“The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single, but that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely.” ― Charlotte Brontë
The weight of loneliness seems heavier when you travel. But this isn’t a blog post about loneliness. Originally I intended to write about my trip to Vegas and Denver. Yet, for some reason all I could cover was the nine hour delay I spent in the airport.
Even the sunburned, pony-tailed, fifty-year-old couples heading to Sin City were more enthused than me. When I heard that my plane was delayed I bought a book and waited for the food vouchers. Then I followed a guy from my gate, wearing 90’s jeans, to find lunch—allowing myself the comfort of bar food, minus the alcohol.
I was hoping to eat with someone from my gate and spare myself the discomfort of eating alone. But the 90’s jeans guy was lost in the crowd. So I sat near the bar and eavesdropped on conversation.
I overheard a man say he was an army soldier heading to Iraq. He had a bald head and tattoos that climbed up his arms, disappearing under his sleeves. In his southern dialect he talked about the freedoms of military life.
“Ever wonder what it’s like to run buck naked through the dessert with an AK-47?” he said with a laugh. “We do crazy shit like that, you can’t do in the States.”
Glad to hear the Department of Defense is enjoying themselves, I thought with a smile.
He drank from an enormous glass mug. The man beside him was mid-thirties with a hairline reaching back behind his ears. He had all the excitement of a child hearing the man’s war stories, eyes wide with fascination. On the other side of the soldier’s admirer was a woman in her mid-forties. She could have been a news anchor, her face and hair a vision for CBS. She sipped a glass of beer and complained about the airport in Frankfurt Germany and I wondered what it must be like to have a job that travels.
I finished my coke and a good amount of my food, flashed my voucher at the waitress, and left without tipping. Yes I know, contributing to the poor opinion of Millennials. But in my defense I was stuck in an airport with no intention of buying lunch.
Later I befriended a woman with black dragon nails and a tattoo of a caterpillar smoking hookah. When I asked her about it she said, “Shit, he’s the only one who knows what he’s talking about, the only friend of Alice who’s got his shit together.” I considered the likelihood of her and I becoming friends and wondered where in the world (other than an airport) would I find myself talking about caterpillar tattoos with a woman from Las Vegas.
We were both on the phone when the loud speaker announced a further delay of three hours. She gave me an eye-roll and said into her phone, “This is f-ing Indiana! I can’t smoke my e-sig anywhere.”
As the shadows in the airport stretched across the floor I pondered the disadvantage e-sig smokers encounter in Midwest airports. My only comparison was perhaps when I went to a restroom in Korea and found all the toilets were squatie-potties.
We boarded at last and I got the aisle seat, where my long legs had nowhere to go but into the aisle, which caused a flight attendant to trip as she brought down the drink cart. The couple beside me complained how they’d missed an entire day in Vegas because of the delay. But soon they were munching snacks and cuddling as the plane took off.
* * *
I’m soaring 30,000 feet above the earth and no one knows me. I sort of envy the couple beside me, huddled beneath a blanket for warmth, hand-in-hand, embarking on a new adventure. I use to be more excited about travel. Now all I can think about is to whom I will cling if the plane goes down.
There is a woman one row back across the aisle who looks twice my age. She too is flying solo. Plugging her ears she rests her jacket on her lap. I do the same.
My headphones do the trick, blocking out the noises and the thoughts that at any moment this metal tube could plummet to the earth. To whom would I cling?
Thankfully, I’m soon lost in the audio reading of a short story in The New Yorker. It takes me to Montana’s ski slopes from the voice of a husky man who, by the end of the story, seems like my old friend. There’s a carelessness about his voice that speaks to how life always promises more than it delivers.
The plane touches down and I stand peevishly in the aisle waiting for people to move along. A year ago I would have sat patiently considering where all these travelers were going. Now I’m wondering if it would be rude to cut in front of the guy who’s taking too long. I race through the airport with all the fifty-year-old couples who are trying to act twenty. They squeeze hands with their significant other, trotting along as if they want to hit the Casinos tonight. I follow behind, long strides, sleepy-eyed, wondering what it’s like to have someone’s warm hand enclosed around yours. At long last I see the familiar face of my 72-year-old grandmother. And I realize that all I really wanted today was a hug and a familiar smile.