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 my mommy."
      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 felt.
      "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.

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