The sense of dread that began with Becky's email pressed Gillian Short deep into her seat as passengers filed past her down the aisle, a line of eye-rubbing yawns and bouncing impatience.
Gillian lifted the clasp on her still-tight seat belt. Her next moves should be simple: stand up, grab her carryall from the overhead bin, and start her trip. That's what everyone else was doing with ease.
But they weren't spending five days with her sister.
A young mother leaned across the aisle as she slid her sleeping infant into the sling across her chest. "Are you okay?"
Gillian adjusted her glasses and sighed. The answer bounced around inside her head. No. I'd rather be anywhere but here. But the words wouldn't come out. What sort of person wasn't excited about a family wedding?
The young mother slung a bag over her shoulder and grabbed the hand of her patient toddler.
Gillian's impolite silence filled the space where an answer should have gone. She changed the subject—a tried-and-true reflex.
"You have beautiful children. Do you need any help?"
"No, but thanks for offering. Have a great day." She grabbed a tiny backpack with her free hand and took her brood down the aisle.
Gillian shook her head in amazement. I wish I was a mom like that. When the boys were young, just wrangling them into high chairs seemed to require military precision and a week's worth of planning. Flying them anywhere would have been out of the question. Perhaps it was even now. Sure, the boys were older, but just thinking about the havoc they could wreak brought out a cold sweat.
The ratchet in her stomach clicked tighter.
Gillian pulled out her phone. Becky hadn't texted—yet. The siren song of Facebook, a song she could never deny, called to her. A flood of wonderful achievements flew past as she thumbed through holiday photos from afar and quotes designed to inspire her to greatness, ironic hashtags and political insights into how to fix a broken world, and photos of smiling families doing life together. The best of everyone. Facebook asked what was on her mind, a question she never answered with complete truth. Had a great flight, now here for the wedding! Gonna have an amazing time! The self-loathing washed over her the second her finger posted this sculpted thought into life.
The cabin was empty of people and full of stale air. She was stalling.
Gillian sighed hard and stood.
After being summoned by her sister's email, she had made it. You simply have to be here for your niece's wedding. Jessica is the first grandchild to marry, the whole family is coming, and goodness knows you haven't seen most of them in a while.
It had been a whirlwind few days, organizing her husband so the boys could cope without Mom for three days and filling the freezer so they wouldn't starve.
She reached into the overhead bin for her large, floral carryall, and the ratchet in her stomach gripped her again. It had tightened the closer she got to her old hometown, and the turbulence hadn't helped. Some time away from the madhouse at home should have brought peace and some relief. Time to step outside an unrelenting schedule to catch up. Time to breathe. Time to enjoy the celebration and the closeness of family. But the whisper arose again in her ear. It had begun with Becky's email and persisted ever since.
You just need to get through it.