So, Tricia began her second post about Skies the same way I’d been planning to start mine: with a screen shot of my Tweet about my reactions to the story so far. In a nutshell, I am incredulous, flabbergasted, astonished, and gobsmacked. My answers to her questions about what caused me to drop a “WTF” on Twitter (where, btw, Just Dad follows me) are, “Yes”, “Yes”, “Yes, but more so the hijacker who wanted to deliver one semi-automatic weapon to the people of North Vietnam to ‘help’ them out”, “Most definitely, especially about what kind of training she received in how to deal with hijackers”, and “No, because I haven’t seen it. But if there’s a Glee-like number in it, then I just might.”*
Anyway, as compelling as the stories about all the other hijackers were (albeit in a “The Kardashians go to the Jersey Shore with Honey Boo-Boo” kind of way**), I found myself getting a bit frustrated by those sections. I felt that there were too many scenes in the slide show, to borrow Tricia’s metaphor, and I was impatient to get back to the main narrative.
Now that I have, my incredulity has been tempered by compassion, and a bit of sadness. On page 122, there’s an excerpt of the note that Roger had started to write to the captain of the plane, but which he gave up on when he couldn’t keep his thoughts straight. It’s completely incomprehensible; a word salad from someone who is clearly not in their right mind. Reading it broke my heart a little. Here was a man who had witnessed (and committed) unspeakable horrors, and yet, because of a mistake he made while trying to deal with that, he was sent back into the regular world with no help or support whatsoever.
So I read about Roger, and I think of all the veterans who came before and after him. I feel for the ones for whom, like him, the weight of the burden they carry is so great that they will do anything to relieve themselves of it, whether burying it through substance abuse, giving into it with suicide, or overpowering it with an even more extreme experience… such as hijacking a plane.
My incredulity is also being replaced by a sense of resignation and powerlessness. Like Tricia, I think about air travel, and about how much things have changed in such a relatively short period of time. The first time I ever travelled on a plane by myself was in the mid-80s, when I was about 10 years old. It was summer, and I was going to New York to spend some time with my beloved aunt and grandmother. When I disembarked, the gate agent waited with me until my aunt showed up. I remember breaking into a huge smile at the sight of her, and the agent saying something like, “From the way she’s smiling, I know you’re the one who’s supposed to pick her up.” And he let me go with her. Just like that. If he asked my aunt for ID, I don’t remember it.
I doubt that would happen now. In fact, I’m sure that wouldn’t happen now, knowing that now, if a parent wants to take their child on an international trip (even if it’s “just” to Buffalo), then they have to carry a notarized letter from the other parent saying that it’s okay. There are many people who don’t see a problem with this and, on some level, neither do I.
On another level, though, I find myself wondering, how far is too far when it comes to air travel security? Being politely asked by a security agent at LAX if she could check my backpack for explosives is, apparently, not too far. Having my full body scanned by a device that may or may not give me cancer is, apparently, not too far; nor is giving me the “choice” to say no and potentially casting suspicion on me. Returning my passport to Passport Canada three times because the picture in it kept coming out darker than the original, and I didn’t want to risk not being able to get back into the country because some official felt that I didn’t match the picture exactly, just like the woman who was stranded in Nairobi for weeks because an immigration officer thought that her lips looked different, is also, apparently, not too far.
Even my worries about writing this blog post about a book on airplane hijackings, and the potential consequences of that, may also not be going too far.
I am very curious about how Koerner will end this story because, as Tricia points out, he is not doing any interpretive work for the reader. Although it’s clear that he is absolutely fascinated by his subject, he’s just telling it as it happens. If he doesn’t end with some sort of commentary on the realities of air travel now, as disappointed as I’ll be, I think I’ll also respect and admire him for it. Sometimes, the best story endings are the ones that are left unsaid.
* I may have “broken up” with the show but, despite all its flaws, it still has a special place in my heart.
** As in, you can’t not watch because you have to see what outrageous thing is going to happen next. (For the record, though, I’ve never watched any of those shows. Really.)