Going to Dad's House For The Summer
by Darin Z. Krogh
Their summer migration begins in early June. They're not all flying the same direction but they are all going to end up at the same place: the residence of the non-custodial parent.
The airlines call them "Unaccompanied Minors", U.M.‘s for short. Kids flying alone require extra paperwork, signature accountability, somewhat constant supervision and attention to their "special needs".
If somebody's suitcase doesn't show up, you can give them a toothbrush and promise that their bag will be in on the next flight. They vent awhile then give up. But if one of these kids doesn't show up on a flight, you're facing a fiery-eyed parent with froth in the corners of the mouth. No reason is good enough, cancelled flights, late airplanes, etc. They know who you are and they're never going to forget what you did.
Things were not that way today. The next flight was came in on time and with a little luck it would leave on time.
When I opened the door of the airplane, a blast of warm moist air swooshed out followed by 148 passengers who were tired of being locked up in a 153 foot long metal tube with only three bathrooms and no open windows.
The flight attendant in charge shot me a quick smile and pled, “We’ve gotta get to a flight leaving in 10 minutes. Would you be a dear?” She handed me some paperwork then extended the handle of her wheeled bag and exited the airplane saying, "She's in 12A, thanks". She added, "I owe ya'," like we were dear friends.
At the top of the paperwork was printed "TAMARA DUNBAR/10YRS/SEAT 12A - UNACCOMPANIED MINOR TO BE MET BY CARLTON DUNBAR."
Now I'd have to find Carlton among the teeming thousands in the airport, then
complete the paperwork before I could hand the kid off, which meant that this flight probably wouldn't leave on time. Even worse, it would put the squeeze on my lunch break which is a sacred time for me, during which I make spiritual repairs while savoring each course of the “The Employee's Special" served on divided plastic foam trays.
I went to seat 12A.
She was a skinny little blond in a flowered dress and on her lap, in ascending order, was a CD player, CD holder and patent leather purse. A dawdler for sure.
"Tamara, can I carry something for you?"
She didn't look at me but agreed to let me tote everything but her purse and added "Those things are kind of embarrassing."
"I’ve carried worse," I comforted.
Hoping to hasten the union of daughter to father, I asked, "What does Carlton Dunbar look like?"
"He's got gray hair."
"No, my dad. He's had gray hair since he was at high school."
"Yeah, I guess that happens."
We trudged up the jetway to the boarding area. When we got to the podium, I asked her if she could spot the prematurely-gray Carlton Dunbar standing out in the crowd in front of us.
She looked everywhere except at me.
I grabbed the paging microphone and called out Carlton’s name.
Carlton Dunbar was ruining my day.
I sat her down next to me on a chair and started collecting tickets from the boarding passengers.
Her eyes seemed a bit wet but no tears.
I hoped she would hold it together. I leaned down to her, "The highway to the airport is under construction," I lied, "He probably got stuck in traffic."
A crying U.M. is the worst kind.
When the flight was boarded, I shut the door sealing in another 148 members of the flying public. The airplane pulled away from the gate.
"Let's get some lunch," I said and picked up Tamara's things and we walked in silence to the snack-bar. When stood in front of the menu on the wall, I announced “I’m buying, whaddya’ want.”
“I’m not hungry.” She was probably lying. She had just stepped off a pretzel only flight. but I was grateful for her decline since that would preclude the common hallmark of unaccompanied minors, which is puking.
“How about a sandwich?"
I didn't force it. I was grateful for her decline since that would preclude the common hallmark of unaccompanied minors, which is puking.
We sat down and only I ate.
"There are a lot of lakes around here," I offered hoping to boost her spirits, "Are you staying all summer?"
"He might not want me to stay at all. I haven't seen him for five years."
Oh, Carlton, you are a really bad father.
I stopped trying to cheer her up when it became plain that she was more mature than I had rea1ized. These children of divorce are able to see through fake talk better than most adults. I finished and we went to my next gate assignment.
"You wanna' help me on this flight?"
"No. I think I'd rather watch," she said sounding bored.
These divorce kids often tend to be sarcastic and are always bored.
A fellow agent came up and spoke in my ear, “The dad's at the ticket
counter. I'll cover for you while you take her down."
I breathed a little prayer of gratitude.
"Tamara, your father is down at the ticket counter."
I bent over to pick up her belongings but she grabbed them as if to indicate that I was no longer permitted to carry her things.
In the two hours that we had been thrown together, this little aggravation still
had not made eye contact with me.
No one was waiting at the ticket counter when we arrived.
I inquired and was directed to the opposite wall.
There he was, leaning against a pillar, a muscular man with silver hair, dressed in dirty work clothes and the tip of a toothpick extending from his lips.
He was in the company of a woman who appeared to be anything but maternal. Loads of make-up and the kind of hair-do that is not for touching.
"I'll need to see your I.D. and get you to sign here." I handed him the release form.
He took out his billfold after giving his daughter a quick glance unlike his lady friend who focused on Tamara as if she was a draining boil.
Tamara looked around but not at anyone.
I didn't want to belabor the point in front of his daughter but couldn't help saying, "We expected you at noon." He seemed to ignore my remark as he looked for the signature line on the paper. He signed the paperwork then tossed the sheet to me.
"Yeah, well, I told her mother that I can't leave the job in the middle of a shift."
Then like a good father, he pointed at Tamara then to her suitcase. Tamara picked it up and followed her summer parents to the exit door.
"Good-bye, Tamara," I called out after them.
She didn't answer.
She didn't look back.
She probably didn't even hear me.
The excitement of summer vacation does that to kids.