There's a Danger Zone of Tired and it's not at the end where your eyelids are closing by themselves and you're doing your best impression of a bobble-head. No, that level of tired is too far-gone to pose a threat. Those people have accepted their fate. I think the Danger Zone of Tired is when you are still up, trying to function with people and trying to do things that awake people do, in denial that your brain is actually shutting off the lights, room by room around you and blasting "Closing Time" on the speakers.
People in the Danger Zone of Tired should not fly by themselves.
The morning of my evening flight back to Seattle, 2:50 in the morning, to be exact, my very first nephew was born.
He was born after 32 hours of labor, 3 hours of pushing, and what seemed like 2 lifetimes of pain and tears. Even as a member of my sister's support team, just a helpful bystander, the experience had been a draining ordeal. So still feeling a little shell-shocked and a lot fatigued, I said goodbye to the baby and left the hospital for the last time, headed straight for the airport. Tears were streaming down my face for no reason I could articulate.
At the curb of the airport, Mom heaved my suitcase out of the trunk of the car and said, "Oh, Shannon, I don't think this is too heavy. You're close, but I don't think you're over the weight limit." But I remained skeptical. My suitcase had felt heavy on my way to Maryland, and that was without the large flashlight, heavy duty measuring tape, and power drill Dad gave me for Christmas. All useful items for my adult life on the West Coast, all items I was now resenting for being so heavy. "A gift certificate to Sears would have been lighter," I muttered to myself as my mom pulled away.
The first sign that I was in the Danger Zone was that I tried very hard to check into my United flight at the Delta counter. After fumbling around with a confirmation number which was never going to work, I figured out my mistake, mumbled an excuse about being tired, and as I walked away, the Delta associate called out some good advice, "Wake up!"
At the United counter, the kind that could actually check me into a United flight, I wrestled my suitcase onto the scale and waited for the verdict. "This bag needs to be at least three pounds lighter," the humorless uniformed woman told me.
"I knew it. Great." I grumbled. "Three pounds. Let's see-" And then I knew just what to remove: the flashlight and the measuring tape. I clenched my teeth together, bent my sore body over my suitcase, and set about digging for the offending items. There's....the flashlight, and....yup. Measuring tape. More grumbling as I placed them on the scale. I looked to the United employee for sympathy, "Heavy Christmas gifts for someone flying, huh?" She just responded, "You ready?" I looked at the number on the scale, and as luck would have it, those items together came to exactly three pounds.
After my suitcase departed to the mysterious land of baggage trucks and carousels, I was left finding room in my carry-on for my extra three pounds of Christmas presents. And let me tell you, I was not happy with the prospect of getting through security with the heavy duty flashlight. Not happy at all. I know a flashlight is not a weapon and should technically be kosher, but this flashlight is not your run-of-the-mill stick flashlight. The Stanley 1M Series Spotlight has a large lamp body and a rubber-gripped handle on the bottom, closer in appearance to a flare gun.
And to make matters worse, there was no more room in my yellow satchel. I could balance it on top of everything else, but that bag was not clasping shut, no way. Hiding the weapon-like lamp was not an option.
SIGH. On we go.
Standing in line at security, I toyed with the idea of sending a text message to Dad, something mean and to the point. "How about we avoid power tools for those of us flying in the future?" Hmm, maybe too direct. If I just texted Mom "The bag was overweight after-all. Carrying heavy flashlight all day." That would work. Then she might mention it to Dad in conversation and he would feel sorry.
As my heavy yellow satchel dug deeper into my shoulder, the idea of a "revenge text" was sounding better and better. I was knee-deep in self-pity, emotional reserves gone, desperate to vent what I was feeling on another human being. The flashlight was no longer a Christmas present, it was a strategic design on my dad's part to make my right shoulder ache.
Shoes, coat, scarf off. Laptop out. Four plastic bins worth of Shannon. A walk through a metal detector. I noticed with relief that my belongings were proceeding through the xray unmolested by TSA hands. I was halfway through putting on my shoes when the man sitting at the monitor stood up, walked over to my bins and pointed at my yellow satchel. "Whose bag is this?"
"Mine..." I answered.
He put his hand on the spotlight gun spilling out of my bag. "Where'd you get this?"
I launched into a nervous, rambling monologue, "I know it's weird, and I didn't want to carry it on, but my suitcase was too heavy and I had to take something out. But really, it's just a flashlight." I looked at him, defeated. "Is it not allowed?"
"No, it's fine. Where'd you get it, though? I want one."
I blinked. "Um, well it was a present from my dad for Christmas. I don't actually know where he got it." and then as I finished assembling myself and was walking away I tried out my old line, "Heavy Christmas present for someone flying, huh? He got me a power drill, too."
He just yelled out cheerfully, "Those are GREAT Christmas presents! Really useful."
I could not help but laugh as I imagined how validated my dad would feel had he heard that. It was then that I noticed that passengers around me in security were smiling and laughing too. Dads and gift-giving. The awkwardness of luggage post-Christmas. Something about that had resonated.
And I felt instantly less miserable. My presents were just that--presents. Heavy, yes, but my crankiness was not my dad's fault and definitely not his goal. I had spent three wonderful weeks with my family, and most amazingly, after I had given up hope of meeting my nephew on this trip, he was born just in time and I had been there for all of it. It's bad enough to forget your blessings just a few minutes away from them, but actively trying to complain about a present given in love means only one thing: you're a brat.
So with a dose of perspective from an unlikely, unintentional source, I headed off to find my gate, the load on my shoulders at least three pounds lighter.