My calendar is full of dead people.
When my phone alarm chimes, I fish it out from the pocket of my
cargo pants. I’ve forgotten, with the time change, to turn off the re- minder. I’m still groggy with sleep, but I open the date and read the names: Iris Vale. Eun Ae Kim. Alan Rosenfeldt. Marlon Jensen.
I close my eyes, and do what I do every day at this moment: I remember them.
Iris, who had died tiny and birdlike, had once driven a getaway car for a man she loved who’d robbed a bank. Eun Ae, who had been a doctor in Korea, but couldn’t practice in the United States. Alan had proudly showed me the urn he bought for his cremated remains and then joked, I haven’t tried it on yet. Marlon had changed out all the toilets in his house and put in new flooring and cleaned the gut- ters; he bought graduation gifts for his two children and hid them away. He took his twelve-year-old daughter to a hotel ballroom and waltzed with her while I filmed it on his phone, so that the day she got married there would be video of her dancing with her father.
At one point, they were my clients. Now, they’re my stories to keep.
Everyone in my row is asleep. I slip my phone back into my pocket and carefully crawl over the woman to my right without dis- turbing her—air traveler’s yoga—to make my way to the bathroom in the rear of the plane. There I blow my nose and look in the mir- ror. I’m at the age where that’s a surprise, where I still think I’m going to see a younger woman rather than the one who blinks back at me. Lines fan from the corners of my eyes, like the creases of a familiar map. If I untangle the braid that lies over my left shoulder, these terrible fluorescent lights would pick up those first grey strands in my hair. I’m wearing baggy pants with an elastic waist, like every other sensible nearly-forty woman who knows she ’s going to be on a plane for a long-haul flight. I grab a handful of tissues and open the door, intent on heading back to my seat, but the little galley area is packed with flight attendants. They are knotted together like a frown.
They stop talking when I appear. “Ma’am,” one of them says, “could you please take your seat?”
It strikes me that their job isn’t really very different from mine. If you’re on a plane, you’re not where you started, and you’re not where you’re going. You’re caught in between. A flight attendant is the guide who helps you navigate that passage smoothly. As a death doula, I do the same thing, but the journey is from life to death, and at the end, you don’t disembark with two hundred other travelers. You go alone.