My mom was a flight attendant, but I misunderstood. I thought she attended a plane that traveled through time. Just the same, the passengers needed free soda and peanut packets and a nice face to remind them to be brave. They needed my mom.
When she’d call home while on a trip she’d say, “It’s yesterday where I am,” or “It’s night here and the moon is nearly full” but in present day I was eating cheddar goldfish and watching a Donohue rerun afterschool. I grew up hearing: “Pacific Standard Time” and “Greenwich Mean Time” and “the Continental Divide.” Departures and arrivals aside, I knew time was malleable.
“You never admitted it,” I say to her now, a woman I have not seen since I was eighteen. We’re watching my brother—two years my junior at twenty-three—and his bride on the dancefloor slowly rocking through their first dance.
“That I could time travel? I’m a bad mom because I never told you I was a time traveler.”
I’d thought it was our secret. When I asked her if Noah’s Ark was smelly or whether dinosaurs were as scary in real life as they are in the books, she would act confused and say, “What are you talking about, honey?” I thought it was an act, a wink-wink. I used to brag to my friends about all the historical people my mom was meeting, even as they got older and stopped believing me.
“So it’s my fault you’re not happy, is what you’re saying.”
The song switches from Savage Garden’s “I Knew I Loved You” to “Tubthumbing” by Chumbawamba and the newlyweds break apart. His dancing is nearly all the the jut and thrust of his pelvis, hers mostly the pumping of her tits.
“I’m not unhappy just because I haven’t found someone to mime-hump on the dance floor.”
She swallows half a flute of champagne. “How’s art school? You’re studying painting?”
“I genuinely thought you were staying away because you were on these, like, missions. You were back in time making the world better for us in this time. That’s why I felt okay about it.”
“What did you want me to say, that I’d had lunch with Gandhi? That I’d found Amelia Earhart? Or maybe the truth? That your dad and I hated each other, and I’d fallen in love with Donnie. I didn’t set out to do it, you know.”
Other couples are standing now, heading to the dance floor hand-in-hand. My mom sets her glass down and reapplies her red lipstick.
“Now, let’s go be there for your brother,” she says and stands up from the table. “Coming?” She holds out a hand.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” I say because it’s really not an effort—reassuring someone with a lie.
Ricky Martin chants “Un dos tres” through the speakers, and people cheer. Someone throws a handful of confetti from a table centerpiece. I think of the explosion again, the day the space shuttle Challenger blew up, the spiraling white plumes. Watching the news with my sixth grade class, I conceded then that my mom wasn’t out there fixing anything or this would never have happened. So I wept along with the rest of the kids who must have thought I too was mourning the loss of the first teacher headed to space, an ordinary woman brave enough to do extraordinary things. They weren’t far off.