Wednesday, May 26, 2010

From Heaven to Hell on American Airlines

I'll probably burn in hell for this.  I'm hiding from Elizabeth.  She doesn't deserve it, but I need a break. 

Face it.  She's demanding.  I know she can't help it, but dang!  How many times can I review her flight plan with her?

Elizabeth has Apert's Syndrome.  It's a rare condition with a constellation of unfortunate physical and mental symptoms.  First, and most notable, her head is misshapen. 

Remember that old cartoon where the witch is sitting in front of the mirror in the haberdashery?  She's trying on pointy hats for Halloween.  The sales girl standing above her delicately places a hat pin in the topmost point of the hat.  "Ouch!" says the witch.

That would be Elizabeth.  When she wears her pilled-up red felt cowboy hat with the sequins glued around the brim, her head looks pretty normal.  But when the hat flies off in a gust of wind, it reveals that her peaked head fills the uppermost regions of the hat.  Straggly wisps of oily hair do little to disguise the fact.

Her face is distorted too.  Poor Elizabeth!  She's our Quazimoto.  Porcine nose almost always free flowing.  Two middle fingers on both hands are fused into one finger.  One hairy knuckle, one fingernail. 

Her squat little body, or should I say fuselage, is always cloaked in her gray American Airlines jacket.

Elizabeth comes to me on the quad every day now.  Every brunch.  Every lunch.  She finds me to review her flight plan.  It goes like this:  First she stands in front of me and proudly taps the AA logo with the oversized middle finger of her right hand.  "Do you know what this stands for?" 

I used to say, "American Airlines" and it pleased her.  She smiled at me and we talked about how the turbulence caught her on her flight to Miami.  She had to make an emergency landing in Houston where they cleared the debris from her engines and she was on her way in no time!

Day after day we replayed the scenario:  American Airlines; Miami; turbulence, debris.  I asked her to be sure:  "Elizabeth, are you the pilot, or the airplane?"  "I'm the airplane!  I'm a 747!  I was on the runway with those other planes and they couldn't beat me.  I'm the fastest one!  I have red, white, and blue painted all over my fuselage!"

"Are you the stewardess?" she asked, eyeing me as though dubious of my qualifications.  "No, I'm Air Traffic Control," I said.

The bell rang and with that she wanted clearance for take off.  "747, cleared for takeoff!"

"Roger!" and off she flew to her classroom, arms atilt and backpack flapping.

She brought me two pieces of construction paper the next day.  One gray and shaped like a submarine with three stripes running the length in red, white, and blue pastel chalk.  The other is the AA logo, red and blue on white paper. 

On about the 200th day she approached me and tapped the AA logo I became perverse.  "What does this stand for?" she said. 

"Alcoholics Anonymous?"  "No."

"Aardvarks and Apples?"  "No."

"Artichokes and Anchovies?"  "No!" 

I could have gone on and she sensed it.  "American Airlines!" she declared with a little pat of her foot.

Students scuffled in the cafeteria one day.  Elizabeth said she was taking on fuel so she didn't see everything.  But she dwelled on it.  She worked it into the routine for weeks.  Did I see what happened?  Neither did she.  She was taking on fuel when all of a sudden, pow!  "So I just took off!"

Mucus forms a shiny sheet between her nose and upper lip.  I began carrying tissues for this reason.  Now when I hand one to her, she smears and smears, only to have it begin again. 

One of our campus supervisors observed this ritual day after day.  She called me on the walkie talkie from across the quad.  "You're going straight to heaven, you know." 

"Do you think so?"

"Oh yeah, for all these conversations, you've got a straight shot!" 

But today, behaving like the adolescents I serve, I am hiding from Elizabeth.  I'd just like to complete my lunch supervision without the pre-flight itinerary.  

It's not that hard to elude her.  Believe me, I know her routine.  So I move from my usual, highly visible spot, just to the left near a cinder block pillar supporting the overhang.

She comes out of the cafeteria at 12:40pm and lands exactly where we usually stand.  Not seeing me, she's flustered.  She begins a systematic scan of the area, turning quadrant by quadrant.  When it's time to scan in my direction, I step behind the pillar.  Like a light house beacon she turns again.  With that, I step into the cafeteria and relax.  She won't look in here.  She's already been here.  We always talk outside.

"Mrs. Plath!"  A group of students beckons me and I'm off to lighthearted conversation about Senior Ball.  Am I going?  Will I dance?  So much normal fun!

Then, from the corner of my eye, I can see her, taxiing closer.  She found me.  Darn.  As I turn toward her the other students peel away, and it's just Elizabeth and me again.

"Mrs. Plath!  I was looking for you!"

"You found me Elizabeth."  I hope it didn't show too much, my weariness.

"I just wanted to tell you, Mrs. Plath, thanks for everything."