Wednesday, May 23, 2012

talking to strangers.

"I always hate this part" I said as I grasped the seat in front of me like it would stabilize my rattling body. The plane wheels finally bounced and setteld onto pavement as we landed in Salt Lake City. The part I hate is the slowing down. The roar and push forward as the plane barrels like the bullet down the runway. It's not a sound that inspires faith in the sensation of arrival, if you ask me.

Beside me, he looked unruffled and began to gather his things, switched on his cell phone.

It was a long taxi and we were on the back of the plane, giving us another half hour side by side, but the conversation didn't flow the way it had when we were in the air. It kept stalling and jumping along, suddenly ill at ease. That's the way it is when you're stuck with someone you think you could like, but you'll never see again.

This awkward antsiness is the reason I don't make conversation on planes.

I hate making conversation on planes.

Phone on, I checked my email and start reading through. Texted the appropriate people to let them know I'd landed.

One more flight until Montana.

It was late and I was exhausted, and still a three hour layover in Salt Lake.

I looked over at him surreptitiously and realized I didn't even know his name. That I probably never would. It's funny what people will tell you on planes without even offering up their name. He didn't know mine either. I could lie if I wanted. I could leave without uttering so much as a pleasantry.

Finally the door to the cabin was pried open and mountain air started making its way languidly toward us. It was winter, the chill felt easier to breathe than whatever was pumped through our skyward can.  It had been a long flight. We hadn't even started talking until after the in flight movie, which I'd already seen. Almost the descent before the conversation had started.

He'd spent several minutes trying to good-naturedly explain to me what he did. The job sounded like a bore, some kind of investment bank risk assessment. I tried, because sometimes half the battle with people is listening and asking the appropriate questions. Still, I was relieved when he started talking about buying a bike off of craiglist, only to crash it while drunk and having to spend more money repairing it than it had cost him originally. That kind of stuff I can relate to.

He was from Charleston, traveling with some friends to Salt Lake for a five day ski trip. Rich white people pay good money to leave their warm climates to spend recreational time in places most people avoid living.

Oh wait, I'm moving to one of them.

We live in strange times.

And then we were rising. He handed me my yellow coat from the overhead compartment. I said my thanks as I took it and craned my neck to check the snails pace progress of the rows ahead exiting the plane. We're still going nowhere but my legs are grateful for the weight.

I thought about all the things I knew about him just from twenty minutes. How just talking with him had made me want to visit Charleston.

God, he had a good head of hair.

He was the kind of man women fought over, this I could tell, despite my own personal lack of interest. I wondered who was fighting over him. Who was checking his facebook repeatedly, waiting for any scrap of information. I wondered all the things I would never know, like how many hearts he'd broken or if his mother and father were proud of him, if he'd ever broken his brother's arm by accident when they were playing in the back yard as kids.  Did he even have a brother?

He was reading Atlas Shrugged during the flight, a book that despite my subborn will and the way my eyes dance over pages of print, I've never made it all the way through. He was further along than I'd ever gotten. How many times had I tried? Three? Four? I always started it in the bathtub. Maybe that was the problem.

When I'd confessed that fact to him, he'd laughed.

And then the aisle opened before us, a pathway.

I suddenly felt the pressure of all the things I could possibly say to him in this last moment before we went our separate ways, but I came up with nothing, just walked away. Despite his aisle seat, he gestured for me to go first. So I let my hands guide my carry-on down the center aisle and picked up my pace.

I rolled my luggage with urgency to get away as soon as I reached the tiles at the end of the ramp . I had no idea where I was going, where my next gate would be, I just needed to get away from him. To get to the point where I'd never see him again in my life. For no other reason than the anticipation of that fact driving me to the point of insanity.

It felt like an escape.

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