We were 40 minutes away from landing into Manchester when Zack with his shiny new smile announced he had left his post-brace retainer on his meal tray. Three meal services, 696 trays and 13 hours ago to be precise.
Up until that moment I had kept it together. My Qantas card, black and shiny had parted the seas and given me an empty seat on either side. I had worked hard at trying to relax, doing silent OMs, drinking Shiraz as it was 5o’clock somewhere and batting off those that tried to sleep in the empty seats next to me.
Having an aisle seat works wonders to stop the arguments so we all sit separately on long flights. This confuses the cabin crew who try to move us each flight but I assure them we are normal and don’t really hate each other. Before take off I firmly reminded Zack and Joel, our identical twin boys and their 15 year old sister Elise to keep their retainers in their mouths or in their boxes, clipped shut. But Zack, engrossed in his movie had pulled it out, leaving a trail of saliva like a snail across his tray, and forgotten about it.
‘I cannot believe that you have done that!’ I simmered like a volcano ready to erupt. ‘Why didn’t you listen to me?’ I had the attention of the bored passengers around me, eager for new entertainment. I was seething at his carelessness and ready to ignite, the fuse had been lit. I fought my way like a ticking time bomb through the pre-landing queues for the toilets. I was aiming for the galley, where the crew were busy preparing for landing.
I am that annoying passenger you will want to hate, I thought as I shouted above the din, ‘ Excuse me, but my son left his retainer on his tray during the first meal service.’
One of the girls looked up and we eyed each other like a bull and its matador.
‘I can help look through the trolleys?’ I offered politely.
Caught between two worlds
It was 15 days before Christmas and we were on the second leg of the long trek home. We had moved over two years earlier from Malaysia to Adelaide and still not fully unpacked or settled. Renovating our house had taken its toll and moving out to another temporary address for the last four weeks had further crumbled our unsteady foundations. Adelaide had us gripped in its jaws and wasn’t done shaking us yet.
End of tradition
In the previous October Mum had announced she felt unable to cope with Dad and his increasing dementia in the air signaling an end to their annual six weeks in the sun. It would be a lonely Christmas for us. Dad’s slide into dementia had been a slow one but now I sensed he was fading fast. I was terrified he would soon no longer recognize us. With this in mind I made the difficult decision to make the trip back to see them. Andy resigned himself to stay behind in an effort to kiddy up the builders and get the job done. I had lived without Andy before and would do so again I was sure.
The crew displayed true dedication and I gave thanks for the small miracle that had occurred when Zack’s retainer was found jutting out beneath his half eaten bread roll. I sat down and sighed with relief, we were all intact once more, apart from Andy. Snow had blanketed the north of England and my three teenagers, in their excitement to see it, piled on top of me towards the window, craning their necks to get a view. Their one wish for Christmas had come true.
Why then did I feel in limbo? I wanted so badly to feel excited, relieved to be back where I had started my life. I wanted it to wrap its arms around me and say welcome back we have missed you, but it didn’t, it had moved on without me and I had moved on without it. The home we were creating in Adelaide would get finished, the dusty pieces of home would come out of the boxes. Then what? Would I feel like I belonged then? No of course not. Home is not a place, home is feeling everything is right on the inside and that can happen just anywhere.
Over the following few days, I felt like an outsider in my own life. Conversations seemed to float past, rather like the clouds I watched periodically from the plane window. I felt distant. Neither here nor there. Just as Zack’s necessary retainer had been buried among hundreds of meal trays, I too felt lost, abandoned without mine. Andy is my retainer, not the place I once called home.