I am on a plane en route to the Virgin Islands with my mother, and my father’s body is undergoing an autopsy, and my senior year is starting without me. Everything that occurs in this “aftermath”—whether it’s packing suitcases or making phone calls about crematoriums or going through airport security checkpoints—all moments and events start to blend together. And on the outside of the aftermath are all the people who are still living their normal lives.
I am not one of them. I feel like a ghost. And the only reason I’m here is because my father killed himself last week.
It’s the first day of my senior year of high school, but instead of comparing new class schedules or locating new lockers, my mother and I are taking the week to fly down to the Caribbean island of St. John—the island that had been my father’s home, until last week. We need to sort through Dad’s things, sign affidavits and consent forms for the credit card companies, and make cremation arrangements with the funeral home.
Mom and I first go through the Minneapolis airport, and then Chicago, Atlanta, and Puerto Rico before we get to the Virgin Islands. In each of the airports, I am surrounded by people whose lives did not change last week. They are the stoic laptop carriers in line for coffee at Starbucks, with Powerbars sticking out of side briefcase pockets. They are the troops of excited families just on the start of a vacation, and the tangle-haired, weary families on their way back. I walk by coffee stands and whirring espresso machines, and then past McDonald’s counters where food timers are constantly beeping and cups are being filled with tumbling ice and fountain soda, and I am part of none of it.
It occurs to me that I can’t be the only one who is on a trip because a beloved died last week. People die all the time, don’t they? What other daughters or sons or widows sit waiting for their next flight to begin boarding? Where are they going? Who did they lose?
And we were seated near each other at the same airline gate, would we be able to recognize each other, ghost to ghost?