating pain. Before the trip he was fine, mobile, but now it takes him minutes just to leave the lab. His feet are almost turned backwards when he walks. He got old in a week though he couldn't have even graduated yet. We're coworkers but we don't speak—he math, me arts—so what the fuck happened to him? What if he falls? Some comment on his condition seems necessary—his chair has wheels and he's just rolling around!
    As you can tell, I'm trending towards more fearful and anxious as I get older, the answer is not in the back of the book. Think more: the black widow I found hiding behind the screen door. Still, I'm capable of these ecstatic moments of, like, how far I've come, five hundred and twenty-five mph groundspeed. Planes don't crash from turbulence, but lots of people cry during flight.

 

 

 

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I got The Collected Stories of Diane Williams for Xmas and it changed my whole thinking. I worked on this while also helping baseball players pass African American Studies. I once wrote a speech for the Commissioner of DHS about keeping kids and families in the city safe, so this is, like, the sequel.