By Jim Ferri
I boarded JetBlue’s flight 615 from New York to Jacksonville, FL a few days ago. It wasn’t the flight I expected.
Awaiting departure, I had just sat down on the aisle in Row 5 across from my wife when a young man boarded with his seven-year old daughter. He stopped at my row and asked her if she wanted the window seat. She said she wanted the middle.
Seated between us, I couldn’t help but overhear him assuring her that this flight was going to be much better than their previous. “It’s a longer flight and we’ll fly higher so it’ll be smoother,” he told her. Still though, she seemed nervous.
After a few minutes I decided to help distract her to get her mind off things. I whipped out the new camera I had received for Christmas and showed it to her. “Look at this,” I said as I showed her the screen on the back of it. Then I turned it around and took a photo of her.
I showed it to her, she smiled and her eyes opened wide. “Here,” I said, “you take one of me” and I put the camera in her little hands. “Look there and press this button.”
She stared at the screen for a moment, took the shot and then turned it around to show me. I was surprised that my head hadn’t been cut off.
Over the next hour we talked a little more and she told me she was upset by missing the snow that was supposed to come to Rochester tomorrow. I then saw she had a pink cast on her forearm, signed by Mommy and Daddy and a lot of other people. I confided I had several casts when I was growing up (truthfully, most after I became an adult) and that her cast was special because of all the signatures on it. “The doctor will let you keep it when it’s taken off if you ask for it,” I told her. Maybe I planted a seed.
After she started watching cartoons on the video channel, from the snippets of conversation I had with her father I learned he worked in oil drilling and traveled to China every now and then. Obviously, he was either separated or divorced from her mother who lived in Jacksonville and was bringing his little girl back home after Christmas visitation.
After a while they both fell asleep, she cuddled up next to his arm where she remained until we landed.
Later on in Jacksonville, after we claimed our bags, we were walking to the terminal exit when I saw her standing with her mother and another man. She was crying and I heard her mother ask if she wanted to go upstairs and watch him go. I turned and looked to the escalator and saw a father slowly being moved upwards and away from his little girl.
I felt so sad since it brought back memories from long ago, memories resurrected several times a year back then, but now left buried for so long. He was putting on the strong face, I knew, waving and blowing kisses to his crying little girl who he loved so much.
I understood that after being with her mother for a few hours the emotions of the moment would dissipate for her. She’d be distracted by familiar surroundings but for him it wouldn’t be so easy.
As soon as his little girl was out of sight he’d want to cry but he’d have no one to turn to, no familiar surroundings to assuage his pain.
Whether he cried or not, I don’t know. But I know when he boarded he left a piece of his heart in Jacksonville. As so many of us do when separated from the ones we love.