I am a what-if-er. I constantly second guess, always wonder if the grass is greener on the other side, and have a plethora of old boyfriends that continue to send the occasional, “Thinking of you” text that sabotages my current state of happiness. I believe life is short and should be lived. I always think there is something bigger out there for me, something waiting, something that can only be described as an “aha” moment. I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day with me. I have a field day with me. I’d like to think I’m not the only one out there living her life in this fashion. I’m like an episode of Hoarders, but with thoughts and doubts and an extremely overactive fairy tale princess wanna-be side I can’t seem to control.
Someday I am going to write a book. (At least this is what I tell my friends and various strangers when I’m unemployed and self-doubting once again.) My book will be about possible missed chances, moments in time, the connections we feel with total strangers, and an attempt at understanding life better by seeing it through the eyes of others. Maybe this is the start of my book…
Is This Seat Taken
The airport bar…if ever there was a place to people watch, this is it. Angry, agitated business travelers who want nothing more than to be home with their families mixed with vacationers thankful their flight was delayed so they can have a few more drinks before heading back to reality. As I sit waiting for a beer and a sub par burger that will inevitably wreak havoc on my thirty-seven year old digestive system halfway through my flight, I am looking around and analyzing my fellow travelers. In the corner there are a couple of business men laughing obnoxiously while attempting not to let me see them looking at everyone else in the bar. (They know I’ve seen.) At the table behind me sits a couple who are animatedly talking about getting home to their children. I smile, tell them I am the mother of four, and they respond with stunned looks mixed with sympathetic eyes full of wonder. As the bartender continues to ignore my empty glass, a man walks up behind me and begins to wait for someone to take his order.
“If you want to get a drink I suggest you get closer to the bar. Service here sucks,” I say with a clever smile.
“I see. I guess that’s ok. I have a two hour delay,” he replies, his smile a little less clever but intriguing nonetheless.
“You going to Hartford?” I ask.
“I am. Are you from Connecticut?”
Thus begins the initial exchange between two people who, until this point, have gone about their lives without knowing the other existed. Sort-of.
In the next few minutes it is discovered that this “stranger” and I grew up two blocks from each other and attended the same elementary school. (He was four years older so the name rings a bell and there is a familiarity there but other than common teachers and a mutual fondness for the crossing guard, we can’t recall ever actually having met.) As luck, or chance, would have it, my travel partner went home early and I am aware that the seat beside me on the plane will most likely be unoccupied. As my newfound “stranger” lingers behind me when the boarding call is heard, and ultimately pays for my drinks and burger, we decide if the seat hasn’t been rebooked he will sit next to me so we can continue laughing about the good old days we didn’t experience together. Seriously, what are the chances?!
Once on the plane we are happy it is just the two of us in our aisle. We talk non-stop and I learn he has been married for more than a decade and his wife is expecting their third child. He learns about me, my inability to find my path in life, and we both are envious of the other for different reasons. I applaud his stability and commitment. He sees the wild spark in my eyes and wonders how his life would be different had he been more like me. We eat peanuts, Terra Blue Chips, mini chocolate chip cookies and there are a few empty nip bottles and beer cans on our trays.
As we begin our descent he leans over to look out the window and his hand brushes against my leg. He starts to pull it back as our eyes lock but quickly changes his mind and rests his hand on my thigh. For some reason I am nervous. I am happy in my current relationship and am looking forward to getting home. He has a wife and almost three kids. We are in a moment, his moment, and what he is about to say will haunt me forever.
“I haven’t touched another woman’s leg like that in fourteen years,” he says, quietly and with reflection.
I begin to realize I have become something to this man I will most likely never see again in my life. I am moved by his honesty and the heaviness it seems to carry. Suddenly, I want to be a part of his moment, if only to let him know it is ok. He takes his hand back.
“I’m sorry,’ he says. “I shouldn’t have.”
“It’s ok. I get it,” I reply, but really I don’t get it. I can’t imagine only having touched one person for fourteen years.
He looks at me, eyes full of wonder. He places his hand back on my leg and takes my hand into his. For the next fifteen minutes we stay that way, hands clasped, not speaking. As the plane lands we slowly let go and I feel the need to kiss him softly on the cheek.
“Thank you,” he whispers.
As we walk quietly down to the baggage claim we smile nervously. Earlier in the flight numbers had been exchanged under the pretense we would reconnect on the ground and get together with kids and significant others for pizza, but now, we both know we will never speak again.
We had shared a moment like no other and that is all it would ever be.
Until this point I have only told this story to two of my closest friends and my mother. I know some will judge, some will call us names or say even the simple act of holding hands was dishonest and hurtful. I have chosen to disagree and believe anyone who breathes has at some point locked eyes with that handsome stranger, stood a little too close to that attractive young woman, or spent an afternoon thinking about what life would be like if they just ran away.
My airport ‘stranger’ and I did nothing wrong. I believe I was there for a man who, for some reason, felt a connection and a need to escape into a world of what-if, and who, at the end of the day, went home and kissed his wife a little sweeter and held her a little closer. I went home and wanted nothing more than to only be touched by one man for the next fourteen years.