My Mistakes

I bang my head against the fuselage as I board the plane, reminding me that I am probably making a mistake.

“Oh, didn’t see that comin’, did ya?” says a short, pudgy flight attendant. She laughs. Her permed red hair jiggles. Her chubby cheeks squeeze her eyes closed. She looks like a less-charming Edie McClurg, the secretary from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I caddied for Edie once.

I grin and don’t say anything. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my twenty years of Hollywood, it’s that no one wants to hear it unless you are famous. I’m no one. I work my way towards my seat, clutching my leather journal, the only thing I am taking onto the plane. The overhead bins are too small for standard carry-on baggage. In a stroke of airline industry genius, they slapped a carry-on sticker on the side, and then checked it with the rest of my luggage.

My seat looks out the window, over the wing. I have barely sat down when I am introduced to my neighbor, a man of roughly three hundred pounds whose ass oozes over the seat. His love handles engulf the armrests, slowly devouring them like The Blob. I wedge my hand into God knows what fold, searching for the other end of my seat belt. Where is Steve McQueen when you need him? Steve shook my hand once. I told him I hoped I was half as successful as he was. He said, “Kid, I hope you are half as successful as me, too.”

The Blob does not acknowledge my presence. I mourn my lost armrest and listen in vain to Edie McClurg broadcast flight information in a high-pitched monotonous stream of words that do not pause for sentence breaks. Seat A, a short crew-cut sporting wind pants with the latest iPhone clipped to his waist looks at me, wedged between the window and The Blob. He laughs. Seat A still thinks he is someone. I know better.

This is my second time on an airplane. The first ride brought me to Hollywood from Kansas City. Edie reminds me that is exactly where I am headed. A twenty-year round trip. A CD plays over the speakers, reminding me that my seat may be used as a floatation device in case of a water landing during this this particular flight over deserts, mountains, and prairie’s. The CD skips, throwing syllables like a scat vocalist until Edie kills it. Red-faced, she finishes the safety instructions in an indecipherable blitzkrieg of speech.

I remember my flight to Hollywood much differently. Everything was new. The plane gleamed in the moonlight. Everyone smiled, despite the late hour. The jet engines roared as the nose lifted, signaling my exodus from the midwest, away from my dead-end job in greeting card factory,away from my wife and my newborn son, left sleeping in our studio apartment, unaware that I was even gone.

I had stayed up with the baby, and my exhausted wife Lily had gone to bed early. When Isaac fell asleep, I lay him gently into his crib and wrapped him in a blanket. I kissed soft, smooth skin, breathing in the scent of his hair. I whispered promises that I would send for both of them soon. That was my mistake.

I had dreams. I still have them. I can’t pretend otherwise. Hollywood is a harsh mistress. Frustrations pile upon each other. But every so often, she gives you something to keep you going. It’s like golf. Just when you are ready to throw your clubs in the lake, you hit a beautiful drive onto the fairway. A bit part in a play, a local commercial, a spot as an extra in a feature horror film. Each time, you think this is your big break, the role that will make you a star. Hollywood strung me along with its promises. It was my mistake to believe them.

For twenty years of work, I have just under fifteen minutes of screentime in major feature films. I survived for three wonderful minutes in Saving Private Ryan. I had a line in Independence Day. Twice, major studios asked for re-writes of my original screenplays, but didn’t option them. It doesn’t sound like much, but there were other small things. Not many, but just enough to keep going, enough to keep dreaming. Enough to keep my clubs out of the lake.

Every Sunday night, I sat with my leather-bound journal, a Christmas gift from my then-wife before I left. I wrote down my thoughts, my achievements, and my failures. Every Saturday morning, I would call Lily. Sometimes she would answer. Sometimes she wouldn’t. I couldn’t blame her. I left in the middle of the night, abandoning her and Isaac. She answered the phone less often. Finally, she stopped taking my calls. I won’t go into who said what to whom. None of that matters now. Lily couldn’t understand, but I did it for them, too. We never had enough money. When I became a star, I would bring them to Hollywood. We would live the life I promised her in so many late-night whispers.

I did send money every month. I found a job mowing grass at a golf course. Later, I caddied. I knew famous people played golf. I thought I could network. I met directors, producers, and even actors whom I had admired. Most humored me. Some didn’t. Once, on the seventh hole, a very famous producer told me that if I didn’t shut the fuck up and put away his five-iron he would beat me to death with it. Never mind who it was. He didn’t mean anything by it. He had hit his ball into the rough. Some people will blame anyone for their mistakes.

Edie wedges the drink cart between The Blob and Seat A, who doesn’t think it’s so funny anymore. I take a small cup containing two generous swallows of ginger ale over a mountain of ice. I finish it before Edie can even shake the cart free. I hold the cup of ice between my knees. My tray table is a lost cause. It could never make it past The Blob’s forearms. My seat shakes as a chuckle convulses his body. He’s watching the latest Adam Sandler fart-flick on a tablet. I had a callback on that one. A balding, middle-aged man falls in a large pile of dog shit. Sandler laughs as the camera gets an extreme close-up of the man’s shit-covered face. That should have been me.

I look away from the tablet, afraid I might cry. I look out the window, watching tall, gray clouds build in the distance. It’s raining somewhere. So much of the golf business revolves around weather. Beautiful grass is a science, and as much as acting is my art, I am a certified expert at keeping the grass green. I quit caddying a long time ago. After a couple of years, I became bitter with producers and directors who had passed me over. I kept auditioning, out of spite as much as hope. In the meantime, I kept working at the golf course. I would give anything for my acting career to have been half as successful as my career as a golf course superintendent.

Isaac sent me a message on Facebook last month. One line. “Mom died. Breast cancer.” I replied with a million questions, but Isaac didn’t respond. I hadn’t even known she was sick. I found her obituary online. “She is survived by her loving husband Carl, her son Isaac, and her daughter Matilda.” Lily remarried several years ago, right after the divorce was finalized. I didn’t contest it. I didn’t even show up. What could I have said? I never bothered learning her husband’s name, and I didn’t even know there was a Matilda.

I read the obituary over and over, reading the biography of total strangers. I read it through tear-soaked eyes, choking on my own snot.

It was Sunday. I wrote my own obituary for her in my journal. I wrote about how she loved the smell of the oncoming rain; how she walked through prairies, arms spread, hands lightly touching the soft heads of the native grasses. I wrote about the twenty-six hours she spent in labor with Isaac, and how she managed to crack a reassuring smile to me, right before the worst of the pain, as she held my sweaty, trembling hand. I wrote about our first kiss, on stage at the climax of The Importance of Being Ernest, and our first real kiss, in the back of my father’s old AMC Gremlin parked along a dusty gravel road next to a stinking cow pasture. I wrote until my hand cramped. I until my eyes blurred and my brain throbbed.

The plane shakes as we begin our descent. A quilt-pattern of fields and pastures pass below. Edie announces something unintelligible. It’s a beautiful day in Kansas City as we approach the airport. I clutch the journal tighter, my laundry list of twenty years of mistakes. This is my gift to Isaac, my beautiful baby boy who is now a man, and soon to be a father. He posted an ultrasound photo on his Facebook page. He and his girlfriend are having a baby, my grandchild. I don’t have any right to be a part of their life. I know that. I am responsible for the choices I made. I will leave the journal on his doorstep, ring the bell, and run away. I will leave him my mistakes, and pray that he understands, and that he doesn’t make the same.

I’ve taken a job with with a national association for golf course superintendents in Lawrence, not far from where Isaac and his girlfriend live. Who knows? Maybe, someday, I can be a part of his life. Maybe I can be a grandpa. I’ll take that chance, even if it is only for fifteen minutes, even if it is a mistake.

I’ve ridden a plane for a whole lot less.

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at


  • Tora says:

    I really enjoy your stories; they’re usually pretty dark but this one is only slightly so yet sweet so it was a nice change of pace. It’s now one of my faves.

    • Thank you. My stories are generally pretty dark, but I doubt I could ever explain why. Richard Thomas, a neo-noir writer whom I chat with online one day was talking about his MFA program the other day. He said that his instructor challenged him to write stories for his thesis in which no one dies, there is no violence, and no sex. I thought of that while I wrote this, trying to stay completely within the mainstream, rather than edging towards towards noir or Gothic stories that I have been writing. It is always good to challenge yourself and try something you haven’t done for awhile.

  • Emily says:

    It was really nice. “That could have been me.”

  • I think that is a theme that fascinates me. We make choices, and then watch other people live the lives that might have been ours. “That should have been me.” could apply to either the guy who fell face first in Adam Sander’s dog crap, or Carl, his ex-wife’s husband. There are so many little choices that determine where we are going to end up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.