And then I see them. Three Penneys standing near the gate. Glancing my way, holding tickets, huddled together like the Three Stooges of badly dressed espionage. At first, I’m angry. And then the last words of the young Penney from before roar through my head. Just wait.
People continue to board until the waiting area is nearly empty. A few last-minute stragglers wander over, and several people rush to the ticket agent with their boarding passes, relieved not to have missed the flight. Finally, there are just the three Penneys and me. The ticket agent speaks to them. They remain near the desk but don’t board. One of the ticket agents comes up and tells me that it’s the last call for boarding. I tell her I get panic attacks and am not sure I’ll be flying tonight. I ask if everyone is onboard, and she gestures to the Penneys and says there are a few left but the flight is nearly fully boarded. I tell her I need a minute. Again, as before, I feel as if I am at some terribly important juncture. If I go, I might get arrested in Paris or Berlin. If I stay, I might get arrested here. If I go and don’t get arrested, all might be fine after a few rough days with Noah. If I stay here and somehow don’t get arrested, I will keep using. This I know.
So I stand up, turn away from the gate, and expect to get arrested. I look back once and see two of the Penneys walk over to see if I’m walking back toward security. I start heading out toward baggage claim. I know that I won’t make it to the taxi stand. I’m about to be swarmed with Penneys, police, airport security, and God knows who else.
I fish for my cell phone and see that it’s on its last bar, which is blinking red. I call my friend David. It’s after eleven, and his wife, Susie, picks up. I apologize. They are clearly in bed. David picks up, asks what’s going on. I tell him I’m about to get arrested for drugs at Newark Airport and that I need him to find a good lawyer. I’m probably shouting when I tell him he has to move fast because he shushes me and tells me to calm down, to just stay on the line and get in a taxi and come home. I tell him I’m not going to make it to the taxi, and then the line goes silent. The battery dies. I keep walking. No one is stopping me. I cross the departure terminal and into baggage claim. Suddenly the Penneys have all disappeared.
I walk through the automatic doors and cross the street. A taxi comes up. I get in. The driver asks, Where to? I say, One Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, but because I expect we’ll be pulled over before we leave the airport, I warn him it’s going to be a short ride.
I’m floating in a state of shock. Every second that passes, every inch the taxi moves forward without sirens and the glare of flashing lights seems like a miracle. Then it occurs to me that they’re all probably just waiting at the apartment. I ask the driver if I can use his cell phone. He passes it back, and I call David. I’m in the cab, I tell him, but I don’t know that we’ll make it to the building. He says he’ll meet me in the lobby and to calm down. I can picture the spectacle of police cars and unmarked DEA vehicles surrounding One Fifth, lights strobing and tenants’ faces lit with appalled interest. I wonder if Trevor, my favorite doorman, is on the desk tonight and what he’ll think when I get cuffed and carted off.
But there is no spectacle. Just David, with bed hair, bundled in a coat, waiting in the lobby. He looks exhausted and annoyed and says he’s spending the night. In the morning, we go to breakfast and he asks which rehab I want him to take me to and despite the grim concern I see on his face I answer, None.
We sit in the front window of a restaurant, on stools, and the day outside and everyone in it flashes like a taunt. This is a shiny world, I think, for the Davids and the Noahs, for people whose lives I can only see as unblemished and lucky. A place where I’ve been allowed a visit but cannot stay. A place I’ve already left.