I NEVER THOUGHT
I'd become the kind of woman who
would be glad to leave her family. Not that I wanted to abandon them, exactly. I was just glad to get away for a few days.
Or longer, in the case of one of them.
Maybe I should have been celebrating instead of escaping. That's what you do with big news, isn't it? And we had
A few weeks earlier my husband, Nick, told me that he
had met Jesus. Not the usual "getting saved" kind of meeting
Jesus. I mean, met Jesus. Literally. At a local Italian restaurant.
At first I thought he was joking, of course. He wasn't.
Then I thought he had been hallucinating. He had, after all,
been putting in seventy-hour weeks at work and getting
limited sleep. But he stuck to his story, which left me with—
I didn't know what.
All I knew was that my husband was convinced he had
dined with Jesus, and he had turned into some kind of Jesus
freak. It was bad enough that he had previously disappeared
into his work. Now when we were together, God was all he
wanted to talk about. That wasn't the "till death do us part"
I had planned on.
Things had been strained enough between us without
bringing God into the mix. It was as if someone had kidnapped the real Nick and replaced him with a religious Nick
clone. There we were, plugging along in our marriage, and
suddenly Nick, who wouldn't be caught dead in a church
parking lot, is best friends with Jesus.
It's not that I object to religion. People can believe whatever they want to. I just didn't grow up religious, hadn't become religious, and didn't marry someone religious. And I
wanted it to stay that way.
So getting away from Nick for four days was a relief.
What I hated was leaving Sara, my two-year-old. Granted, I
looked forward to the break, as any mother would. But I had
never been away from her longer than two nights, and even
then I found myself missing her by the second day. And that
was with my mom coming down to take care of her. At least
I trusted my mom. No telling what might happen with Nick
doing the childcare. Not that he was a bad dad, when he was
both home and off his cell phone.
But I had to take this trip. A client had built a resort
hotel near Tucson and wanted me to design new brochures
for it. The manager insisted on giving me a personal tour of
the place. She said I needed to experience it firsthand to fully
capture its essence. And get a free massage, I hoped.
I rarely had to travel for my graphic-arts work, which was
fine with me. Most of the business I had developed since
we'd moved to Cincinnati was local. Sometimes I went back
to Chicago on a job, but I could handle most of my old
accounts online. This, however, was my biggest client—had
been for six years—and I couldn't exactly say no.
The trip should have been a one-day there-and-back. Two
at the max. But since you can't get a nonstop from Cincinnati
to Tucson, I booked my flight through Dallas, which meant I
had to take two travel days.
I could hardly imagine a less appealing way to spend two
days of my life. I don't much like air travel, anyway. I'd rather
just throw some stuff in the car and hit the road. In a car no
one has you stand in line or searches your purse or forces you
to eat dry pretzels for a snack. Nor does anyone pull you
aside, have you extend your arms, and run a baton all over
your body. Why do I always get singled out?
Plus, I didn't feel the best this particular morning. I knew
that getting on a plane without any breakfast wasn't a brilliant idea since they don't serve even those tasteless box meals
anymore. But I figured I could break down and buy a snack
box if I had to.
Before heading out the front door, I wrote a note and left
it on the kitchen counter.
Sara's pajamas are in the top drawer, if you
don't remember. You may not, since you
haven't put her to bed this year. Her toothbrush
is in the left drawer in her bathroom. I left
plenty of juice, oatmeal, and cereal for breakfasts. Plus she likes toast and jelly. There's a
macaroni casserole she likes in the fridge and
some frozen veggies. After that runs out, she
likes Chick-fil-A. Don't forget story time at the
library tomorrow at 10:30.
You can reach me on my cell if you need
me for anything about Sara. Hope you and
Jesus have a great time together.
I drove myself to the airport. Nick had volunteered to
take me, but I declined. Riding by myself was preferable to
Nick telling me about his latest discovery in the Bible, which
he was now reading voraciously, or listening to Christian
radio, a fate worse than death. I parked and walked into the
terminal. The soft music and absence of Jesus talk provided a
Miraculously, I made it through security without any
special groping and proceeded to my gate. Once there, I sat
with my carry-ons and glanced at my boarding pass.
great, I thought. An E seat, in the middle. Why didn't I make
my reservation earlier and get a better seat? Maybe I can switch
to an aisle seat near the back of the plane.
A minute later the agent at the gate picked up her microphone and announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, our flight to
Dallas is full. To expedite your departure, please make sure
you stow your bags and take your seat as quickly as possible."
As they called first-class passengers to board, I remembered something I'd forgotten to tell Nick. I pulled out my
phone and dialed his office. He answered.
"Nick, I'm at the airport."
"Hey. How's it going?"
"Look, I forgot to tell you that Laura has Sara with their
son Chris until about five thirty. She's taking them swimming at the Y."
"No problem. I'm going to get home a little early and fix
something for Sara and me."
"What—you mean cook something?"
"Yeah. I picked up stuff for spaghetti and meatballs at
"Miracles never cease. Look, I need to go—my row is
"Call me tonight?"
"I'll see, Nick. I might be pretty tired."
"Well, have a great trip. I love you."
"Yeah. Bye, Nick."
I ended the call, picked up my tote bag and suitcase, and
got to the boarding line just as my group was being called. A
second later the airline rep started hawking two two-hundred-dollar travel vouchers for anyone willing to take a flight
four hours later. No one took them. When the offer went up
to three hundred dollars, I stepped forward. Maybe they'll
have an aisle seat on the next flight.
"When would that get me into Tucson?" I asked.
The rep looked up the connecting flight. "Ten twenty-
two this evening."
Nearly ten thirty. Plus renting a car, then driving out to the
hotel. That's almost midnight.
I decided to pass; I'd be too tired the next day.
I got back in line with the last group of boarders, walked
down the ramp, and waited interminably while all the people
already on the plane decided where to put their stuff. By the
time I got to my row, there was room overhead for my suitcase but not my tote bag. I stowed my suitcase and looked at
my seating arrangement on the left. The seats on both sides
of mine were already occupied. Two guys.
for the next two and a half hours between two men. Why
couldn't they have put me between two size 2 women? The man
in the aisle seat stood up to let me by. I squeezed into the
middle seat, resigning myself to not having an armrest available to me on either side. Guys always hog those.
I leaned down, stuffed my bag under the seat in front of
me, and pulled my shoulders inward to squeeze back into my
This is really going to be a fun trip.
The temperature inside the airplane cabin didn't help. I
reached up and opened my air vent. That made things feel a
little better. I leaned back and sat, staring forward.
I didn't bring anything to read. What was I thinking? I
should have stopped and picked up a novel in the airport. I never
do that. It would have been kind of nice just to have something
to escape into for a while.
I glanced through the seat pocket in front of me. Maybe
someone left a magazine in here. But there wasn't much to
choose from: a SkyMall catalog selling expensive gadgets
that no one needed, instructions on using my seat as a flotation device in case we landed in the Mississippi River, and the
monthly airline magazine. I opened the magazine. I started
reading an article about living on some Spanish coast. The
houses were huge, the beaches white, the water crystal clear,
the cliffs spectacular.
Who are they kidding? No real people live
Just then my cell phone rang. I squeezed forward, leaned
down, searched through my bag, and caught it on the fourth
"Hey, traveler. What's up?" It was my younger sister,
"Just got on the plane. Waiting to pull away from the
"Did you get Sara taken care of, or do you need my help?"
"Well, theoretically she's taken care of. How Nick actually does with her, we'll see when I get back."
"What's he going to feed her?"
"He told me he's going to do some cooking."
I heard laughter on the other end. "Nick? Cook?"
"Has he come back to earth, or is he still in the clouds?"
"Still in the clouds. He's totally flipped out on this Jesus
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm not sure." I hesitated. "I called a lawyer today and
set up an appointment for next week."
"Mattie! You did?"
"I don't know. Maybe it's too soon. I just don't feel like
I can take this anymore. I mean, things were already bad
enough before Nick got religious. There's no way we're going
to make it like this."
"I thought he'd been spending more time with you and
"Yeah. He has. I'm just not sure I want him to anymore.
It's really confusing."
"Why don't you try counseling again?" she asked.
"Maybe a different therapist."
"What's the point? I mean, it's not like the last one did
much good. Besides, this is a different issue—not like Nick's
workaholism. I just don't see any middle ground on this religion stuff."
I wanted to tell Julie more, but I heard an overhead
"I've gotta run," I told her. "They're telling us to shut off
cell phones and all that. Can I call you tonight? I've got
something else to tell you too."
"I don't know. I might be out."
"Julie, for once, don't go out clubbing. It's bad news for
you." One of the flight attendants walked by and gave me
"I'll call you tonight," I said. "Be there, okay?"
I clicked off the phone, put it in my bag, leaned back,
and closed my eyes. I can't believe Nick and I aren't even making it to our fourth anniversary.
The plane taxied to the runway and took off.