The Airplane Napkin

at 12:35 AM
Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

I hate airplane napkins. In this age of going green and complementary beverage service only, what is the reinvented purpose of the cocktail napkin?

Until a recent flight, my cocktail napkin primarily served to decorate my tray table before being returned to the stewardess, unused.

But there I was, 36,000 feet over the Arizona desert and the thought came to me: she never flew in an airplane. "She" was my sister, Lu-Lu, who despite physical beauty, a kind heart and an intelligent mind, none of us could save from the tortures of depression.

After a decade-long struggle, at the age of 24, she ended her life. Fifteen years have passed since that phone call came on a Thursday afternoon, and I am not the same 22-year-old who answered.

The passage of time has healed me, yet moved my life forward in directions she never knew and away from moments I want to cling to, relinquish and revise, all at once.


In "The Year of Magical Thinking," Joan Didion writes: "We try to keep [the dead] alive in order to keep them with us. [But] if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead. Let them become the photograph on the table."

This is my life now. I have reached cruising altitude and she is the photograph on my table.

I cry because I want nothing more than her next to me. Now. Healthy. I cry because I couldn't make it different for her, yet different is exactly what she'd want my life to be. And I cry because I know I am not unique in my loss. I know each of us has a story to tell and a photograph on our table.

So as the passenger next to me turns the pages of the latest Dan Brown novel and the passenger across from me heroically plays Angry Birds, I reach for my cocktail napkin and wipe away tears for someone I lost on the ground below and for her little sister trying to navigate her way through the skies above.

With a Perspective, I'm Emily Leonard.