Flying Solo

I was so looking forward to two long flights alone last week when I flew to Chicago for the AWP conference. I carried a good book, Revolutionary Road, which I’d read enough of to know I was hooked (I didn’t want to board the plane with a 500 page novel only to find it didn’t capture my attention). I had a manuscript on my laptop (my dad’s newest project) and I had the latest New Yorker and NYT magazine in case my attention span waned.

I claimed my spot – window seat on the wing—and sat ready with my story (“First flight in 7 years without kids; back off!”) in case a talkative passenger settled in next to me, but I was in luck. A young couple sat down. The man immediately put on his headphones and closed his eyes. His partner put on headphones, too, and got out two magazines, Maxim and Esquire. She laid them on her tray table and moved back and forth between them, not so much reading as studying, like a photo editor would. Periodically, she carefully folded them up and put them neatly away and took out her make-up case. She powdered her nose and chin, then took out a tube of black liquid eye liner and reapplied it, bottom and top. She didn’t look any different to me after these attentions, and her traveling companion never opened his eyes. After the make-up refresher, she’d get the magazines out again and study them until some internal clock signalled that it was time for more make up. So it went until Chicago.

My return flight was so delayed, I wound up flying stand by on a flight to a different local airport. I was 10th on the list of 12 stand-by passengers, and when I finally boarded, it looked like I had two choices: between two men so big that I couldn’t at first see the middle seat between them, and between a pair of grandparents already struggling with a tiny baby. I considered. I remembered this was my childless flight. I squeezed between the two men. They didn’t much care; they carried on their conversation as if I weren’t there. At one point, one of the men got out his computer, a dvd, and a pair of headphones. “Let’s watch that Dead concert!” he said to his friend. And so they did, the volume loud, the headphones ineffectual, the friends singing along happily together, me with my book smushed between them.

I thought of the time toddler Ben and I whiled away an hour of a plane flight taking the plastic lid off a cup and putting it back on. I thought of the time baby Eli and I spent 45 easy minutes on a plane tearing a piece of paper into tiny pieces, and counting each piece before putting it into the airsick bag. I thought of the time I sat on the floor of a plane, facing the two boys on their seats, and read them book after book after book. I thought of hours spent nursing them both, my arms aching, my legs falling asleep, through take-offs and landings and all the long hours of flight in between. And I returned to reading my book, and tuned out the Grateful Dead, and I missed them.

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