Terminal C: Ted Stevens International Airport

When the plane left Terminal C at Ted Stevens International Airport, it traveled over 18 years of silent longing and hidden assault. As we gradually picked up speed, I watched the tarmac lines disappear, and my heart flew out my chest free from myself. Free from all that I knew I could never have. Free from sitting on my knees and begging my parents to be better, to do better. I came face-to-face with myself in the glass window, for the first time learning of my secret desire to never see my family again. To never think of the years of abuse or all of the ways that I had failed to overcome the silence between the walls of our house.

I tried to go home once. When I left, I had been taking classes at the local university in Anchorage while working part time in a coffeeshop. Everything I knew about the world was in Alaska, and my heart longed for the open freedom of the Alaska range. It was the single most beautiful place in the world to my childish heart.

I left Mozambique in December and first went to see my older sister in New York. Drifting in the wake of living in a mud hut with 14 people and anxiously awaiting whatever was left for me in the mountains of Eagle River, I felt like a waif. A ghost of my past self, or a ghost of who I was becoming. I was caught between worlds of myself. “Paging passenger Victoria Houser for flight 7344 to Anchorage, Alaska.” I snapped out of my daze, and hastily ran to the gate, holding out my boarding pass. Seat 9A. Headphones in. I had done the impossible. I was on the plane to go back to everything that I thought had died when I left. But my dad insisted. I had to come home, or whatever that meant. His desperate call made me think that this would be it. They had missed me.

I remember touching down in the Anchorage airport, wondering when my next semester of classes would start and who I could find to hike with me in subzero temperatures. I thought about what I would feel when I saw my parents, and I even caught myself returning to an odd fantasy of me kissing my dad’s cheek.

I wanted to know that they loved me. I wanted my body to believe that they loved me in spite of everything that had come before. Then I was in the terminal bathroom, where I went into a stall and threw up until I felt empty. Inertia flooded my whole body, but I found my way to the sink and brushed my teeth while looking at my dead eyes in the Ted Stevens International Airport C terminal women’s restroom. I knew what would come next. I’d walk down the short hallway, pass the taxidermy moose in the center of the airport, turn around the corner, and face my parents’ expectant faces.

I did exactly that, and I continued to walk and walk through them and past them and past myself and past the memories and past the visions of abuse that hung around them and past the pleading look in my mother’s eyes to forgive her and forgive him. I kept walking even when I was still. I walked around the rooms of my body and around the rooms of my past self. As I walked, I could feel the hope loose in my tight chest. I knew what my parents would look like when I saw them. I knew there was no way to go home when home was a word caught somewhere between 9A and the taxidermy moose right before I saw my family.

Terminal C at Ted Stevens International Airport became all that I knew of myself and all that I knew of the whole wide world. Time didn’t stop. I did not kiss my father’s cheek. I walked and walked and walked. I walked until I found my way back to the same terminal in Ted Stevens International Airport two weeks later. I walked down the boarding ramp. I walked back and forth between Ted Stevens International Airport and my home. The walking was all that I had of myself and it was all that I could have of my family.

Whatever else happens in the great expanse of other, bigger airports and the millions of people flying to and from their families, to and from their jobs, I would always have the walk with myself down Terminal C of Ted Stevens International Airport.



Victoria Houser is a PhD candidate, studying the effects of sexual abuse and childhood trauma. She grew up in Eagle River, Alaska, and currently lives in South Carolina.

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