Mom tells me that as a toddler I'd look up at a plane in the sky and point and say "Daddy! Daddy!" I don't remember doing this, but I'd guess it's true.
After being in the Air Force in Vietnam, my dad became a commerical airline pilot. I know he was home regularly, but I don't remember him being so. When he wasn't flying off somewhere, he was out of the house. I don't know where exactly. Mom always had some excuse—he was golfing or getting a check-up or visiting an elderly neighbor in the hospital. I only became suspicious of his doing something illicit when, as a freshmen in high school, I found a handful of Hustler magazines in a bin in the garage. (I was looking for a place to hide my own contraband—some pot—when I found his stash.) This got me to thinking...what if Dad was having an affair, what if it were with a stewardess?
I looked for other signs of a possible infidelity in the house as well as in his actions, but I never found any. I did, however, begin to go out to the various New York airports to spy on him. This was long before you couldn't go right up to the gate, without a boarding pass. I'd found his schedules while I'd been hunting for his possible lipsticked shirts or blonde hairs amid his uniform jackets—so I knew when and at which NJ or NY airports he'd be moving to and from. I must have done this on and off for about a year, when I was a senior in high school. I had nothing better to do that year anyway—my boyfriend having dumped me the previous summer, and being damn ready to finish high school. My point is, I never caught my dad holding hands with a stewardess or a passenger. Mostly I witnessed him drag an airline suitcase around, get coffee, and look stern or glum.
The last time I went out to the airport I decided I would confront him—ask him why he'd not really been there for me throughout the years, especially when I was having trouble in school or fighting with Mom. I waited at his gate. All the passengers deplaned and the crew was finally coming out.
I expected surprise on his face when I stepped in front of him, but instead he said flatly, "Hi, honey, where's your mother?"
I told him I was alone, that I'd been following him for months.
"Following?" I tried to explain that I'd thought he was cheating on Mom.
"Cheating, what for?"
"Because you're never home," I said.
"I'm never home because I'm a pilot. It's my job."
"Your job's not to be home?"
"Honey, you have to understand," he said, "I'm only at home when I fly."
Elise Gottschalk lives in Boise, Idaho, and works as a physcial therapist. From time to time, she sits down and writes in order to stop thinking about what she's writing about. Her husband doesn't read this writing, but deep down he knows it's good not only for her, but for him too.