T-minus 24 hours till lift off

6:00 a.m. We’re on the road. My uncle offered to drive us the four hours or so to Newark and deposit us in a hotel near the airport, where we’ll rest up before our flight the following morning. Mom came along for the ride too. Of course she did.

T-minus 24 hours

10:00 We’re near the airport, driving in circles. Missed a turn. We’re on some strange frontage road. Google Maps has us doing several figure 8s to reach the hotel, which, in theory, is less than 4 minutes away.

10:24 Arrive at hotel. Run to the bathroom to avoid rupturing bladder (shouldn’t have drank that last cup of coffee). Then I’m flagging down a porter to help us with our bags, while Dahlia checks us in. I should mention, Dahlia can’t lift anything for now, not more than five pounds anyway, doctor’s orders—an injury sustained at an inopportune time. Safe to say none of our bags weigh less than five pounds. I’ve anticipated this. My wallet is stuffed with baksheesh, which will soon be empty.

10:40 Bags deposited in our room. Porter tipped generously.

11:10 We say our goodbyes, first in the hotel room, then out in the hotel parking lot. Dahlia says we should wait by the curb, wave goodbye once more, so they can see us in the rearview as they drive off. Thoughtful. Not something I would think to do. I prefer a clean break. Hugs and kisses. Well-wishes and bon voyage! I don’t like to linger at the point of separation, would rather not dwell on the sadness in my mother’s eyes. But wait we shall.

11:20 Celebratory cocktails on the hotel lobby.

12:17 Back in our room, lounging on our bed with the Dog of Destiny. I check in for the flight. Shower. Rest. Watch a little TV. Try to read a book as my eyes grow heavy.

2:20 We take the pooch for a stroll around the hotel parking lot, looping the building several times. We take our time, all the time the Dog of Destiny desires to sniff and water the bushes, a little exercise, a little fresh air—to assuage our guilt perhaps—before her long journey across the Pacific.

3:10 We order room service, an early dinner. We order chicken tenders for the Dog of Destiny—again the guilt. I eat half my over-priced, over-cooked turkey burger. Dahlia picks at hers. We watch Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

5:35 Another round of circumambulating the hotel with the Dog of Destiny.

6ish Bed time. I’m lying awake, for hours just lying there. I should do something, read something at least, but I just lay there—I can’t shut it off. Too many things to think about. Dahlia’s out cold. The dog is too.

T-minus 12 hours

Midnight The alarm—God, I hate that sound. I’m up and in the shower, dressing and waking Dahlia.

12:35 We take the Dog of Destiny for her final walk.

1:15 We call for luggage assistance. A porter helps me with our baggage to hotel lobby, where we wait for an airport shuttle. Dahlia checks us out. I check the time. Plenty of time. I check it repeatedly until the shuttle arrives.

1:50 Hop off shuttle, ready for action, only to realize it’s the wrong stop. Sheepishly get back on.

1:53 Hop off shuttle again. Unload bags and look around. It’s deserted, tumbleweeds down the street deserted. Of course it is. It’s 2 o’clock in the fucking morning. But it’s the time we were told to be here—four fucking hours early—to check in the Dog of Destiny.

2:00 I leave Dahlia and the Dog of Destiny with the bags piled by the curbside, just outside the terminal doors, and set off to find United’s PetSafe counter, the place we’re supposed to be. It’s supposed to be open 24hrs (I double- and triple-checked this). It’s closed. The lights are out. The door’s locked. No one’s around. Fuck, fuck, fuck… Our flight is at 6; we need to check in too!

2:15 I locate the United cargo office, discover I’m supposed to check in the Dog of Destiny there. Great. But not for another hour. Cue the frustration. I note the woman helping me (and I use that word generously) is afraid of dogs, does not seem appreciate the Dog of Destiny wagging her tail at her, a bit too aggressive perhaps—menacing, frightening she is. This does cause some concern. This is the person responsible for my dog’s welfare?

2:38 United PetSafe receives a call from an angry customer.

2:43 We are now, quite suddenly, allowed to check in the Dog of Destiny. I sign the necessary paperwork, put her in the kennel, and say goodbye. We won’t see her for another week.

T-minus 3 hours

3:30 We finally track down a porter help us with our bags.

4:10 Baggage check in. There is an issue with the number of our bags. We are supposed to get four free bags, plus an additional two free, since we used our United credit card for book our flight (I had double- and triple-checked this in advance). Nine bags in total, we expected to pay for three, at $200 per bag. Now it looks like we’ll be shelling out a grand for five bags. A spirited debate ensues. We lose. And I’m looking at the clock. Less than two hours to get to our get gate, about an hour till boarding time, and we still have to go through security.

4:20 Security. Shoes off. Electronics out of the bag. Water bottles empty. No liquids. Nothing in our pockets. We got this. Old hat security theater—balderdash, a complete charade, but fine, do whatever you have to do. My bags are flagged. All the electronic devices you said? including the camera? cameras plural? the external hard drive too? and the toiletry bag that contains no liquids? Well, okay then. Bag back through the scanner once again. I tap my foot, look at the clock. Come on, come on already. Dahlia just shakes her head. At least you didn’t get the pat down this time, I can hear her saying it. In reality, she’s just standing there with that look.

4:50 We finally arrive at our gate. I’m still putting my belt back on. I run to buy some water, some snacks, and then..

5:00 We board.

T-minus 1 hours

We settle into our seats. Put on compression socks. Get out books, headphones, neck rests, everything readily accessible, the rest under the seats in front of us or stowed in the overhead storage. And then we wait. And then ignore the various announcements that do not matter and avoid getting hit by careless bag-wielding passengers and peruse the movie selections and read several paragraphs of the books we brought. And then make the obligatory call to parents. We made it. We’re on the flight. Yep, waiting to take off. Everything’s good to go. Goodbye yet again. And then switch on “airplane mode” and scroll mindlessly through social media. And then we wait some more.

And we did one more thing, the only thing I was concerned about at this point. We flagged down a flight attendant and inquired about the Dog of Destiny. Had she been boarded? Could they double-check? And please, could they remind the captain she’s on board? Thank you.

T-minus 0 hours

Lift off.

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