Leave your orange flight suit, the one you wore testing how low and fast you could fly above the trees. Leave your leather bomber jacket with Chicklets and Rolaids in the pockets. Hang them in the downstairs closet where I will hide when I’m scared, inhaling the aroma of aniseed that clings to stray ribbons of Sail tobacco, the ribbons that find their way into all of your coats. Leave the aviator glasses and combat boots.
Keep yer airspeed up, you said.
You gave me wings before I could walk. I don’t remember my first flight but I know I looked down and saw America, stitched squares of farmland, bounded in shades of green—chartreuse, olive, emerald.
At 10 years old, I hold the thick flight book with its tissue pages of aeronautical maps on my lap. I like to look at New Mexico and the forbidden zones above deserts. But we are going somewhere else. Chicago. Buffalo. Cleveland. A no-name strip surrounded by cornfields. We taxi and take off.
I see the wet cotton-candy clouds whip past us and feel the tumult: up and down and around, like spinning teacups in amusement parks. You let your pipe go out, hanging from your lips with all the things you wanted to say. It was always too loud in the plane.
At night, the lights of cities are twinkling stars, distant planets—the universe is down there with its nebula and Milky Ways and constellations.
I have a dangerous itch to unlatch the plane door. I learn to sit on my hands.
Returning home, up here, the Olentangy River is a lazy snake. We spy our house, as you dip one wing so we can see better. That dipping wing is a salute.
I don’t look at you while we land. I look at the bluestem grasses rushing beneath us, the runway blacktop as it rises to us. The Quonset huts that serve as hangars with their big wings painted on the front are a comfort to me. I will love them for the rest of my life. We are safe. We taxi toward them. We are home.
I wish I had said: Leave your winged pin here in the dirt before you die, along with your favorite tortoise-shell pipe and the Impatiens you planted in the garden. Over the years, the mud and mulch and soft green moss will cover them. Decades will pass, as the earth shakes and the rivers move, and some young girl will find a silver tip rising out of the land. She will uncover the shiny pin and the tortoise-shell pipe. She will make up stories about them, origin stories about you: pilot, father, tough guy.