Saturday, July 9, 2011

Down's Syndrome Punished in Business Class




After eight hours of being bumped, pushed, pulled, prodded and stripped searched, the powers-to-be at London Heathrow’s Airport finally consented to allow my wife and I to settle into the aeronautic nirvana of our comfy and roomy business class seats. Ah finally, peace, quite and civility. Or, so we thought.
            Sweet serenity quickly turned turbulent when a boisterous and bouncy toddler came running down the aisle after being pushed by her father’s firm hand.
            “Oh God,” I thought. “Please don’t let that child be sitting near me.” She was and did: directly in front.
            My wife noticed the not so subtle grimace on my face and offered, “Maybe she’ll sleep the entire flight.”
            “She’ll probably talk and cry the entire flight,” I complained at which point a pile of blonde hair slowly surfaced from the little girl’s seat followed by a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and a tiny torso. I immediately dropped all snobbish business class airs, as her Down’s Syndrome energy radiated innocence – she was adorable and I was smitten.
            And just as quickly as she appeared, her father grabbed her shirt collar and tossed into her back into her seat.  He fastened her in, threw a bag on her lap and said, “Here, keep yourself busy.”
            The little girl, Emma, pulled out a supply of DVD’s, coloring books, First Readers and two pounds of Gummy Bears all of which her father hoped would keep his daughter occupied, entertained, and out of his hair for the six hour journey.
            For sometime, Emma managed to occupy herself coloring and occasionally peering between the seats to say hello or to entice my wife and I into playing a bit of “peek-a-boo”. But it all took a tragic dive, as daddy’s pain and Emma’s purity and innocence collided mid-air. At thirty-eight thousand feet somewhere over the Atlantic the movies, sugar and crayons failed to keep Emma’s attention away from her father who, sat stoned faced and moored to his bourbon filled glass.
            She yearned for her his affection and gently leaned her head on his armrest. Inebriated and outraged, he flung all of Emma’s forty pounds clear across her seat to the window. A recognition of shock shown on Emma’s face as she held her breathe, but her Down’s told her that daddy was playing a game and volleyed her arm to her father where it smacked his left ear. His retaliation was swift and brutal.
            Furious and filled with rage, I imagined my hands wringing his neck but I was paralyzed with shock, horror and indecision. The man sitting directly across from Emma’s father who too witnessed everything was struggling with his own involvement and chose to feign sleep.
            “Say something!” I screamed at myself.
            My wife stared at me crying, “Do something.” And I just prayed. I prayed, “Please, Emma, please, sit still. Don’t say anything, be quiet, go to sleep, please little girl, please!” But she can’t, because she’s Emma and she doesn’t know. For Christ sakes, she’s only four years old.
            Her father’s violence mixed with Emma’s ignorance made it impossible for her to stay quiet and obedient and I leapt from my seat and pushed all of my weight into the back of his own, forcing him forward until his forehead met his tray table and I said, “Excuse me,” as I glared at him and I went searching for a crew member.
            A worn out stewardess met my urgency and said that unless she saw him being violent there’s nothing she could do. She promised to keep an eye on him.
            I protested and I was told that if I ‘didn’t calm down’ I would be ‘arrested upon arrival at JFK.’
            Returning to my seat, Emma’s whimpering mimicked a puppy’s and I wanted desperately to envelope her, release her, but I can’t. I’m limited. I am powerless.
             Moments later she poked her head between the seats and saw me shaking from the injustice and blew a kiss and I caught it, clasped it to my chest and I returned the love. She batted her eyelashes and her crying gave way to relaxed and peaceful breathing. Her eyes flickered until they shut and she fell into a deep and innocent sleep with her head wedged between the seats.