A Sort of Homecoming
August 20, 1998
We stand against the glass overlooking the tarmac at the gate for an American West redeye flight from SFO to JFK, your hand at your side and my hand at my side. I want to touch you in a tender way, but I don’t know how so I punch your arm and you punch me back. I tuck my hair behind both ears and I pick up my backpack to check again on the passport that has no stamps in it. You don’t have a passport.
“You better write to me,” I say, looking away from your hazel eyes, your spiky brown hair, the lips that I have started to consider lately as a place mine would like to land.
“I don’t write things,” you say.
“Email then. Or ICQ.”
An announcement comes over the PA, and my parents and sister shuffle closer. My sister is your year in school, but you and I are closer in age. We’ve known each other six years but back then you were someone’s little brother, hardly worth a notice. But somewhere through the years, you became my friend, my most reliable and present friend. Everyone in our circle knows I get shotgun in your red Honda Civic.
At the airport, you are in one of your go-to outfits of a Quiksilver T-shirt, a pair of khaki cargo shorts and socks with slide sandals. I have on a pair of jeans, a blue T-shirt and a peacoat despite the August temperatures outside because the jacket couldn’t fit in my suitcases.
I say my goodbyes to my parents and my sister. I expect you to pat my back, but instead you pull me into a hug and I breath in the aftershave you have recently started using. I want this moment to be the start of a love story.
December 20, 1998
I have a souvenir shot glass from Planet Hollywood packed in my bag for me and a CD with dance music for you that you can play in the red Honda. I also have tucked in a book the senior portrait that you mailed to me, a photo alone in an envelope without a note. You emailed me sporadically and the time difference made it hard to connect on ICQ.
I still can’t find my gate at JFK and I go to the counter for the airline. I wait behind half a dozen people, weighed down by two bags and a backpack. When it is my turn, I show the man at the counter my paper ticket.
“We canceled this flight a month ago,” he says. “We can get you on a flight tomorrow at 10 a.m.”
I’ve never flown so far before. I didn’t know flights could be canceled.
“I have to get home. I can’t stay here,” I say.
“We recommend calling to check on flights before you arrive,” the man says.
My eyes start to well up then and my cheeks burn. My throat gets tight and I know I am going to cry.
“I have to get home,” I say, tears spilling and my voice high. “I can’t stay here. I have no money. I can’t be in New York overnight.”
In Ireland, I had been brave and tough, even when my wallet was stolen the first week of orientation. Even when I didn’t hear from you after my last email when I told you when my flight would get in. But now, back on U.S. soil, I feel myself crumple.
People in the line are looking at me, the crying girl with the shaved head and the eyebrow ring, and too many bags. They don’t know I heard from my sister that you went to homecoming with a girl from your class last month and I don’t know what to expect when I see you again.
“I haven’t been home in three months and my family is waiting for me,” I say.
The man doesn’t look at me, but he picks up a phone and makes a call. I can’t hear all he’s saying as I try to breath deep and stop my tears.
“Okay, I can get you on a flight to SFO in two hours on another airline.”
I don’t sleep on the six-hour flight though I am exhausted. I am the last off the plane. I look for my parents and sister. But at the gate, I see you first, in a hoodie sweatshirt, those same cargo shorts and a pair of black Vans.
“Everyone wanted to see you,” you say and pull me into a tight hug, my now short hair against your cheek. “We got tickets to see a movie now.”
“We” includes my sister and two other good friends. The girl from the homecoming dance isn’t here, to my relief.
I don’t want to see a movie. I want to sleep in my own bed again. We drive south on Hwy 101 and pull into the AMC Mercado parking lot. My sister, you, and two other friends. It is a Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks movie, but not the good one. The theater lights dim. I lean on your shoulder and fall asleep. I am home.
Melissa Flores Anderson is a Latinx Californian and an award-winning journalist, who lives in her hometown with her young son and husband. Her creative work has been published or is forthcoming in Punk Noir Magazine, Maudlin House, The Write Launch, Voidspace Zine, Daily Drunk Magazine and Rejection Letters, among others. Her CNF “Six Gun Fights” received a Best of the Net nomination from Variant Lit. She served as a co-guest editor of Roi Fainéant Press’ first special issue, HEAT (6.26.22) and is now a reader/editor. Follow her on Twitter @melissacuisine or IG @theirishmonths. Read her work at melissafloresandersonwrites.com.