I make my way through the aisle after greeting the perky flight attendant who seems to not miss a beat. I wish I had some of her confidence, my knees are so shaky and my breath is short. I realize my nervousness is taking away some of my focus and for the 3rd time look down at my ticket to verify that I haven’t passed my seat.
“13A” I start to whisper to myself in a catchy tune, trying not to forget.
“here we are,” I say, trying to stuff my carry-on bag in the overhead compartment.
It seems effortless in movies but for some reason, I’m having a tough time. I guess it’s because unlike me, people who fly out are usually going someplace exciting. I grab my seat and ponder for a second, trying to get myself together. I watch people quite slowly find their preassigned exciting seats and quickly regret not bringing with me some work.
As a writer, work has been hard for me. Unlike my husband, I wasn’t born into a family who had a path set up for me as soon as I was born. My mom was more of the, “figure it out yourself” kind of woman and although I liked it before, these I couldn’t help but resent her for it. Here I was, 27 years old and living off my husband because silly old me wanted to pursue a career in writing. I’m starting to wonder if I’m even good anymore since every publisher denies my entries. My husband used to always cheer me on, he’d say I was a great writer and one day someone would notice my talent. At twenty-seven you’d think someone other than him would’ve noticed but here I am, with no published writing to my name.
In the next minute, an older woman plops on the seat next to me, 13B. She sits for a few minutes trying to catch her heavy breath, she must’ve run here.
“it’s my first time,” I say later to the older lady sitting next to me.
She seems like a nice enough lady who wouldn’t mind saying a few words to a stranger. She looks like that kind of grandma who bakes holiday cookies and knows all of the names of the hosts on QVC. It almost gives me a sense of comfort which I must say, I do need. She looks at me for a minute as if she were taking a mental photograph of me. I became uncomfortable and a nervous laugh escaped my lips.
She finally speaks, “Your first time? Are you kidding? How old are you?” she asks, her sweet voice brings me back to comfort.
“Yes, I’m 27. I guess I don’t get out much, huh?” She smells like peppermint patties. “I guess not” she smiles.
“I’m Luke,” I say, as if she had asked.
“Margaret,” she says, extending her hand to shake mine.
Her soft wrinkly hands feel fragile and warm. Margaret looks to have expensive taste; she’s wearing the most beautiful black suede coat with mink fur around the neckline, her white hair perfectly styled in a bun and her lips are stained pink. I stare at her for a few seconds wondering what her life outside of crowded airplanes is like. She seems intriguing.
“So Margaret,” I say, “where are you headed all by yourself?”
“New York, isn’t that where you’re headed?” she says, taking a quick glance at her ticket as if she’d possibly gotten on the wrong plane.
“Yes,” I say, “well, technically. I have a connecting flight to Japan.”
Margaret looks at me now, with eyes wide “What’s in Japan? Your wife? I noticed your ring and I don’t see anyone near you or else you wouldn’t be talking to an old lady like me, I assume.”
I look at her and smile unsure of what to say. In my experience, older folks don’t get it. They don’t get how a man like me, masculine, tall and muscular can be gay. I’ve heard so many times by women of all ages that I’m “such a waste” simply because I like men. I mean, it’s not that I’m ashamed to say I don’t have a wife but a husband instead because believe me, I’ve had plenty of time to get acquainted with myself. It’s more that I’m avoiding unsolicited comments. I mean, there isn’t much Ms. Margaret can do. She can’t move to a different seat, and I don’t think the gayness rubs off, or at least I hope it doesn’t. After what seems to be like an eternity I finally choke up an answer,
“No, actually. My husband, mam. He’s in the military.”
My stomach turns as the words come out of my mouth and I look down, making zero eye
contact. I have no idea why this is so scary for me, even coming out to my mom wasn’t this terrifying. When I came out to my mom all she said was,
“Congratulations Luke, do you want me to throw you a party or something?” and that was enough for me.
At that age, I loved my mom for being that way; she just didn’t make a fuss about much. Even when she caught me and my first boyfriend making out in the bathroom once all she said was, “Can I use the bathroom? Or are you two going to be long?” in her most sarcastic tone.
Making us feel uncomfortable was good enough for her. Maybe her inability to make a fuss about things was what didn’t push me to be more than a lousy “writer” who lives off other
people. Deep down I hoped Margaret would be somewhat like my mother because when convenient to me, I loved that my mother didn’t make a fuss. I finally choke up the courage to look up at Margaret who though quiet, looks unfazed by the news. I wonder if like my mother, she wanted to throw me a party. There’s still time for that party, I can call my mother and arrange something.
The flight attendant comes by with drinks and Margaret orders a coffee and I order a diet coke. When Margaret is sure the stewardess is a few rows away, she moves closer to me and whispers,
“how gay of you,” pointing at my diet coke.
I can’t help but laugh along with Margaret, I guess it’s her way of letting me know she was still interested in speaking to me. She quickly warmed up to me. She said she had a gay son about my age and if I weren’t married she’d want us to date. Typical. Everyone always has a gay relative as soon as I say I’m gay and of course, this relative is nine times out of ten my perfect match. I know however that if Margaret knew the truth about me and my failure as a “career man” she would have kept that comment to herself. No one wants their son dating a failed writer, I know my mother in law sure doesn’t. I can’t be mad at Ms. Margaret though, mostly because I misjudged her and thought she’d be homophobic just because she was old. But also, because she was as intriguing as I thought. She too was on her way to her husband. She’d been away on business and he was in New York anxiously awaiting her arrival. She told me about all the places they’d been and all of their business ventures.
“We’ve only been married but two years,” she explained. “We didn’t want marriage at first, we were fine without the title but later it became important. I needed to make health
decisions for him and a bunch of government stuff, you know. To some folks, it means nothing if you aren’t married so we just went and eloped, no big deal. We’re too old to make a fuss about things.”
“I like people who don’t make a fuss,” I added, “my mom is the same way.”
When it was Ms. Margaret’s turn to ask me about my life, I debated a while. I wanted to lie and tell her about the perfect life I live like I tell most strangers but there was something about her. Something that made me feel so warm and vulnerable. Quickly, I was telling Margaret my whole life story.
“I’m scared Ms. Margaret, I have been talking with you so much because I want to busy my mind. For one, I’m scared about being on a plane for the first time, alone” I sigh deeply, still debating on whether I should continue.
“You see, when I first met my husband, we planned an amazing life. He’d go on to the military for just four years just to please his parents then he’d leave. We wanted to travel around after, he promised he’d be there for my first plane ride…”
I can feel a tear escaping my eye and rushing down my cheek. Ms. Margaret reaches into her small brown purse and hands me a napkin without saying a single word but somehow using her eyes to motion me to continue. I do.
“You see Ms. Margaret, I am not one to believe in fairytales, I get that life has its obstacles and all but when we saw that my writing career wasn’t taking off the way we expected, he had to reenlist.”
I wipe off another tear, waiting for Ms. Margaret to say something, but when she doesn’t, I continue.
“He said we needed to keep money flowing and he ended up getting deployed. Quite frankly, we haven’t been okay since. We fight a lot now, but it is my fault. He tried really hard to be kind to me but I just cannot help but to feel sorry for myself and blame him for things that I know aren’t in his control. I’ve become a liar. I lied to him telling him I was happy… And I lied to myself trying to believe I’d one day get published.”
I let out a deep sigh and blew my nose into the wet teary napkin.
“Oh Luke,” she says, embracing me. Her peppermint scent somehow soothing me. She pulls away and begins again,
“You see, you know what your problems are but you do nothing to fix them. You know you lie, you know you like to play blame games with people who do not deserve it but for some odd reason, you do not stop. It is obviously tearing you and your marriage apart.”
“It’s too late Ms. Margaret, he wants a divorce.” I let the words escape my lips for the first time and they sting.
“Oh but you cannot give it to him!” she says matter-of-factly.
“I have to, he asked and I need to do at least one thing that will make him happy. I never take him and what he wants into consideration. I must do it just this once. I owe him that” I say, the words leaving me empty as they escape my lips.
My tongue becomes numb like it does when I do scary things, like getting on a plane for the first time, alone. Or walking around with divorce papers in my luggage… that sort of thing.
“Well Luke, you are both making a big mistake. Marriage is about fixing things, not just throwing it away when things get tough.”
“I know. In a way, I’m hoping that him seeing me will make him change his mind. Its why I’m going all the way there in person. You see, he had sent me a ticket for today some time ago, we were happy but as the day got closer, the relationship started to deteriorate. He asked me to just mail the papers but I couldn’t help myself.” I say, my voice shaky.
“You go on over there and change his mind, you hear me? Then you go on and fix yourself. Quit those bad habits and be a man, Luke or you’ll always ruin anything good that comes your way.” Ms. Margaret replied.
Ms. Margaret was in fact like my mother. Like Ms. Margaret, all the blame was put on me. I mean, I deserve the blame but it sucks to hear it. My mother told me since it was my fault, I shouldn’t make a fuss. She told me I should let my husband go and that I was only holding him and myself back by staying.
“we don’t make a fuss; we don’t beg Luke. Have I taught you nothing?” she said on the phone that night.
On the next plane now, from New York City to Japan, I make sure not to talk to the person next to me. My life story is one I don’t want to keep repeating. When I land, I don’t know what I’ll do, if my convincing will work or if I’ll just give up and give him what he wants. Ms. Margaret asked me to keep her posted on the situation but I don’t know that I will. My fear of the gigantic aircraft has been replaced with new fears. Ones of life as a 27-year-old divorced writer, living on the street.