Love At 36000 Feet

Shall I sing the middle-seat blues?

Eyes closed and make the best of it. Dream of palm trees and sea breezes. My ears can't distinguish the middle from the window.

"The overhead compartments are now full. Please check you bags at the front of the aircraft."

From the aisle: emphatic sighs and the awkward shuffling of oversized carry-ons.

"Sir, I said those bins are full."

"Yeah, yeah." Grumble grumble.

Front, back, and side-to-side: USA Today crinkles, zippers do their thing, and the pleasing pings and ping-pongs of iPhones. Final missives before....

"Please turn off all electronic devices. If it has an on/off switch....."

"The god-da**ed plane is overbooked and 20 minutes late."

"I Luv U. Can't wait 2 C U."

"Thank you for the ride to the airport, Pop-pop."

The seat on my right, the aisle seat, is empty. Fate has dealt me no partner for this journey. I'm happy and sad at the same time. After all, elbow-room is great, but what if the plane splits in two? An oxygen mask is not enough. In case of fiery descent from 36000 feet, I'll need a hand to hold and a final declaration of eternal love.

My sweaty and bulging seat partner to the left is already fast asleep, a phlegmy cough -- the only sign of life. No, he won't do. I guess I'll die alone, if it comes to that. Didn't Dr. Goldstein discuss the perils of worst-case-scenario thinking? Am I getting anything from these $250 hourly sessions?

That's right, now I remember: Lower my expectations and deepen them. See the world in a grain of sand. Perhaps a meaty and clammy hand will do the trick. One can't be too picky in these matters.

Then, a bump to the elbow.

"Sorry, excuse me. So sorry for running late. I hope I didn't hold-up the plane."

The cushion hisses as fate delivers a fanny to the aisle seat. The air swirls with movement -- the scent is subtle yet unmistakably feminine.

Eyes open.

An exchange of smiles and eye contact. Soft gentle brown eyes and a kind face. Our elbows touch and part. Such a small thing, the grazing of elbows with a stranger. The ever-so-brief exchange of warmth and connection.

The lighting director in my mind dims the house lights. The worries and dramas of everyday living melt away. The spotlight shifts to the outer surface of my right shoulder and forearm. On cue, the nerve endings perform -- perceiving with nearly infinite depth every embrace of our fleeces and each transfer of heat from one shoulder to the other.

We never speak. No exchange of: "So where do you live?" or "So what do you do for a living?" Just the gentle resting of elbows and forearms and shoulders against one another. Shifting position now and then, and then returning. It's nothing and everything at the same time.

Fate has been kind. Perhaps I'll choose the middle seat next time.

KingsleyMartin KingsleyMartin
31-35, M
3 Responses May 8, 2012

This evokes several memories for me - as it must for anyone who reads it. It's one of those things that must happen to everyone - that touch of a stranger on public transportation that could be innocuous but could be meaningful, and you will never discuss it with them, and you will never really know what it meant to them, but you will always know what it meant to you.

Many a love story was composed in my imagination during rides up and down Manhattan on the A express and the C local. God I miss the subway in winter!

hard 2 understand

Exquisite. <3

Thank you!
Part of me grimaces when I ponder the probable other-half (two-sides to every story) of my love tale:
“You won’t believe the nightmare plane ride I just endured. Some creepy dude in the middle seat hogged the no-man’s land between the cushions for the entire flight. I wasn’t about to give an inch, so when he finagled his way into my territory, I pushed right back. The Nerve of some people! “
I’m becoming more spiritual with each passing year. And part of me wonders if my travel companion was a spirit; or if she was real, then perhaps by more than coincidence, she needed a connection at precisely the same time that I needed one. Perhaps our seats were elaborately coordinated by the celestial stage manager – the one who arranges our entrances, costume changes, and exits. Either that, or I owe a big thank you to an anonymous programmer in Bangalore -- kudos for the latest iteration of Orbitz ticket finder software.

*smiles* &lt;3