“We need a secondary screening!” the male TSA agent calls out over his shoulder. In a thick southern accent, he turns back to me: “It’s random, Ma’am.
I step into the scanning tube and place my feet on the yellow footprint markers – whoosh, whoosh.
You need a pat down, Ma’am,” the agent at the opening says. Then, calls out over his shoulder. “We need a female!”
We’re on our way back to California from a wedding in New York, followed by a business trip to Atlanta. I’m tired and cranky and feeling still a bit fragile since mom passed away two months ago.
A week earlier, I was in my therapist’s office.
“I can’t seem to calm down,” I told her, rearranging the soft blue and grey pillows on either side of me on her sofa. “I’m on-the-go at all times. It’s as if I can’t stop.”
“Because if you do…?”
“If I do, I might actually feel the loss of my mother.”
The room was silent.
“I’m exhausted,” I continued. “I mean, yesterday, I cleaned out the garage. The day before that, I made a couple of casseroles to freeze. The day before that, I organized the linen closet. It’s endless. And I don’t even like casseroles!”
I reached for the pad and pen on her coffee table, anything to keep my hands busy. “I need to find a way to calm down and feel the loss so I can cry and move forward.” I eyed her with my pen posed over the lined white pad. “Any suggestions?”
She recommended meditation.
“All I do is make lists in my head.”
“There are Apps to - ”
“Tried some,” I cut her off. “Didn’t work for me.”
“Being out in nature can be soothing.”
“You mean, like outdoors?”
“Yes. We’ve got The Huntington Gardens right here,” she smiled.
“I’m indoors-y. I feel good surrounded by concrete and skyscrapers.”
“How about Just Float? Some of my patients have found the experience relaxing. Maybe that will help you begin to feel.”
“That place where you float in a tank of saltwater? I’m not big on water.”
I booked an appointment for later that afternoon at Just Float, desperate to calm myself and let go.
Before going into the water, I had to watch a tutorial on an iPad at this so-called wellness center where “weightlessness awaits” in a private flotation tank filled with warm, clean, saltwater, also known as a “sensory deprivation chamber.”
The entry to the eight-by-four foot tank of water felt claustrophobic and submarine-like. Once inside, I lowered myself into a few feet of body-temperature water. I allowed my head to rest in the buoyant water and extended my legs like the woman in the metallic swimsuit in the video suggested. I cringed, reaching my hand up to my hair. Does saltwater strip away hair color? In minutes, the light dimmed and the soft music ceased.
As I floated aimlessly in the small, dark chamber, I had no sense of direction, making me anxious. Lying in the darkness, the only thing I could feel was the blister on my hammertoe despite the Vaseline I’d put over it to protect from the sting of the saltwater.
I tried to breathe slowly to relax like when I’m going through turbulence in an airplane. But there was no horizon to focus on to calm me. Only darkness. Then, my foot eerily bumped against one of the walls. This is soothing? I have no idea what direction my body is going in? I sat up and groped for the light, illuminating the water. Calm down, I commanded myself. Then, I lay back down and wondered how in the hell I was going to do an hour in this chamber of prescribed “sensory deprivation” and saltwater. As I floated, my face remained above the water line but not my ears. That’s when water seeped past the suggested earplug into my right ear. I sat up in a panic and reached for the door handle. I pulled it toward me. Nothing happened. My heartbeat raced. Am I locked in here? Through the muted lighting, I saw I needed to push it open. Ten minutes in, and I was done.
In the days that followed, I couldn’t get the water out of my ear. It became a daily reminder of my aborted attempt to calm down and address my feelings of loss.
So much of my life over the past ten years had been taken up with my mother’s care. My need to visit her often, to be therefor her. I was the dutiful daughter, mothering my own mother.
Oh, sure, there were times when it got to me when I would be exasperated with her demands. But she was always grateful, wanting to “repay” me with a watercolor that she’d painted. One day, she presented me with a little ceramic purse she’d painted in her crafts class before she couldn’t hold a brush anymore. “I know you love purses. This is the best I can do here.”
It all came to a screeching halt the day she passed away. I loved her. I miss her and now I don’t know what to do with myself.
The water was still swilling in my ears four days after my Just Float debacle. I visited my doctor, explaining what had happened and how I needed to let go and have a good cry.
Peering into my ear with his light, he said: “Whatever happened to a cocktail, a cigarette and a weekend in Palm Springs?”
I couldn’t remember that last time that I’d laughed that hard. “You are soright…”
It was as if my mother was speaking through him. She would have been the first to suggest that option. Still, the damn of emotions remained clogged.
At the New York wedding I just attended, a friend of mom's was there. She came up to me and continued to regale me with the wonderful and wild antics of my mother. “She was never dull. Remember when she sold her diamond engagement ring to find the next prospective husband in Italy?”
I smiled with her while touching Mom’s ring for strength (the one she hadn’t hawked), the one on my hand that she’d left me. Hold tight. I told myself.
In compliance, I walk over to the bubbled rubber mat. A young female TSA agent approaches. “You have any injuries? Sore parts of your body?”
“Your necklace is beautiful,” she says, through false eyelashes. “Where’d you get that?”
I bring my hand to my chest. “Oh, this gold pendant? I’ve had it a long time.”
She nods. “Would you like a private screen for the pat down I need to conduct?”
“No, thanks,” I answer her.
“What’s that on your necklace?” she asks. I dutifully turn around with my arms still extended.
“It’s my monogram. My mother’s is on the back.” I pause. “She passed away in July.”
“It’s so beautiful,” she says, as I turn back around to face her. “So, now you carry your mother wherever you go.”
She ushers me off of the plastic pad. “You’re free, honey. Safe travels.”
Beyond the TSA security screening area, I see my husband, Hank, holding my handbag and laptop case. He’d retrieved it from the belt.
I reach him in a few steps and my hand goes up to the pendant. I hold it to Hank. “I carry mom with me wherever I go,” I tell him. “That’s what the security woman just told me.”
And, there, right in the middle of Security at Hartsfield Atlanta Airport, on a business trip with my husband, the damn breaks and I finally let the tears flow.
At the gate, I pull out my boarding pass as we wait to board. Just then, I remember Mom telling my sister, April, that she wasn’t afraid of death.
“All my friends have done it, so it’s no big deal,” she’d said.
I wipe the tears away and break a smile, bringing my hand to my pendant. She’s with me alright.