Traveling to London: Non-Traditional Families

My sister, Dominique, her husband George, Dave and I

Last week I found myself sitting in the Salt Lake City airport waiting for our departing flight. I was excited to learn that Dave and I had been upgraded to first class. My period had started hours before and I was excited to have a more comfortable flight.

We were traveling through Houston and then on to London. We arrived at the airport early.  I pulled out my phone to see that my sister, Brenda❤️, had texted me, wishing me safe travels. (She and I texted the entire way ❤️.) I responded and then began scrolling and decided to respond to my friend who asked,

“You have a sister?”

“Actually, I have three.”

My sisters

I thought about her question as I tried to respond to my brother-in-law, who was texting me at the same time. A few days earlier I sent Dave’s family the following text: 

“Dave was speaking with his doctor recently about having trouble sleeping. She mentioned that long term Benadryl use may contribute to dementia. She also mentioned that Benadryl can trigger restless leg syndrome. (You don’t need to use Benadryl long term to impact RLS). Anyway, your mom has mentioned to me that for quite some time she took Benadryl twice a night (something like that). She also mentioned struggling with really bad restless leg syndrome. I hope it is ok that I share this information with you. At the risk of offending you, I have pushed it off — for months. [Yet] the thought to share [it with you] keeps coming back. So I am doing it now. Please know I do care about your mom. I also feel a lot of compassion for the Adams’ Family delayed sleep phase issues ❤️. 

Anyway, I hope life is good. ❤️

much love, Beth”

NOTE: Experience has taught me that when I reach out to my in-laws, typically all the non-genetically related spouses respond, (which we usually acknowledge and then share some wonderful laughter). Occasionally I get a terse response. Eventually, the group text goes off the rails and my brother-in-law, who is married to Dave’s sister, begins texting me privately. True to our pattern, I received a “yup” from Dave’s sister and an accusation of being a gaslighter, “possibly” a non-intentional gaslighter, from Dave’s brother-in-law. In his defense, I was the first to ask a question. Of course, because I was raised to believe everything is my fault, I whipped out a frustrated, over-explain-y response. Because we were about to board a plane, I stopped texting so I could use the airport bathroom one last time. As I walked through the bathroom, I noticed that someone left their cellphone in a stall. When I returned to our gate, I observed that another woman abandoned her luggage near our boarding gate. September flying always makes me a little jittery. (I imagine I am not the only one.) I mulled my concerns over with Dave and then reported the abandoned luggage to the gate agent, who promptly thanked me and added,

“this is a weird time of year.”

“Yes it is!”

Within seconds, the gate agents made the announcement for us to line up and the plane began to board. Dave and I were in group one. We stood in line. Then everything came to a screeching and underwhelming stop. Announcement after announcement stated that our plane had mechanical problems. At that, Dave and I found a place to sit, which was also far away from the luggage abandoner. (Obviously, I had to make sure I would not get blown up from her suitcase bomb). Now forty-five minutes later everyone who had already boarded the plane was asked to deplane. Another hour went by and our beautiful, perfect-seats flight to Houston was canceled. Dave immediately hopped on the phone with United Airlines. I used the bathroom (again) and then decided to get in the long re-ticketing line. I stood near Ronny (a trucker and a farmer from Baton Rouge) and ZadRienne (like Adrien) from a small town in Georgia. (We are now Facebook friends and this was her second time on a plane.) After Ronny asked ZadRienne to put her mask over her nose (great ice breaker), we spent the next hour (and probably way more) discussing canceled flights, the pandemic, things like people who refuse to get vaccinated, and all the trucking accidents on along Interstate 80’s  Parley’s Canyon section. In truth, we spent the bulk of the time deconstructing the recent news story about missing (at the time) Gabby Petito and her boyfriend (still missing) Brian Laundrie. Ronny and I were convinced Gabby was dead. (Sadly, as the world now knows, they found Gabby’s body a few days after I arrived in London.) Ronny is a father of girls. I have sons and Z had just left her boyfriend (they had traveled from Georgia to SLC together). We all felt like we had skin in this dysfunctional relationship game. We talked about appearances. We talked about consent. We talked about the need to say no. We talked about emotional abuse and how dudes are really clever at appearing like the good guys. We wished the Utah police had arrested Gabby for scratching her way back into her van. Personally, I understand the frustration of “scratching” when you have had your worth beaten out of you. We also spent a lot of time talking about all the missing people, the ones who are not getting the same attention as blond-haired Gabby was. It is heartbreaking, and honestly, this conversation regarding domestic violence rattled me. Eventually, I motioned Dave to come over. Soon the gate agent was directing us to another gate.

“Run. Run. They can help you. I told them you are coming,” She said.

We ran. At the instruction of the gate agent, Z followed me. Now at the new gate, the gate agents were boarding another plane at the other gate. Everyone was confused as to why we were there. I helped Z get her new ticket. “This is only her second flight.” I told the gate agent. As I said goodbye to Z, we realized my and Dave’s flight (now to Chicago) was boarding at the gate we just left. Dave panicked:

“What about our luggage?” Will it make it to London?”

A male gate agent heard Dave, pulled out his radio, said something into his radio and ran away to do something — hopefully find our luggage. The gate agents confirmed we were on the flight to Chicago. In all the chaos, we realized that the door was about to close for our flight. At once I hear Dave:

“Beth, we aren’t checked in.”

The agents checked. We were not checked in and we lost our seats (again). Ally, (now I remember her name), the gate agent asked us to take a deep breath. We talked about the importance of being nice as she, Dave and I ran to our gate. Dave was clearly upset and struggled to contain his emotion. Ally kept assuring all would be ok. Now back at our original gate, the gate agents said,

“we only have one first class seat. Who do you want to have it?”

Dave was halfway on the plane and I said, “Give it to him.”

Right then Ronny walked over. “Are you ok?”

I think I said something like, “We are about to miss our flight. They forgot to check us in. I don’t know if we have our luggage. I am sorry, We have to go. It was nice meeting you.”

The gate agents asked me to, “hurry, hurry,” and I ran to my seat.

For approximately thirty seconds I was relieved to discover that no one was sitting next to me. I felt even better when the flight attendants announced, “Everyone has boarded the plane, We are going to shut the door and take off.” Usually this announcement signals that everyone is in their correct seats. Unfortunately, before they finished the sentence a large, partially-masked man plopped himself next to me and then let his body drift into my seat. Ew! I knew this wasn’t his seat. I wanted to tell him that I knew this was not his seat. Instead, I sat silent and began thinking:

“Dude, I had to take a Covid test to enter the United Kingdom. I have to take another Covid test two days after entering the country. AND, I may have to take another Covid test due to my flight delay! Put your damn mask on! Stop letting your big man-body touch mine!”

At that, I intently side-eyed him. He looked back at me and put his mask on, at least briefly. Gah! Perturbed, I decided to calm myself by scrolling through my messages. (Bad decision!) My brother-in-law texted again [insert big eye’d emoji here]. I have since deleted our entire text chain. I also took pictures of said chain — just in case. (Ask me about why I throw desserts away in the outside trash can. Deleting this text thread uses the same principle.)
Now confined and crammed up against the airplane window waiting for the plane to actually take off, I decided to deconstruct my interaction with my brother-in-law (in my head, of course):

Maybe it was because I had spent an hour talking about emotional and physical abuse. Maybe it was because the large man next to me felt entitled to sit where he did not belong. Maybe it was because I felt my brother-in-law’s tone was patronizing. In that claustrophobic moment, I did not like the (contemptuous) way I feel Dave’s family tends to see me. It was also clear that nothing I did would change that. Then I realized that I did not need to explain. Whatever was enabling my current emotion, I decided I needed a boundary. I needed to say no. I sent him a text and the plane took off.

(*Another time we were waylaid in Chicago)

Now in Chicago, it was late and our luggage was nowhere to be found. Dave and I knew the next day we would have to buy some clothes and supplies like tampons. I texted my sister, Dominique. She and her family live in Chicago. Then my mom asked if I was going to text her. Dave and I found a United airport lounge and spoke with Linda, who reminded me of my friend Carrie’s mom who is also named Linda and is just as sweet. Linda found us a hotel, gave us some meal vouchers, which were problematic to use (not her fault), told us to get some food upstairs and when we finished, she walked us out so we would know where to go. We talked about traveling. I told her I loved her hair color. She said it was Nice and Easy and was actually easy to do. She told us about solo travel and that she wants to visit the UK soon. We talked about Cornwall, the tiny UK country roads and our love of seeing the world. Then we were off to our hotel. On the shuttle we met newlyweds traveling home from their honeymoon. They were also supposed to be on the canceled Houston flight. In our room we heard the methodical bang of a headboard hitting the wall. I wondered if it was the honeymooners.

In the morning my sister, Dominique, texted me. She is actually my step sister. I have one biological sister and two step sisters. When my mom married their dad, they had this genius idea to separate the biological sisters from each other. (It was a terrible idea.) See, we were newly baptized Mormons and according to the LDS church we were now one big happy family. So from age one until age eighteen I shared a room with Dominique. We are very different from each other. She is tall and I am not. I cannot sit still. She is very talented and can sit still for days. She knits, sews, crochets, owns a tattoo/art studio, just had a fundraiser for Afghan refugees. She is married to a super rich hedge fund dude. She recently bought a house in Sedona to go with her 9,000 square foot home in Chicago. (I know it is 9,000 square feet because she volunteered to tell me a few times how big it was.) She complimented me for living in such a small house and seemed disappointed when I told her it was larger than she thought it was. A couple of years ago she commented on Instagram that I lived a “really charmed life.” Maybe it was the irony of her words that hit me wrong, or maybe it was because she and I were misaligned from the start. I never knew where to set the pain of our orchestrated relationship. I have not seen her since 2014 (at our family reunion). 

I love her ❤️ and I feel for her too. For starters, she had to share a room with afraid-of-the-dark, needs-her-blankie, short-tempered, rambunctious loves to run, plays-in-the-woods-with-boys me. Our relationship is strained, complicated and one neither asked for, but were given. I also care about her and I love her. I could write a book on us. One day I probably will, or at least, that is what I hope.

Somewhere in her text thread she said,

“George and I would really love to see you both. So if it means coming to you, we can do that.” A few texts later she said, “I’m trying to make up for so many lost times.”

At that, Dominique and I (George and Dave too) were spending the day together. We spent much of our day at some weird outlet mall near the airport. Dominique kindly waited as I looked for clothes. She assured me several times that she was there to help me. She wanted me to know they wanted to spend the day with us. She told me her very favorite trips ever is one she and George took with Dave and me. We took them touring throughout Southern Utah. It really was a fun trip. I was overwhelmed and not sure how to take in all of her generous energy. Like I said, our relationship is complicated. When Dave left his jacket in the mall, she sweetly suggested that they could wait in the super hot parking garage as we looked for it. I listened to her stories about her kids, her life and her business. I asked her about the tattoo on her arm. She talked about it being a work in progress. Dave suggested kebabs because he always suggests kebabs. George found a crazy Lebanese place about twenty-five minutes from the airport. They treated us to what was listed as a “dinner for 5.” I kept saying it was a dinner for fifty! We all laughed. At Target, she and I looked at pajama bottoms. She was like, “wait, that is not the fabric you like.” When Target didn’t have the fabric I like, she talked about fabrics she liked and that maybe they would work for me. I tried on a man’s tan zipper sweatshirt. I could not find any zip-up hoodies in the women’s section. I am pretty sure Dominique didn’t like her short sister in a man’s sweatshirt. She gently asked,

“Do you like sweatshirts so long?” Regardless, she was very nice and said, “I like the color.”

I was certain once we arrived at the airport that Dave and I would be out the door of their Tesla, the one with the crazy doors. Nope. Dominique found a parking spot. As we sat in their car, we visited and reminisced. Soon it was time to go. We gathered our things, took a few photos and they walked us to our terminal. I can’t say that things are exactly healed. I can’t say when we will see each other again. What I can say is that it was a good day. On this September day, she completely leaned in and was the best sister I could ask for. It felt good to be loved and for someone to consider me.

Dave and I arrived at our gate. I want this flight-to-London story to be over as much as you. I promise we once again had excellent seats. As we were standing in line to use our United meal vouchers, Dave’s phone alerted him that we were upgraded. Sadly, we lost our good seats and were in the middle seats of an “upgraded” section. I lost my mind, or at least I believe I had. We walked to the gate. The gate agent looked at us like we were crazy and made sure we knew he had no time for us crazy folks. I began to cry. He stared blankly.

“You can’t have your seats back. What do you want to do? I need you to get out of this line. I have other people to help. What do you want to do?”

I walked away, still crying. Dave followed. I flipped out and demanded Dave sit down and then I yelled at him. (*No autopilot in marriage: we still have worked to do ❤️.) Everything was wrong: one of us was sitting in one section and the other in another section. I asked Dave to see if he could get the gate agent to put us in the same section. We walked and gave the agents our tickets. One ticket had our new seat scribbled on it. We ended up in the upgraded middle seats. As we each climbed into our respective middle seats, a man seated next to Dave, who was sitting in the aisle said,

“Woah! I saw you two go at it out there. Are you ok?”

We assured him we are the kind of couple that puts it all out there. (Meaning, Dave does not put on a veneer of calm and wait to beat me at home.) Then the people in the section rallied for Dave and me. They said they were sorry we had such a crappy flight. Everyone was kind. Everyone seemed to get that we had already had a long journey. Our little section of our United flight Chicago – London restored my faith in humanity. So did my sister, Dominique. Before the flight took off, Dave asked the woman to his left if I could sit next to him. She was like,

“No problem,”

and offered to take my middle seat. I moved to the seat next to Dave. We held hands and were glad to (finally) be on our way.

We arrived in London the next morning. We were tired and happy to be here. 

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