So, on a recent flight, when a woman sat in the aisle seat in the same row as me, I made a deal with myself to be the minimum amount of polite, say hello, and then commit the rest of the flight to reading and napping.
This woman had other ideas.
She was outgoing and seemed eager to chat, but wasn’t particularly unusual or forthright, at first. Soon, however, she would be crossing all sorts of social boundaries.
We exchanged expected pleasantries ranging from ‘where’s home?’ and ‘how are you spending the holidays?’ But things seemed a little off when she kept asking the same questions and couldn’t remember my answers. I politely reminded her and she apologized and admitted she’d had some drinks on her previous flight.
Then, she started holding her gaze with my eyes for longer than was comfortable, so I shifted in my seat and looked out the window.
I started to read my book and she asked how long the flight would be. I shrugged that I didn’t really know, but estimated it as a few hours. She seemed bored. I continued reading.
“What’s that book about?” She asked.
I explained the premise as she feigned interest.
She looked around the cabin as if she’d never been in a plane before and then ordered a cranberry and vodka. She started asking me some of the same questions we’d already covered.
I was getting annoyed and answered in short, definitive bursts before turning back to my book.
“Stop reading and talk to me!” She demanded, acting somewhat playful, but came across as completely annoying. I rolled my eyes, but decided to give her a listening ear. I reminded myself that people are more important than books and dug deep to give her some attention.
She told me about her five children from three different husbands, a life in medicine she never was allowed to live because of motherhood, and the sacrifice required to raise her kids. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
I said “it’s OK” and acted supportive.
She told me that I need to recognize my own mother and appreciate her for all she does for my siblings and I. I promised I would.
She pulled herself together and asked me again what I do. I told her a different version of the same story I’d already shared and she said she admired my spontaneity.
Then a lull took over the conversation and I turned back to my book.
“I’m spontaneous too,” she blurted.
“OK,” I nodded.
“I want to get on top of you right now,” she shared.
I was speechless.
She waited an uncomfortable few seconds before saying that she was “totally kidding” and began laughing. I courtesy chuckled and then turned to the clouds outside my window to ask the heavens what the hell was going on.
I acted like I was reading my book, but couldn’t shake the discomfort I was feeling. Strange silence sat in the seat between us. She ordered another drink and I wished the flight attendant would refuse to serve her, but she didn’t and so I shoved into the farthest corner of my seat, trying desperately to disappear.
She wondered aloud who was going to pick her up when the plane landed and then turned to me to say she’d really like to go for a ride with me somewhere. This time, she didn’t say she was kidding.
I leaned my head against the window and shut my eyes, wishing all of the situation would go away. Instead, they blinked open when my arm was poked by the woman declaratively stating she had an idea.
She put up the armrests that had been acting as a much appreciated barricade between us. Before I could properly react, she began to lay out on the seats and place her head on my leg. I sat straight up and shoved my jacket under her as a buffer disguised as chivalry. She appreciated it and then started snoozing.
Like a parent, enjoying the quiet moments when their child naps, I savored the respite.
I began to pray she’d stay asleep for the rest of the flight and wake up only once we touched down in Sacramento. Obvious solutions are apparent to me now, but in that moment I was paralyzed by discomfort and didn’t ask to move to a different seat.
The sound of the flight attendant announcing tray tables up and seats in their upright position was music to my ears. The lady got off me and I silently rejoiced.
She began scrolling through her phone as we taxied along the runway to our final gate. She showed me pictures of her kids, but settled on one of her ex-husband for longer than any of the others. She shoved the phone in front of my face.
“Wow,” she muttered.
“Hmm?” I asked, quickly regretting having said that much.
“He looks just like you,” she said.
He didn’t at all. He was a human male, so we shared that in common, but nothing more.
She tried to convince me and held the phone up, comparing our faces.
“He even talks like you,” she continued. “I mean, he’s a total free spirit and spontaneous like you. It’s so weird.”
I was curious to know if there were any legitimate similarities, so I asked what he did.
“Owns a nightclub,” she said. “Other than that, he doesn’t do much of anything.”
I wasn’t seeing the connection. I looked away and praised God I was almost out of there. She fumbled around her phone and let out an exasperated sigh.
“I don’t know who’s picking me up at the airport,” she said, staring longingly at me. I shrugged and looked out the window.
“I’d really want to jump in a car and drive off with you.”
I bolted for the baggage claim the moment my feet were on solid ground and vowed to never be nice to anyone on a plane ever again.