I’ve always been a bit of a maverick, never quite fitting in while always fitting in with everyone not always knowing how to balance that. Oscillating between too much of a show-off to prove my worth, to drawing back and becoming seemingly too aloof, sometimes I’d talk too much, other times getting lost in my own world. This year though, I feel like I’m finally figuring it out, and I’m right where I belong.
I can’t remember being this comfortable with myself, this okay in my own skin – be it too dressed up, or dressed down, a little too pale to sunburned with the shadow of my braid over one shoulder and the angel wing given to me by one of my best friends sunned into the center of my chest, almost fittingly so.
I went to the NY Air Show today because a friend invited me and, well, just WOW.
Mind blown. It was absolutely incredible in so many ways. I was a daddy’s girl, until I wasn’t and I don’t think until recently I ever realized that it wasn’t my fault that things changed. He had his own demons that took over him bit by bit and as a child I couldn’t see that coming or understand, and estranged at his death, he sadly never got the help to sort through it and I never had the chance to really talk to him about that again. But in the almost three years since he died, I think I’ve done all this hard work on myself to seek what I needed to truly understand. I think I understand now, and I mean it when I say I forgive him.
He used to talk to me about airplanes, some that I didn’t know that he worked on, or didn’t really understand. He’d tell me about the various projects at work when he could – he had high-level security clearance so there was a lot he couldn’t say. Bring your kid to work day meant pb&j in the parking lot on lunch break because we weren’t allowed inside the building. But when he could tell me stuff, he’d talk about some really cool projects.
He worked on several iterations of the chaparral missile and I think knowing that he built such lethal technology haunted him in ways. He worked on some really cool stuff. Technology to keep our country safe during the Reagan years and the Cold War. He worked on the Hubble Space Telescope for NASA during the Star Wars years (the stuff that worked haha not the stuff that didn’t). And nearing retirement, he worked on the Abrams tank, even getting to drive one once (he said he had no idea what he was doing it was hysterical!).
But his favorite projects he talked about were the Warthog, the Tomcat, and the Hornet. He talked about them frequently, especially the latter as he was one of the leads on that and it was a project he was involved in for several years. Today, I got to see two of those planes fly. Sure, the stuff he pioneered back then has long since been updated but it was pretty amazing to see my Dad’s work in the sky overhead. The Warthog was piloted by a woman (go girls! #WomenInAviation) and put on an absolutely impressive display! And then there were the F-18s.
Ahh the F-18s! We had pictures of these and many other jets wallpapered in our basement in the game room around the pool table. Some I took with me when we cleaned out the old house, but many got tossed. They were just prints of other people’s photos and posters and such, but the memories of some of those conversations I got to cherish even more so today when I saw those planes in action. When cleaning out the house, I found the original F-18 manuals, the ones that Maverick throws out in the beginning of Top Gun Maverick. Yeah, those. I have those (well some of those). Tucked inside one of them was the original 1977 cockpit diagram that my father and some of the other engineers worked on. My father’s signature is in the front of the book from when it was submitted for approval. He was a lead on the project. And I’ll tell you what, finding those brought back good memories, and seeing Top Gun Maverick last summer made me smile, but it also left me with a feeling of frustration and emptiness at all the conversations we never had since I was a little girl.
Today was different. It was better. It was amazing! I got to watch technology that my father helped with take to the skies, fly by in formations 18″ from each other at speeds over 400 mph (really!). Barrel rolls, inversions, dives, you name it they did it. Watching the other stunt pilots, and the Red Bull team were also really really cool! There was an old F-15 also that was really impressive also. But for me (and well for most people I am sure) the six F/A-18 Super Hornets that are used by the Navy Blue Angels that are the current iteration of a jet my father worked on back in 1973-77 blew me away. Absolutely incredible!
What a magical day! To see that, and to then go see friends after to celebrate a friend’s graduation from High School with my kids, feel comfortable going from a corporate chalet at an air show to graduation party at a firehouse and still feel comfortable was great! I had a great time at both places, never once feeling out of place or like I needed to just fill the air with chatter to keep from letting my discomfort show. And now I get to sit in my happy place, at home on my porch swing in an old shirt and shorts and flip flops, listening to the Maverick soundtrack while sipping bourbon and watching the sunset with my dogs. Yeah, life is good. Really really good.
Thanks, Dad. I get it now. Wish you could have been there today, you would have loved it, and been so proud of me! And these kids too! I know you’re somewhere overhead looking down on us and smiling and I hope you’ve finally put those demons to rest. Fly like those Blue Angels, Dad, and I’ll keep dreaming as high as the sky, too.
Cheers, to summer, to friends, to family, to a life worth living and a place worth doing your best to be your best every single day. Don’t even let those demons get the better of you – any of you. We’re all worth more than that. You just have to believe in yourself and remember, the sky IS the limit.