While the fantasy filmmakers of Hollywood were dreaming up the next superhero sequel, real heroes in tights were living the raw footage of life at 40,000′.
The mile high navigation of stormy affairs, addiction, espionage, trafficking, transporting criminals, saving lives and all the petty squabbles in between often fill the spaces between slinging soda cans.
I suppose that’s why we all agreed over reindeer sausage pizza and green tomatoes topped with sour cream that it was worth it. Had it been our call, we would have taken the Russian flight to Vladivostock if it helped rescue the victims of human trafficking.
Like Hollywood, we’re suckers for a happy ending. But real life isn’t so tidy.
WITH LOVE FROM RUSSIA
Gabe must have departed my room the same way he’d arrived– While I was sleeping.
I found the note on the counter space reserved for a nonexistent coffee pot.
I wish we could’ve met under other circumstances, but then we never would’ve met at all.
I can’t be sorry for that.
Love, love it, love ya — this 4-letter word peppers our daily conversations but when there’s a name attached? We get so neurotic.
I couldn’t let that happen with a British spy who drugged me twice, seduced me and left me like a Hollywood tragedy.
We sat around a table in the hotel restaurant bar, a hungover little group of Americans amidst a handful of older, somewhat distinguished Russians. Diplomats? KGB?
Some wanna-be Barbie type Russian girls were hanging on their arms. They looked nothing like Barbie but that didn’t stop them from trying.
I thought about the sparse selection in the local stores and my heart went out to them.
The drugstore make-up we had would’ve been like Hollywood magic in their hands.
Abi dropped her head on the table. Captain Dave took that as a sign to begin the extensive crew debriefing.
As suspected, we were officially grounded for 48 hours until our scheduled flight home.
But there were a few contingencies:
We were to have no contact with the *ahem* British spy. Authorities were involved.
We were not to leave the hotel as our safety could not be guaranteed.
We were not to discuss what transpired. With anyone.
We were officially on hotel lockdown.
THE Not So HOLLYWOOD ENDING
Imprisoned at the hotel, we declared a truce and tried to find the entrance to the tunnels in the bowels of the hotel.
That massive cement structure with a history of death steeped in its walls chilled my blood.
I could feel it all around us as we slipped through the shadows below, as if the souls of the damned had joined us on the quest for which there was no escape.
When I lay down at night with the history of Magadan’s dead all around me, I could still smell Gabe’s scent on my pillow. Sleeping alone only enhanced the strange emptiness inside.
When I finally left that hotel, I left the hope of seeing him again with a sense of bittersweet acceptance.
I took one last look at the unrelenting gray, the somber soldiers on the tarmac with assault rifles and a splash of blood red christened with a single star before the boarding door closed, blocking it out. A feeling of relief washed over me.
I was going home where things were normal.
Tomorrow I’d stand in the grocery store and stare at the surplus of shelf items and multiply it times every store on every street in every town, America. There were so many choices it overwhelmed my ability to choose.
I’d leave the store empty handed and drive home in a luxury car with heat and leather seats, lost in thoughts of empty store shelves and tattooed bodies in the shadows dying for a chance at the freedom I had.
I’d take off the make-up that would’ve been Hollywood magic in someone else’s hands and wonder why I felt such a deep sadness.
When I lay down on my pillow that night, my thoughts would be of Gabe.
I’d think about what he said, about all humans being equal, divided by chance rather than choice, and how he could not abandon their hope.
Hope was the breath that kept these people alive one more day in the shadows and valleys of every city in every country on the face of the earth, even ours.
The awareness that there were good people in the world willing to hold the hope for strangers would fill my heart that night in a way all the luxuries around me could not.
That night I realized a chance encounter has the power to change if not the world,
at least one person.
Let it start with me.
Dedicated to those who’ve come into my life
if only for a moment
and changed me for a lifetime.