“’sa bizzy pace, Boppa. “
“What’s that, pal?”
“’sa bizzy pace. All zeese bepo.”
“All these people. That’s right, it’s a busy place, buddy.”
Allan Jenkins’ eyes scanned the airport crowds, drawn to the grid of glass ranging along the terminal’s southern walls. Blue skies beckoned, airplanes placed at the ready outside, stacked sideways like a Gulliver-sized car lot.
A good portion of East Bay’s citizens, along with those from the surrounding metropolis, appeared to be going somewhere today.
“I thought I picked a slow travel day, that’s why the rates were so low—what’s the deal?”
All the crush and noise of people did not help his son A.J.’s anxiety one bit. The high pitched almost-shriek in his voice had made that clear. Embarking on an airplane adventure was a risky endeavor, but Allan’s mother must see her grandson; it had been more than a year.
This necessary and brutal sacrifice, eight days off work (only four of them with vacation pay), handling A.J. on his own, calming the nerves, soothing his soul-well, he hoped it was worth it.
But did it have to be this hard? “Really, God? Really?” Was that a prayer?
Allan steered the 7 year old through the ebbs and flows of humanity as they made their way to gate 4C. Getting through security would be dicey. He noticed A.J.’s anxiety as it travelled up his small body—shoulders tense and twitchy.
“All this amped-up TSA action surely has made no difference in safety,” he pondered.
“What a pain—out with the laptop, off with the shoes…”
No, definitely not looking forward to getting cleared to go to their gate.
His son’s issues with crowds and sound–sensory overload of any kind—was being tested to its limits. The din and color, the bright crush of people was overwhelming him as well.
Allan’s hands went from A.J.;s shoulders to hold his one free hand; the other clutching Zane, the eyeless hedgehog.
“‘z be okay, Boppa? ‘z be okay?” The tremor in his voice was thinly disguised by his trusting question.
“Yes, pal, it’s going to be okay. Daddy’s right here.”
He gave A.J.’s hand a little extra squeeze, aware of his son’s needs to feel safe along with his own needs—the airline’s needs?—to be on time.
“Schedules can be the devil,” he thought. “Always pushing from behind. Just for once I’d like to lead my life, or feel like I was following Someone somewhere.”
Was that a prayer? Maybe it was.
These days were full of pressure, like trying to keep the lid on an overflowing popcorn popper. Something was always turning up the heat. Allan looked forward to the respite and rest ahead as he relaxed at his mother’s, a welcome relief from the demands of his handling his son on his own.
The security line was in sight, snaking maze-like through the funnel that was the gateway to their departing flights. Allan’s face fell; wow, not much personal space up ahead.
Please God, no melt-downs, no screaming fits, no flailing arms. That was definitely a prayer.
“Boppa, ‘skids! ‘Skids, Boppa!” The joy in A.J.’s voice lightened the air around them as he pointed ahead.
“Yes buddy, there are some kids. They’re going on a fun trip, just like us. Maybe they’re going to see their Grandma, too.”
“But they’re not like us,” Allan grumbled to himself. “Not by a long shot.”
Even from where they stood the children’s chatter was a give-away to their perfectly normal lives. Conversations were audible and understandable. Even the grown-ups were chatting with the young 5-ish looking lad a few people ahead of them.
So very not fair, not fair at all, God, that I’d have this not-normal little boy. A seven-year-old who sounds like he’s 3. Nobody ever talks to him, and worse, no one ever listens. It’s like he’s invisible.
Everything we do is twice as hard—no, four times as hard—enrolling in school, playdates with friends, Sunday School class even—where they were supposed to be nice.
Was that a prayer?
Life had become exhausting. Shouldering the emotional and mental effort as a single parent left him fatigued all the time. He’d rather run laps around the lake at the park—that kind of tired you recover from. This?
This stress and strain never went away, like a rock in his shoe he couldn’t get rid of.
“Dodda pee, Boppa. Dodda pee.”
“Oh, Buddy, can you hold it? We’re in line now and we get to go through that fun machine up there.
Actually, it’s a magic machine. See the lady with that big wand? When you walk through, she gives you super powers. Hang on ‘til we get through, okay?”
Where did that come from?
Another reprieve. It might have been one of A.J.’s false alarms. Avoidance was a skill he had honed well, even for a 7 year old. Maybe that’s all it was—a feigned bathroom trip to escape the crowds.
Mr. TSA loomed ahead; Allan advanced to the podium, flashed his i.d. and boarding pass and grabbed a tub. A.J. stood back for a good 30 seconds staring at the rollers on the conveyor belt. The spinning mesmerized him. Laptops briefcases and purses slid by over the slippery silver surface.
Departing with his shoes, watch and keys, Allan followed A.J.’s gaze. People called it “stimming”—A.J.’s obsessive habit of getting visually stuck. Allan interrupted his concentration and gently shuffled A.J. through the motions up to the lady with the wand. They arrived at the magic machine completely without incident.
Thank you, God. Another prayer.
Maybe it really was magic—he imagined what a touch of that wand could do.
Render his son’s tongue back to little-boy normal? Could his words and speech be matched with his seven-year-old self? Make him more visible to the rest of the world? Maybe calm his inside nerves, integrate them with the outside of his body?
Would to God. A semi-prayer.
Allan remembered life before his son. The future was filled with possibilities, hope buoyed his world back in the day, the day when he actually believed in God. But A.J. regressed as he grew older, Allan’s wife left him for good and he gave up praying altogether.
Praying didn’t seem to matter much. Was God really there anyway? If He was so good, why was life so hard? And why did God give him such a difficult and challenging kid?
“Sir, step forward please.”
The uniformed agent motioned Allan through the detector, snapping him out of his thoughts.
“Arms out to the side, sir.” There was a brightness in her voice.
Was she smiling? TSA agents don’t smile. The name on her badge said “Wanda”. Of course.
What does she have to be happy about? Stuck inside all day, doing the same thing hour after hour. Not much to look forward to in all that.
Wanda waved the wand like a scepter, up, over and around his frame.
“Thank you, sir, all clear. God bless you today.”
God bless me? God bless me? Why? Does He even see me?
A.J. trailed along behind him, a wrinkled look worrying his face. Allan could see the fear in his eyes.
“It’s okay young man, you come right this way.” Wanda beckoned him to the dome-like x-ray portal, bending over to meet A.J.’s eyes.
“Now raise your arms out like a bird. I’ve got to wave my magic wand around you.”
Thank God she’s playing along. Wait? How’d she know to say that? The woman’s declaration about the magic machine buoyed his spirits. Up, over and around the little boy’s head she swooped with her scepter. A smile broke out on A.J.’s face.
“I f’ying! I f’ying, Boppa!” Again, such joy. He was actually having fun.
“Why yes you are young man, just like those flying airplanes out there,” the agent affirmed.
When she finished, she gestured with her ex-ray baton to the aircraft outside.
“Ya know it’s magic how they fly, like a bird.” She sounded like an awe-struck teacher, pointing out some great wonder to her young pupil.
A.J. followed the agent’s swooping arm and they gazed for a moment through the glass. Turning his head back, A.J. met the Agent’s eyes as she bent down once more and confidently declared, “Only God can make a bird fly. Only God can ever do anything, young man. Only God.”
With that she stepped back to her post.
A.J. and his dad shuffled in their stocking feet to gather their things.
“’zat magee, Boppa? ‘zat magee? I yike magee machine. A wot.”
Magic? Mystical? Maybe miraculous? Maybe all three.
Allan’s voice brightly announced, “Sure fella, magic. That nice lady gave you super powers.” And she saw you, he thought, actually looked in your eyes.
Magic Wand Wanda had spoken to his son with the confidence of a monarch sharing the secrets of her kingdom. Clearly she dispensed hope to everyone alike, unaware of their challenges and limitations, including his son A.J.
Maybe other people will look at him, too, thought Allan. Learn to take the time to listen, interpret his son’s broken words, make them whole. Perhaps it would make A.J. whole.
Allan wondered at the way his mind had changed in the past fifteen minutes. Hope came out of nowhere, the power of possibilities resting there. Funny what you can talk yourself into, what you can change when your thoughts go skyward.
Perhaps his prayers had been heard after all.
He looked up, across the crowds, through the windows and outside to the way beyond of the cloudless, blue sky. It seemed wide and full of wonder. Maybe it was a magic machine after all. Maybe it was.