Tyler Pounds Regional Airport
700 Skyway Blvd.
Tyler, TX 75704
One of the greatest things about landing Tyler Pounds Regional Airport in Tyler, Texas is that the bathroom is easy to find. In fact, I’ll just tell you so you know: it’s in the left-hand corner of the wall you’re facing. That’s true no matter what your arrival gate is, because there are only four gates total and they are all in one big room.
The other great thing about Tyler Airport is that it’s only about a fifteen-second walk from the gate to the exit. And the third great thing is that parking is super cheap and easy, so if someone is coming to pick you up, they will probably choose to park and come in to greet you properly, instead of pulling all cattywampus into a curbside pick-up spot and yelling “Get in get in get in!”
Arriving at Tyler is similar to the opening of Love Actually. You walk through the gate and are almost instantly reunited with someone you’ve missed. There’s no winding through a convoluted terminal or squeezing through a mob of confused travellers or standing at the curb waving your arm at a distant Prius and calling into your phone, “Do you see me? I see you! Do you see me? Red shirt. Do you see me?” You just walk through one big room and–if you’re me–you find the faces of the very first people you loved on the other side.
Every year at Christmas, I take a proper plane from LAX to Dallas, then jump on one of those janky little planes to get to Tyler. Every time I land, I can’t wait to see my parents’ faces. Then I see my parents’ faces and I feel oddly shy for about five minutes, because there’s always something new that reminds me how much of their lives I don’t see. My mom has a new haircut or it turns out Dad looks good in pastels or someone compliments me on the glasses I’ve had for ten months. For a moment, I choke on how far away they are and how time moves way too fast. Then, my mom starts naming all the things in their house that I can eat and how quickly it can be prepared. She does this because I am always desperately hungry when I get off a plane. One year, they picked me up in Dallas, two hours away from their home. When I opened the back door of their SUV, I found a cloth-lined basket containing two flavors of gluten-free chips, an apple, a banana, and a bottled water. I felt deeply and profoundly known.
Visiting my parents is always a complicated mix of these two experiences . . . of feeling known and unknown, feeling all-knowing and completely oblivious. I am at one moment proud to be the obvious offspring of these two people, and in the next, compulsively demonstrating that I am designing my life on my own terms.
My relationship with my parents packs a denser and more complicated weight now that I’ve been an adult for a good fifteen years or so. I think with age, I’ve come to realize exactly how deep and formative and complicated this particular relationship is. When I was young, I got to take my parents’ love for granted. Now that I’m older, I still get to do that, but it’s harder to believe, because I’ve had enough relationships to understand that when people change, the state of affection can change. We can feel connected to other people, then one of us starts hanging out with a new crowd or gets more or less religious or buys a fedora, and the connections loosen, until one day, we’re realizing we haven’t spoken in a while. The parent/child relationship, on the other hand, is its own crazy thing. The typical rules apply: you have to work to stay connected, demonstrate empathy and curiosity, communicate support. But then there’s this built in understanding that the love will not change. I will change. You will change. But it is the same love, year after year.
When I am at my parents’ house, there are some tricky policial conversation and the occasional fumbled questions as we try to ask about the parts of one another’s lives we don’t know much about. I’m suddenly experiencing insecurities I thought I was supposed to have at sixteen but am just now discovering. Do they ever wish I was a little more like them? Do they still like me? And even as I sift through these insecurities, my parents make a hundred tiny gestures that I know are clear indications I am loved and wanted in their home. For one thing, they tell me multiple times that they’re glad I’m here. So that’s the first hint. Also, there are three different types of gluten-free cookies waiting for me. My dad checks the forecast to see if we’ll be able to fire up the fireplace while I’m in town. He tells Alexa to play my favorite Christmas album. He offers to make me a martini, and my mom says she was just about to make me some tea, and I ask for both because I want both and time is short and I have to go home in a week. They bust out the Bluebell ice cream and show me whichever show they’re really into now, or my mom and I watch White Christmas, or my dad and I watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
My dad takes me to the clubhouse in their community. We run into friends of his and he puts one heavy hand on my shoulder as he says, “Bill, I’d like you to meet my daughter.”
My mom and I go shopping in town. We “ooh” and “ahh” over each other’s purchases, no matter what they are. We go to the tearoom and discuss many things. Inevitably, she asks me a pretty basic question about my life, and it releases a flood of tears I didn’t realize I’d been holding back. I am reminded that my mom holds the key to all the truth in me. She will find even the things I hide from myself.
My dad and I bake a Fireball pumpkin pie. We sing along to 90s country. He goes to find a hat I can wear out on the boat. He brings me five different options, and I understand all of this to be love. My mom takes a picture of the two of us. She looks at it later and says, “I love this picture. I just think it’s such a great picture.”
My dad takes me out for a golf cart ride to look at the Christmas lights in his neighborhood. The lights are never that impressive because a lot of people are out of town, but we go, anyway, because it’s that thing we do together. He points at all the houses his friends live in and the houses he looked at before they bought theirs, and I observe that he and Mom seem really happy here. He says, yep, they’re very happy here. This is where they’ll die, or maybe we’ll have to put them in a home and they’ll die in the home, but either way, the only way they’re moving out of this community is if they’re either dead or dying.
This is how my dad talks, and he says it all in a really chipper voice. I understand this about him. Death is always top-of-mind for me, but top-of-mind in a very matter-of-fact way. My 38-year-old brother leaves my house after a writing session, and I casually pray he gets home safe so my last words to him will not have been “Figure out a way to save this pants scene in Act One.” My 39-year-old brother takes his family on a vacation and I think, “Ooh, that’s a lot of people I love in one car.” I even sometimes close certain browser windows before I get up to make a cup of coffee, in case the big earthquake hits while I’m in the kitchen and my family doesn’t have the proper context to understand why my last google search was for human remains in Croatia. Sometimes I wonder if death is such a common thought for me because I haven’t yet experienced enough debilitating grief to make it an untouchable subject. More often I wonder if it’s just because I am my father’s child.
Twenty-four hours before my return flight, I get sad, and then I feel self-conscious about feeling sad, because I have no poker face when I’m with my family.
My parents drop me off at the airport and I try not to cry, but I do. I cry a little more each year, in fact, because each year I realize more deeply that my parents are inextricably part of me. The person I have become began with who they were. I can look back through my life and name countless moments when I needed them, missed them, learned from them, was emboldened by their words, empowered by their faith. And I know there are countless more moments I can’t list because I forgot the events, only preserving the abstract lesson somewhere in the core of myself. There is an invisible force connecting me to them, no matter where I am . . . something that still makes me occasionally refer to going to Tyler as “going home,” even though there’s nothing in Tyler that belongs to me except my parents.
When it’s time to walk away, my feet are cement, because it is counter-intuitive to walk away from someone who is so profoundly a part of me.
That’s why I love Tyler Airport. I don’t have to drag my cement feet too far. I can check in and get through security in ten minutes, and on the other side of security, I am no longer leaving; I am on my way somewhere. I put my shoes back on. I check to see if I have time to run to the bathroom and get a water. I text my brother to let him know my flight is on time. I start thinking about the work I have to do on the plane. The tears on my cheeks have evaporated. My heart is a heart again, instead of a sandbag within my ribcage.
But even then, as I stand in line to board, I flip through photos on my phone and think how lucky I am to be a part of a love so inescapable.
Plan to arrive at Tyler Airport twenty minutes before boarding time so you have plenty of time to get through security and find your gate. Eat a good meal before you come; the only food available at Tyler is in a vending machine next to the bathroom. Buckle up and enjoy your flight.
Side Note: Though Trump has cancelled his policy of separating families at the border, the U.S. is still responsible for separating more than 2,300 children from their parents with reportedly no plan or process for reuniting them. There are several organizations that will be working hard to give these families the support they deserve as they strive to put their families back together, and if you’d like to contribute to that effort, this article provides helpful insight for how to give and how to give wisely. (It’s a little name-droppy, but hey, if it helps.)