So there I was on an old military jet, my civilian maternity garb in bright contrast to the row of dress uniforms perched on the uncomfortable canvas seats along the walls. Across from me, the cadets whose companion I had bumped from the flight kept glaring at me and shouting comments into each other’s ears, which fortunately I could not hear over the roar of the engines and the plugs in my own. My son was doing gymnastic flips, alternating right and left, top and bottom. (Before I was pregnant, I only knew of that area as ‘guts’. But childbearing acquainted me with my interior spaces: Liver above the uterus on the right side, spleen on the left. Bladder below, but that I already knew about.)
I had brought a book—Watership Down, as I recall—and determinedly set myself to read by the light from the window. The desperate peril of rabbit-Hazel and his literary companions distracted me from the discomfort from Washington to Kansas, more or less, interrupted by frequent trips to the head (that’s ship-talk for bathroom).
The head nearest me was to the front of the plane, up three steps, with the door opening outward. Bad design, I thought, every time I opened the thing and had to go down one step to keep my belly free of the swing. The throne occupied pretty much the whole space, set broadside to the door. However, it was considerably more comfortable than the saggy sling-seat, so every time I went (which was often, given the advanced state of my pregnancy) I stayed as long as I could, reading.
Three hours into the flight, it became too dark to read in the seats. It seemed that the regular lights didn’t work, and the emergency strips were not bright enough. Fortunately, the light in the head did work, and my book and I made ever more frequent trips down the echoing center of the plane. Now the plane was entirely dark, except for the flash of me opening and closing the door on the head.
I was ensconced on the throne, absorbed in the literary troubles of Hazel and his friends, as we crossed the Mississippi. And hit turbulence. It wasn’t the worst turbulence I’ve been in. It wasn’t even all that bad. But it was not only the seats on that plane that had seen better days—the latches were tired, too. And at that moment, the door-latch to the loo broke, and the door flew open. And shut. And open. Exposing me, seated broadside on the can, frantically grabbing for the handle that flapped just out of reach.
Imagine the scene: forty soldiers sitting, bored, in the dark, with no conversation due to the roar of the engines, and nothing to look at except green emergency lights—until now: there, elevated at the front, the only lit spot on the plane, is the lone woman, her maternity smock barely covering such as can be seen of her butt, with the turbulence turning the scene into a strobe of stop-motion glimpses of female mortification.
After several minutes, I decided to bare all, popped off the can and grabbed the door. Held it shut with one hand while pulling up my –elastic-waist maternity pants with the other. Then sat down again and stayed there, holding the door, until the second-in-command pounded on the door and bellowed that it was time to land. I marched back to my seat, face burning, eyes front as though on parade, determinedly refusing to meet any glances from the lines of uniformed passengers hunched against the walls.
But I knew they were grinning one and all.