In three days I will be in line at LAX, waiting to be screened for my flight to New Zealand. I will be terrified. Yes, I have flown before, but airport security always scares me. Standing in line, having them peruse my ticket and my passport always feels like sitting there in that big chair in the principal’s office.
When I was in the eighth grade I was caught cheating on a test. It was the first and last time I ever cheated. The teacher sent me to the principal’s office and as I write this that cold, hard ball of fear settles in the pit of my stomach. It has been many years, but I remember what the office smelled like (a combination of plants, Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion and some sort of minty after shave. To this day, after shave still makes me want to throw up). I sat on the narrow bench waiting to see the principal. I don’t even remember what he looked like, or who he was. Which is peculiar. I think I blocked the memory. I know he called my father, at work, and my father had to come down and pick me up. He was a sergeant in the Army. To say that he was unhappy was an understatement.
Looking back, it was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me in my young life. I never again tried to cheat, at anything, ever. It wasn’t that I was worried about getting caught. My father took me home and sat me down. He was not a gentle man, but I saw softness in his eyes. With intensity, he looked and me and said, “You’re better than that. You don’t need to cheat. Cheaters never prosper, but more importantly, they can’t look themselves in the eye in the mirror. You have one thing that no one can take away from you. It is yours to lose. Your integrity is who you are.” And then he left my room, closing the door softly.
We never spoke of it again.
But as I stand in line waiting for airport security to use their funny little light pens to make sure I am legitimate, as I divulge myself of my personal effects, and they run through the x-ray for all to see, as I walk through the metal detector, I hold my breath. I am afraid.
T, who is leavin' on a jet plane