A River Runs Through It
Josephine scrubbed poop out from underneath her fingernails for the third time that day and it wasn’t even noon. She glanced at the kitchen wall clock. She’d just given her mother, Lisette, the meds that made her sleepy and this was usually a good time to take a lunch break. Looking down at her manicure, it wasn’t a huge surprise that she wasn’t hungry.
Taking care of an elderly parent is not for the faint of heart and Josephine knew that. She’d watched her own mother do it and had vivd memories of her grandmother throwing cutlery at the wall near her mom’s head. Not because she was mad at the wall, but because she was 87 and had terrible aim.
Lisette had opined that Nana had spent her whole life in the confines of polite restraint and had eighty years of anger pent up. Even at her young age, that made sense to Josephine. She smiled in spite of herself, remembering Nana yelling at her dead husband in the middle of the afternoon. No one told the woman to stop, per Josephine’s mother’s insistence. She fully supported the grandmother letting go over her issues before her ultimate demise. And now it was her turn.
This was why, even though Lisette had long been incontinent, Josephine did not insist upon her mother living in a nursing home. Her mom had been a dancer. She felt that she'd spent enough years sucking in her stomach. Now, too, it was her turn to ‘let it go.’ That being said, Josephine swore to the medical gods that she was done talking care of anyone else’s bodily fluids. Even the medical gods knew that wasn’t true. Josephine was a caregiver, whether or not she enjoyed cleaning up pee.
Josephine’s sister would be taking over that night and then they’d arranged for a nurse to come during the days. But that had taken a lot of organizing and logistics and endless calls to the insurance company. So, in the meantime, (and ‘the meantime’ had been almost six weeks in a South Carolina summer, but who’s counting?) Josephine had been living in her mother’s 1,000 square foot retirement community condo, trying to run her real estate business remotely and care for her 91 year-old mom who’s brain was permanently residing somewhere in Palm Springs in the 70s. She hadn’t slept more than a two-hour stretch since she’d arrived down South from New York and was sincerely, if not guiltily, looking forward to her flight home.
Josephine had done well for herself. She realized at a young age, divorced with two small children, that if she only put in an average amount of work, she would only have an average life. And this was not a woman with an average drive. So she threw herself into creating the most fulfilling life she could as a single mom of two daughters. She grew her real estate business into an impressive balance sheet by anyone’s standards. Her daughters turned into smart, beautiful, and equally driven women. And she was able to take care of her own mother because of the financial independence that she’d built for herself.
Josephine was spiritual. She meditated regularly and took nothing in her life for granted. But, she was still human. So when she checked into her flight at the Charleston airport the following afternoon, she happily upgraded herself to first class, holding her precious poodle mix, Delilah. While she was boarding the plane, she felt the nagging pain in her left leg that was her unrelenting sciatica.
She settled herself and Delilah into seat 3C, choosing not to make eye contact with the passengers passing her to the back of the plane. She imagined them giving her the once-over with her oversized sunglasses, sparkling jewelry, and lap dog. Josephine’s mind briefly paused on a memory of fleeing a small apartment at midnight with her own mom and sister when she was in grade school and they could not pay the rent. She was proud of how far she gotten in this crazy world but, of course, did not need to share her entire origin story with flight 744 to Newark.
She graciously accepted the Bloody Mary when the flight attendant offered a pre-flight beverage. Maybe it was the lack of sleep for the past six weeks or the fact that Josephine didn’t honestly remember the last time she sat down to eat an entire meal, but the drink went right to her head. Josephine momentarily felt sad while looking at her poodle that Delilah could not have a cocktail. Delilah looked up at her mom, cocking her head as if to agree with Josephine’s thought that she would, indeed, be a fabulous drinking buddy. She absentmindedly rolled the ice around in the bottom of her glass, surprised that it was already empty.
At the same time that the flight attendant served her a second cocktail, Josephine’s seat-mate arrived. 2B was a well-built, buzz-cut man who had to crouch a bit to walk down the aisle, probably clocking in at 6’6” in his heyday. He sat in the aisle seat as Josephine scrambled to move her large coat and Delilah’s carrier as well as the giant bottle of Evian she’d purchased, her laptop bag and the four-inch binder of all of her mother’s medical receipts. He waited with a practiced patience.
2B had been sitting down for all of three minutes when Josephine’s second Bloody Mary found it’s way into her bloodstream, unleashing the chatty side of her that hadn’t spoken to a mentally competent adult, in person, in a month and a half.
Somehow, in between all of the things that Josephine had to say, she learned that her seat mate was ex-military and possibly special ops. She also got the feeling that he was one of those airplane marshals but he was being difficult (in her opinion) about revealing that information. Josephine was interested in his military training, his family life, and every single detail of his childhood when he told her that he had had a very long week and would have to close his eyes for the duration of the flight. Josephine was sad. She had also had a very long week, proving that she, as 1B, had even more in common with 2B than either of them could have known.
She and Delilah shared a look as the man reclined his seat and closed his eyes. With nothing to distract her, Josephine could not ignore her sciatica, a pain originating on the outside of her calf, shooting up through her leg to the middle of her butt cheek. She reached into her well-stocked carry-on to find something to sit on. Adding pressure to her bum often helped. The problem was that she hadn’t been able to exercise while at her mother’s. The lack of movement always did her in.
She fished a pill bottle out of her bag, placed it under her outer thigh, trying to roll away the pain without totally disturbing Delilah. It didn’t work and the poodle did not appreciate being reorganized. So Josephine did the obvious thing: she opened the pill bottle, split a Vicodin in half, and washed it down with the dregs of her second drink. The plane reached cruising altitude. The flight attendant delivered a two ceramic bowls of warm nuts. Josephine quickly devoured hers. This is when her belly reminded her of her lack of proper nutrition.
She glanced over at her seat mate. His body was as still as a Greek statue, his eyelids made not a flutter. His hands were perfectly motionless and relaxed, folded in his lap. Josephine made all of these mental notes while helping herself to his ceramic bowl of nuts. Delilah made a funny noise, deep in a doggy dream when Josephine realized that she had no one to talk to.
Enjoy this. She told herself. You haven’t had a moment to feel good in a very long time. And you have to hit the ground running tomorrow. Just relax.
Relaxing wasn’t the easiest thing for our heroine. Since she’d made her realization about the ‘average’ life, she’d gotten so good at pushing herself, she’d lost the muscle to hold herself back. Now that her children were grown and her business was solid, she tried, really, she did, to find time to go on walk and meditate and just stop and smell the flowers. But it wasn’t easy. Which is maybe where the cocktails came in.
Either way, she was determined to make the most of her two and a half hours in the air with no wifi and no responsibilities other than to get herself, Delilah, and both of their suitcases into an Uber when they landed. She fished her laptop out of her bag. In her head, she did this seamlessly. In reality, we think she bruised 2B’s kneecap with her computer.
As she opened it up to iMovies, the film she’d fallen asleep to blared through the speakers. It was a scene in Zack and Miri Make a Porno that had the entire first class cabin swivel their heads to look. Josephine was not going to apologize for being a massive Elizabeth Banks fan and fumbled with her EarPods to transfer the sound.
An hour and a half later, she was almost through with the movie and another drink when the turbulence started. Josephine grabbed the arm rest reactively, feeling the sciatic pain shoot up the outside of her leg. Figuring the other half of the pill would help with both the pain and the anxiety caused by the bumpy ride, she swallowed it too. And this is when she had to pee.
Delilah was less than thrilled to be woken up from a perfectly enjoyable dream in order to assist with this situation. She let out an annoyed growl at Josephine who interpreted the noise as Delilah not wanting to be put down. So she unclipped her seatbelt and carried her poodle with her into the tiny airplane bathroom . She may have stumbled. She may have knocked the empty nut bowl into 2B’s lap. She may have reached over the arm rest and retrieved it from his crotch herself. Luckily, he did not move.
Peeing in an airplane bathroom while holding a small animal while intoxicated proved as difficult as you can probably imagine. Josephine managed to pull down her skinny jeans. Skinny jeans make it hard to squat. But Josephine had lived a life of “hard to do” and hadn’t let an item of clothing come between her and her desired outcome before. So she shuffled her pants down her legs, bent her knees, and let it go.
We all know the pleasure of finally peeing after holding it for too long. And we all know what it feels like to get our feet wet. Hopefully, those two actions aren’t connected. In this particular scenario, unfortunately for Josephine, they were. In her haste or lack of sobriety or exhaustion or focus on her fur baby, she hadn’t noticed that the seat cover was down. And she’d peed four cocktails worth of urine all over it. DAMMIT.
Josephine frantically grabbed every paper product in the tiny lavatory to clean up her mess. She smooshed poor Delilah into the bathroom sink and tired to mop up the seat while the pilot came over the PA system to announce that he was turning on the Fasten Seatbelt sign and warn of more impending turbulence. She stuffed the wads of dirty paper towels into the trash, wiped off her jeans, washed her hands, and gave the dark mirror a smile, insisting that everything was fine. Delilah and Josephine made their way into their seat right as the plane took a sharp turn higher into the atmosphere. Josephine clutched Delilah. Delilah licked her owner’s wet pants. 2B remained motionless.
Josephine looked at her seat-mate, wishing he would wake up and distract her with military stories and reassure her that this bumpy flight was really no big deal and that he could take over and fly the plane if need be. But he didn’t move. They hit more turbulence and the nose of the aircraft went high into the sky, pushing all the passengers back into their seats. This is when Josephine noticed the liquid streaming out from under the door of the lavatory, running down the aisle. Huh.
She thought she’d cleaned up all the pee. All those weeks of caring for her elderly mother, all those bathroom wash-ups and spills and leaks and… all of it should have made her an expert at what happened in that little restroom. Apparently her lack of sobriety was a real thing. She stole a glance at the man next to her, so grateful that he was sound asleep and not awake to see the situation literally running by them. She tried to reach over and move his briefcase out of the way of the urine stream which had now found it’s way back to Economy.
The vessel bumped and jumped and shook all the way down to Newark Liberty International Airport. When they were safely on the ground and the cabin lights were illuminated, Josephine realized that she’d been holding her breath and clutching poor Delilah a little too hard. With impeccable timing, 2B opened his eyes.
Josephine smiled gratefully, equally happy to be alive and to have avoided all embarrassment with a man that, for all she knew, had captured Osama Bin Laden. 2B smiled back at her with the slightest amount of discomfort wafting through his face. This is when Josephine realized that she was leaning over him and staring into his eyes like a hypnosis treatment gone terribly wrong.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, trying to busy herself with her bag and her dog, all in uncomfortably wet pants that were, so thankfully, a very dark wash.
“It’s ok,” his voice and demeanor were like a blanket of calm, an energetic Bloody Mary mixed with a Vicodin, “that was some crazy turbulence.”
“It was,” agreed Josephine.
She managed to get off of the plane with Delilah in the dog carrier, retrieve her luggage from the carousel, and order an Uber to her apartment without any fanfare.
It wasn’t until she was home, getting out of a hot shower and putting moisturizing cream on her hands that she stopped her routine in shock. He stomach dropped to her toes… Some things take a minute to register...
2B knew that the plane ride had been crazy. He knew about the turbulence. He knew she was scared. This only indicated one thing: that he was awake the entire time. He knew about the stolen nuts and then the inappropriate retrieval of the nut container. He knew about the drinking and the pee and… Josephine scrunched her eyes closed in the way that only silent embarrassment can make you do. He WAS one of those marshals.
And then she sat on the floor of her bathroom and laughed till she cried. She laughed and cried about her pee and her mother’s pee and all the pee in her past and all the pee in her future. The trip had somehow come full circle. But, not quite.
She got into bed and then on her cellphone where she called Delta, complained about the turbulence, and got credited $147 for her flight. Josephine did not get her life by being average.