Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Seat 23 B. In the Middle.

Dallas to Denver.  Seat 23B.  It's in the middle.  I sat between two men, one young, one old. 

(Young = high school.  Old = retired.) 
(At least in this story.)

The young man looked out his window, looking back at the airport.  "It's depressing to leave my family."

(I don't talk much to strangers anymore, but this was a sentence I could acknowledge.)  "Oh, I'm sorry.  Yes, I bet it is." 

"My family lives in Texas, but I go to school in Colorado.  Are you from Texas?"

"No, I'm from Denver."

"Oh.  'Cause you sound like you're from Texas."

(I had handed him 12 words.  And in them, he found a Texan accent.)

I raised my eyebrows in response, not really sure what else to say.   In another season, I might have fluttered with paragraphs about where I'm originally from, how interesting accents are, the Salad Bowl of the United States - really, any number of topics.

I simply raised my eyebrows.  Nodded slightly.  The unspoken, "No kidding?  Texas.  Huh."

But he was finished with his observation anyway.  Back to his longing looks out the window.

Once we had reached prime elevation, I broke out the laptop.  Type, type, type.  Click, click, click.

"So, is that like some summary or something you're writing for a class?" asks the young man.

He had been reading over my shoulder.  (I can't say I haven't done the same thing.  There isn't much privacy in the forced intimacy of plane flights.)

"Oh, no, I'm working on a manuscript."

He looked at me squarely.  "Dude.  You're a writer?"

"I am."

"Oh.  That's weird."

I raised my eyebrows.  Nodded slightly.  The unspoken, "Weird.  Well, huh.  Nobody has actually ever responded that way."

He looked out the window.  I typed and clicked.  I'm sure he kept reading.  Over my shoulder.

"We'll need you to power down now, ma'am," says the airline attendant, gathering one last round of trash.

I shut down the laptop and exchange it for my current paperback, another from the collections of Madeleine L'Engle.  Man, I love her. 

The older man speaks from the other side, "So, as a writer, don't you worry about reading other people's stuff?  Like you might plaigiarize it or something?"

This was our opening dialogue, at the end of the flight.  We hadn't exchanged words yet, although I had retrieved several things for him from the floor between our seats, since he didn't have a left arm and kept dropping things.

"Well, I'm pretty careful."

"My goodness, if I were a writer, I'd never read anybody else's book ever again.  All I'd do is write.  So I could make sure it was my own stuff.  I mean, don't you ever write something and then think, wait, did I think of that, or did it come from somebody else, something else I read?"

In another season, I may have launched into a diatribe about the benefits of a writer's reading, about building one's thoughts on the inspiration of others, about the truth that good writers are good readers. 

Instead, I said, "Well, I've always got a few books going at once, so I guess there are always a few voices speaking into my writing."

"So, do you write for children?"

"No, mostly adults."

"What do you write about?"

I should have said, "A public journal of the perils of dog walking."  But I wasn't quick enough on the draw.  I was honest instead.

"I am recently widowed.  I'm writing about this first year without my husband."

"Ah.  And what did your husband do?"  (Not typically the first response, but I'll roll with it.)

"He was a corporate trainer for Farmers Insurance."

"Oh, so he probably knows that actor who does the Farmers commercials about their specialized training."

(Wow.  Um, just, wow.)

"Well, no, he doesn't know the actor, but he was on the team that wrote that curriculum."  (And he traveled 20,000 airmiles that year, as I recall.)

He elbowed me with his half-arm.

"I'm just kiddin' with ya'.  Just joshin'.  You know, that actor?  He used to play the psychologist on one of those law and order shows, and he has always played such a smart guy until he played that one role in a movie with Tom Hanks.  I'll tell ya, in that movie he played such an idiot, a real know-it-all.  Blew off his own dog's face."

Oh.  My word.  I open my book.  Madeleine is so much safer than this.  (Robb would say, "Tricia, this is what you get for talking to the person next to you.  Just keep your headphones in. That's what I always did.")

He paid no attention to my nonverbal cues.  He plodded ahead.

"You know, the bottom line is whether they sell more insurance."

(That's really the bottom line.  Really?)

"You know, I'm old enough to remember the old beer commercials with sophisticated humor, and those commercials were a really big hit.  But the problem is that the people with sophisticated humor weren't the ones buying all the beer, so really their ad campaign didn't work at all.  The bottom line is whether they sell more of their product."

"Yes, I guess it is."

I opened my book.  I put in my headphones, even though the FAA denies the use of all electronics during take-off and landing. 

Madeleine and I cruised together to a safe landing, between these two oddballs. 

I'm taking her with me everywhere.


Jaimie said...


I hate getting stuck next to weird people. But one time I got stuck next to the most inspirational person ever. She was tall, like me, and she empathized with the perils of my tallness in a motherly older sort of way (she was older). And then she spoke to my unspoken fear of men finding me attractive, being so tall, by saying her boyfriend loved her height. "He calls my legs his runway." She was an airline stewardess. It was sexy.

Noel said...

Oh, sweetie. Un.Be.Lievable. Wow. Just. Wow. I HATE when people say the wrong thing. I want to walk around with you and protect you all the time from people saying the wrong thing to you. I'm so sorry.

Jan Verhoeff said...

Really? How do they know if it's the wrong thing?

People don't do things to harm others, most of the time. They do what is comfortable for themselves. These men weren't edging on Tricia, they were attempting in their own way to be friendly.

As a writer, his perception of writers was skewed a bit, although... I know writers who never pickup a book out of fear of copyright infringement.Others never stop reading (good for you Tricia). Personally, I read when I can, but more often than not, I'm writing instead.

Tricia, most people don't understand your feelings. But they do understand that they are uncomfortable trying to relate to you, in this time of pain, so they make mistakes by relating in ways they believe they'd want to have others relate to them. Would it happen that way? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. My point is, you have to protect yourself (with ear plugs, etc.) and it's okay to say, "I can't have this conversation right now."

My personal moment to remember came earlier this week when a woman said (about my mom), "Some people are just too sweet to live on this earth." I was instantly in tears, but the sentiment has come back to me over and over. I believe that to be true about my mom. This past years events would have been very painful for her. Instead, she's safe in the arms of God, far away from the pain.

We are blessed with tender moments, and then God takes his chosen home. Treasured memories come from such as these. :)

Dawn said...

oh goodness!! i always get nervous around people on planes ha! once i was speaking with my daughter in simple spanish that we are teaching her and this woman asked what region i was from lol I looked puzzling at her and she's like i'm a high school spanish teacher, what region do you come from...i smiled and said ohio lol hahaha!

GINA said...

Wow! I pray that God will give me the right words when I am in situations like this. I want to be a blessing not a burden!! I'm sorry that you have to face this stuff!
Praying for you!

Macksgirl said...

We've never met, but I've been reading your blog since January. I have had to notice how much we circumstantially have in common- I'm a redhead, married to a big hearted, Christ-following man, with lovely red haired children. I was an elementary ed major in college, love to read, and hope to write a book someday. It appears we are the same age and married our husbands the same summer. This post made me gasp when I read where Robb worked, because my husband also works for Farmers. It's just a little weird. Please don't mistake my notation of our similarities as me pretending that I can understand what you are going through, because obviously I can't and that's not my intention. But those basic similarities somehow make what you write hit a little closer to home with me as I realize how fragile life is and how quickly the unthinkable can happen. Thank you so much for writing about the hard things and sharing your heart with strangers. It changes us, makes us think, challenges us, and gives us hope. You and your boys are often in my prayers. (Sorry this had nothing to do with your post :)

Terry said...

oh tricia! have told this story so well that i couldn't take my eyes off of it to the very end!..
you know what?, you and
madeleine may have cruised to a safe landing between these two odd balls, but you know what?..i really do think that you are a nice person that cannot help but talk to people...i mean even in a waiting room at the doctors or give the people the time of day. just like you do your readers and that is a gift that you have!..i mean, this was a great true story on a dull saturday afternoon for me! terry

ps..i don't think that you are a
plagiarizer either tricia..your precious stories are one of a kind!

MRSCOAQ said...

Miss Tricia, did you know our Madelynn is named after Madeleine L'Engle? She died in October 2009, two months before I was able to write her a letter to tell her. My grandmother just sent me a collection of letters sent between Madeleine and a good friend of my grandmother's. She is a safe place, indeed, Friend. Take comfort in the journey others have taken before you. Thank you for your continued words.

MRSCOAQ said...

Miss Tricia,

Our little Madelynn is named after Madeleine L'Engle. :) I wanted desperately to write her and tell her, but she passed in Oct. 2009 (our Mady was born that December). Glad you are able to take comfort her in work; it helps to see other people have survived the journey - and you are carrying on her favor. Much love to you and yours.