Prompt: Write about a chance meeting that has stayed with you ever since.
I rarely talk to my seatmates on plane rides. I take the time to read or sleep. Other than friendly conversation, I almost always keep to myself and prefer that others don’t ask me where I’m from or where I’m going.
Maybe it was because we were one of the few people on that plane that were not with children en route to Disney World. Children who were on this particular Saturday in May overjoyed to be on their way to see Mickey Mouse, aided by their parents and the flight attendants singing Disney songs over the loud speaker. Maybe it was because he was stuck in the middle seat on a packed Southwest flight.
It was May 2011–I was en route to Houston for a conference, he was in the Navy and on his way back from training in RI and going to Texas too. Our conversation started about the loud and boisterous children and how many times the back of our seats would be kicked on the 2 hour flight to our layover in Orlando ( note to self: never fly on Southwest on a Saturday via Orlando– worst idea. EVER.)
He was only a few years older than me, but had a wife and kids at home in Texas- we talked about baseball, traveling the world, museums, things I should see when in Houston. He asked me what my husband did after seeing my rings- and for whatever reason- the ease of talking to strangers or just the situation, I started to tell him how things weren’t going the best with my marriage.
This gentleman– whose name I cannot remember– listened to me go on about the issues and fears I had, the problems, the endless hours of couples therapy I did not think I could endure any longer– and he just listened. I didn’t cry like when I talked to my parents, girlfriends, therapists, husband– it was the first calm, rational conversation I had about the state of marriage. And this guy just listened, nodded, and maintained eye contact with me. And when I realized I may have gone way over the airplane conversation etiquette line and profusely apologized, this guy didn’t pick up the complimentary magazine to look busy. He talked back. He told me about his marriage of fifteen years, and how the Navy was the third person in his relationship. He talked about the strain of being deployed overseas while his wife tried to build a life in whatever city he was based out of, about missing his son’s birth, and about a girl he was engaged to from high school who was one of the reasons he joined the Navy. He offered kind words and advice, without judgement or preaching.
It turned out that he was on the next flight with me from Florida to Texas and we ended up sitting next to each other again, but on this leg, he came upon a fellow Navy guy who he knew and ended up as third in our row, so the conversation this time wasn’t as deep, leaving me to my book for most of the quick flight.
When we landed in Houston, I thanked him for his conversation, company, and advice. In that two hours, I was more honest and learned more from a complete stranger about life and love than months of therapy had taught me.
I’ve never had a conversation with another person on a plane again.