In which Jerry, Eva, and Buzz's dying father fly to New York City
September 21, 1968
While my mother imagined her husband's imminent passing would be a dignified occasion calling for the somber elegance of funeral weeds, the protracted process of his dying annoyed her. She was convinced he was trying to spite her with his constant sniffling. Well, she thought, if he's going to be so childish I'll just have to treat him like a kid! She pushed a handkerchief in his face in an attempt to get him to blow his nose instead of sucking in. "You're only feeding it," she'd say. "Let it come if it's hungry," he'd say between sniffles, "I'll go quicker that way." She looked to the Rorschachs of his neatly folded handkerchiefs for some explanation as to why God was punishing her, but the blood-and-snot angels and butterflies she saw there just grew hard and dark as they dried.
When they first hit turbulence the seatbelt sign was illuminated. As it got worse the no smoking sign came on and the stewardesses were asked to strap themselves in. When the plane dropped into an air pocket, giving the passengers a nauseating sensation of weightlessnes, the oxygen masks were released.
"Just in case," the captain crackled over the intercom, trying his best to sound calm. But my father was glad to put his mask on. The combination of the sweet pure oxygen and the drugs he was taking for his multiplying maladies lulled him into that half-conscious state between insomnia and dreams where he fantasized the plane slipping into the ocean like a hypodermic needle to deliver death's anaesthesia. He'd wince when they broke the water's skin but he was now used to needles and the prospect of a watery grave was a pleasanter prospect than the string of futile operations which awaited him in America, each successive one to be more radical than the last even as there was less and less of him worth saving.
Water dripped on my mother from overhead. She had flown through storms before in antiquated Aeroflot prop planes where the scream of the engines and the pelting of hail on the thin aluminum fuselage had been more fearsome than the insulated white hum of the 747 within which, despite the buffeting, she felt secure and snug. She felt especially detached from what was going on because she had temporarily lost her hearing due to the change in pressure during ascent, a sensitivity I would inherit. She looked down on what she thought was the ocean, the moonlight bright on the rippled surface. She thought she heard the muted rhythm of the surf, but that was just her pulse surging in her clogged ears.
Most of the other passengers had assumed the fetal tuck of the crash position, prayed with heads bowed and listened to this test of the plane's tolerances the way immigrants in seafaring times tried to decipher the sounds their ships made straining against wind and wave. The only thing which worried my mother was the dripping water which she feared was rain. Jerry pointed down and said above the clouds there could be no rain. Besides, the cabin was pressurized, there could be no leak from the outside; he postulated that it had to be condensation from the cabin climate control system.
She shook her head because she couldn't hear his explanation, so he tried to reassure her with a gesture: He cupped his hand and laid it across her moist lap, catching the drip in his upturned palm.