It was probably against TSA guidelines, but I had always collected them. From the day we were instated in this lonely airport. As a small interchange near Wichita, we saw very little traffic, but the TSA rules still applied to us. I was hired to rifle through everyone's belongings.
Our airport has three runways and caters to only two companies. We also host airshows and hot air balloon races in the summer time. There are only two TSA agents that work here. Currently that's me, Roger Felter, and my newest assistant, a college-age girl named Sindi. It's a pleasure to meet you.
One of the biggest rules we have here at Millatocka Airport is that we are entrusted with people's things. Therefore, taking anything out of suitcases to keep is a breech of trust.
The first time I took something from a passenger's suitcase was in 2003.
I had been working my shift, forcing passengers to remove their shoes for almost two years. I dug through a lady's bag. She had clothing, and a few essentials; it looked to be a quick trip. I had a habit of making up little stories for each of the flyers; for example, one man was on his way home for the holidays, but he and his mother were the only surviving relatives. That's why he only had one gift in his bag. Or this woman was a clown that danced for foster children to cheer them up and that's why she had magic tricks in her bag. Everyone had a story, and I got to peek at them.
This woman, however, told me her story. I didn't have to guess at it.
Dear TSA agent: She wrote, her handwriting very shaky. I have a condition that keeps me from doing a lot of manual tasks with my hands. My daughter wrapped this present for my nephew for me, but she left the edges undone so you could check what is inside. Please do not rip the wrapping paper, or I won't be able to fix it myself. Thank you for your understanding.
I glanced over at the woman, being helped from her wheelchair by my assistant at the time. She look to be in her late thirties and was shaking fiercely, and all of her concentration was on standing still while they set her in an airport-supplied wheelchair.
I very carefully checked the present, careful not to disturb the wrapping paper.
I tucked the note into my pocket, and wrote my own. Here. I tried my hardest not to disturb the wrapping paper, but I tore it a little. I have taped it closed for you, so you don't have to do it yourself.
By Tuesday, I had forgotten about the woman in the wheelchair, but she hadn't forgotten about me. I had become famous overnight on social media, the woman in the wheelchair passing around the story of my kindness. I'd gotten several thousand likes and the picture finally made its way to my page. A coworker had shared it with me, saying she bet that it was me who had been so kind to the lady in the wheelchair. I found out then her name was Karen.
I stared at it, disbelieving. Then I smiled. I couldn't stop smiling for days.
The week afterward, as I dug through another trunk from another passenger, I found another note. My mother has MS, kind TSA agent, and your understanding of Karen's disability brought tears to my eyes. I wish there were more people like you. This is for you, Roger.
I pulled the note from the bag, reverently, and put it in my pocket. I glanced at the woman who left it for me, and she was smiling at me. I smiled in return, feeling the weight of her note in my pocket.
This would not be the last note that was left for me.
I have collected hundreds of notes over the years. People leaving little thoughts and prayers. It became a tradition, leaving all of these notes. And I kept every single one of them.