Just over two hours later, we found ourselves descending into the chaos of LAX. We collected our other oversized carry on off a cart at the bottom of the stairs outside the airplane, and I struck up a conversation with a man wearing a crisp pilot's uniform, realizing he had gone to grade school with me. He said he thought he had spotted me earlier but wasn't certain. When he asked what we were doing in Los Angeles, I found myself manufacturing a small white lie. I reported we were there to meet my parents on vacation. I just wasn't ready to talk about it yet and wasn't sure how I would go about doing it, anyway. We exchanged superficial smiles and I said goodbye as we made our way up the metal ramp like cattle into the terminal.
My parents waited inside and grinned when they saw us. Erik was absolutely thrilled and kept cheerfully repeating "California!" We made our way through the pale yellow halls of the aging airport that has changed very little since my childhood, and I tried to ignore the less than subtle stench of the place that seemed to waft into my nostrils from every surface. We then stood like Pavlov dogs in front of the large, circular conveyor system and watched a few bags slide down a ramp out of the ceiling and plop down onto it. Finally, the new bags ceased their flow, and we quietly looked down at the belt traveling by, seeing the same couple of pieces of luggage slumped over in an endless loop on the belt, their owners likely miles away, strapped on another plane headed to a tropical destination with no clean underwear whatsoever.
Brian seemed to know exactly where to go, disappearing behind the glass doors of a nearby office. Erik and I waited with my parents. He soon returned, looking mildly disgusted. The good news was that airport personnel assured Brian that they knew where our two bulging suitcases were. The bad news was that they had taken a detour to Portland, Oregon. He was assured they would arrive later and be delivered to our hotel. I checked my carry on bag and saw three diapers, our prescription medicine, a tube of lipstick, and two Elmo DVDs. Brian's carry on contained all of Erik's clothing.
My parents led us out into the equally odoriferous parking garage, and we loaded into their familiar green Subaru. From there, we headed down the busy freeway to the Hyatt Regency in Garden Grove. I heard myself chattering the way I always do when I'm nervous and around people I'm comfortable with. My respiratory system slowly adjusted to the heavy, smog-filled air filling it as we rocketed down the road. Soon my father found Garden Grove. We drove past the gates of Disneyland, which seemed much smaller to me than it used to, and the collection of massive hotels that formed their own neighborhood nearby. The Hyatt Regency Orange County was a gorgeous, ecru-colored slab studded with rectangular windows that reflected the sky and clouds like mirrors. There were also panes of clear glass fortified with an exoskeleton of metal housing a cavernous lobby and restaurants. Our car pulled up in front of the building, and we unloaded what we had left from our short journey. I wondered aloud if we would recognize anybody with the familiar features of WS.
I didn't have to wonder long. We entered the building and found ourselves underneath tall, tropical trees in a gorgeous, naturally-lit lobby flanked by a bar on one side and a restaurant on the other. All of the seating was out in the open. I looked up and saw hundreds of windows of additional guest rooms over the lobby. My mother and I began quietly searching the faces of the people around us while we held onto Erik and Brian and my father checked us in.
She softly said, "Look at the man behind us."
I replied, "There's another one. This is so strange."
My heart sped up a little bit, and I felt a strange sense of excitement.
After we had checked in, we made our way out of the tiled lobby to a luxuriously-carpeted hallway containing elevators. We walked by an open area by the front windows that featured soft, rounded furniture and low tables. A group of young people with Williams syndrome sat there and would all week long, greeting the passersby and enjoying each others' company.
Suddenly I heard a young woman's voice exclaim, "Oh, he's so CUTE!"
Erik was happily enveloped by the small group. He reached out for each of their hands like an old friend and let them make the appropriate fuss over him before we finally said goodbye and that we would see them later.
It was pretty clear they had spotted us, too.
Our room was comfortable and clean. We dropped off our things, and I called to ask for a small refrigerator to be delivered to our room. We then went back out to the car for a trip to the supermarket, where we bought the fixings for Erik's PB&J sandwiches and the items I needed to draw on a new face just in case our luggage, which contained all of my makeup, didn't arrive before the convention began in the morning.
We settled into our room and saw our parents off. They planned on commuting each day from my brother and sister-in-law's condominium and would see us again in the morning. We readied ourselves for another horrible, sob-filled night in a hotel room with Erik, but he seemed quite content and eventually fell sleep. I passed out in the rumpled clothing I traveled in, contact lenses dried to my eyeballs, and slept fitfully for a couple of hours. Just after midnight there was a knock at our door announcing the arrival of our luggage. I changed into my nightgown, got ready for bed once again, and fell asleep with Erik snuggled up against my body.