It was early one morning toward the end of August. My ex-wife and I bundled our daughter into my old Saab, along with a trunk full of bags and suitcases, and left for JFK airport. At the time my ex-wife, Jane, and I lived around the corner from each other in one of the NewYork suburbs, about an hour's drive from the airport.
Our daughter was catching a 7 a.m. Jet Blue flight to San Francisco, heading back to California for her senior year in college.
The sun rose as we came to the end of the Hutchinson River parkway and climbed onto the Whitestone Bridge. "Good flying weather," I announced, as a few wispy clouds caught the first rays of light in the deep blue sky. We had a panoramic view of Manhattan off to the right of the bridge. Even though it had been three years since 9/11, the skyline still looked empty without the Twin Towers, especially on a day like today, with the sky so clear and blue.
Emily had made this trip to college a dozen times, and she knew the drill. I didn't want to have to park the car out in the lot, with a $15 charge and a 15 minute walk. So I would pull up to the Departures curb, Jane would rush into the terminal with Emily, get her settled, and then meet up with me to go back home after I drove around the airport loop.
As soon as we arrived at the Jet Blue terminal Emily jumped out of the car and ran around to the trunk to grab her bags. I opened my door, climbed out and helped her haul the suitcases onto the sidewalk. "Got your ticket?" I asked as she zipped a book into her carry-on.
"Yep," she affirmed.
"And your driver's license for ID?"
I helped her drag her bags up to curbside check-in, where Jane had gone to stand in line. Emily gave me a quick hug, and I turned to go. One of the traffic cops shot me a dirty look as I walked back to the car, idling at the curb, but I nevertheless stopped and looked over the roof of the car, taking a moment to watch Emily and Jane.
My ex-wife was short and a little hunched over. She had long blonde hair hanging down in front of her shoulders, covering part of her face. That was an intentional look. She liked to hide behind her hair. At that moment she was standing there, peering anxiously through her hair to the front of the line.
I caught sight of Emily, bent over a suitcase making last minute adjustments to her baggage. Emily was always in motion, doing two or three things at once. Her copper-colored hair -- the color it got from overexposure to chlorine in the swimming pool -- swung back and forth as she moved her head and shoulders. She looked purposeful, confident, eager to get on with school and life.
I opened the car door, slid into the front seat, yanked off the parking brake and started down the ramp from the Departures building. I drove out about three miles to the return lane next to the airport police station, then circled back to the Jet Blue terminal. By then, maybe eight or ten minutes later, Emily had disappeared inside the building and Jane was waiting for me at the curb.
She pulled open the door and climbed in the front seat. "So, everything went okay?" I asked her.
She didn't answer.
"Did you get Emily to the security gate?"
Still no answer.
"Is there a problem?" I pressed.
"No, everything's fine," she finally replied, staring straight ahead through the windshield. I checked the traffic and started to pull away from the curb.
Then she burst out crying.