Going Home Alone
By Pamela Landsen
Condensed from Newsweek
as printed in Readers Digest May 1993
As I boarded the plane for my flight
home to Los Angeles from New York, I was pleased to see I might have two
seats all to myself. Exhausted and grateful for the extra room, I buckled
my seat belt and nodded off.
I was entering a state of semi-coma when,
just before our departure, I looked up and saw the flight attendant and a
small blond blur clutching a fluorescent green and blue knapsack. He registered
briefly in my consciousness as a Macaulay Culkin type. Oh great, I groaned
to myself. I bet he's a brat. He climbed over me, took the seat and turned
to the window. I went back to sleep.
The flight was well under way as I came
to and saw that my seatmate was watching me wake up. I introduced myself
and made the routine inquiries kids suffer through. Age: eight. Grade: third.
I asked if his parents were on board. "No."
Suddenly his big, blue-gray eyes were
locked on mine, forbidding me to turn away. His expression was strangely
stiff, and I realized he was trying to control the muscles in his face. The
harder he tried to hold his chin up, the more it quivered.
"What's wrong?" I asked, By then tears
were no secret between us. His watery gaze unbroken, he answered my question
with the rawest, most emotionally naked statement I've ever heard: "I want
The boy had said good-bye to his mother
at Kennedy Airport and was en-route to his father, who had custody of him.
"I just miss her so much," he said as his little chest quaked with each sob.
"She cried too," he told me, as though to defend his outpouring of emotion
by putting himself in the best of all possible company. This explained the
youngster's late entry on the plane and conjured up a parting too painful
to dwell on.
"This is ridiculous. I can't cry the
whole five hours," he said, interrupting the sobs that had interrupted his
telling me how he and his mom had stayed up late, taken taxis, seen a movie,
shopped at F.A.O. Schwarz and blown the money his dad had given him. Putting
on a brave face, he tried to talk of other things; but he kept coming back
to the realization that the plane was carrying him farther and farther from
his mom. "I just wish she were here," he kept saying.
I asked if he could tell his dad how
"He'd just say, "Why do you care?" He
doesn't even like her," the boy said. I miss her a lot, but I can't go on
crying," he continued, wiping his eyes with the wet sleeve of his sweater.
Clumsily, I offered him the few truths
I have learned about turbulent times: life can be really hard. And you'll
always feel better after you've felt bad. But I didn't know how to tell him
there are no ready palliatives for the sweet sorrows of good-bys.
This child is one of the many who travel
solo from one home to another, the lost luggage of parents who couldn't stand
each other and now have to divide their offspring between them. Perhaps it's
not fair of me to question the domestic arrangements of others. Yet, as I
listened to the heart of this eight-year-old, I couldn't help but wonder
if these parents might have tried harder had they seen this pain. And I remember
how the notion of "staying together for the kids' sake" had been laughed
off the face of the marital map by the time I was the boy's age and growing
up in a broken home.
Maybe two adults bowing to someone smaller
and something larger than themselves wasn't such a bad idea after all. Sitting
next to my new friend, I thought it made a lot of sense.