She is immediately the most annoying person I have ever met. The bag she carries is too big to fit in the overhead, even after we pull mine down. Now my bag is at my feet, wedged in the space under the seat in front of me, on top of my “personal item”—mostly, really, on my feet. She pushes her bag down onto the floor, cramming it in front of the middle seat. She flops down, sideways, in the seat on the aisle. She chews her gum. Looking at me she says, “Do you think I can charge my cell phone in here?”
Feet on her bag on the floor, knees up, she’s looking for the power outlet. The guy in the aisle seat, the guy who told her that that one was his, says he doesn’t think there is one. She’s nudged me in the side, pushed me. She’s punched me with an elbow as she bends, searching for a socket. She turns to me. “When I was a kid I flew with my family to Paris and you could charge your phone on the plane.” It was a really nice plane, though, she says. “Sounds nicer than ours,” I say,”We’re not flying to Paris.”
The phone is encased in a large rubber protector, and yet the screen is shattered to bits. Through the shards she’s showing me pictures of her four-wheeler. She just got it, she says. She and a bunch of the guys took their “quads” out on a frozen lake over the weekend. “I went sixty miles an hour on that lake,” she says, “Opened the throttle right up.” The guys with her would never be so brave. One guy was shocked when she pulled off her helmet. The helmet had covered her ponytail. He was surprised she was a girl the way she drove that quad.
Our plane has been delayed. “Maintenance,” the captain says on the loud speakers, voice full of apology. I am tired, a long week and weekend. A great time at a conference, but an exhausting one. I’d like to sleep. A podcast plays in my ears, but I can’t keep focussed on it because she keeps talking to me. I pull out an earbud each time to listen.
The bag she has with her is new. Someone bought it for her in the airport. She couldn’t check it because she didn’t have any money. The bag’s presence is all due to her wallet, or the absence of it. She left it in her mom’s car. “So, yeah, this guy bought me this bag. My mom had put all my stuff in one of those recycled bags tied closed with string.” The bag was only forty-five dollars. “In an airport?” I say, “I’d expect it to be more like sixty-five.” She says seventy-five would be what she thought it would cost, and look, it even has “I Love New York” printed on it.
She flags down the stewardess who takes away her phone and cord to charge in the back of the airplane. “I gotta have my phone,” she says, “I gotta have it when I land. I have to be able to call my husband. I have to see my kid. I haven’t seen him in a year.” Her son just turned three. She is sure he will recognize her from the sound of her voice. “Kids remember their mother’s voices,” she says.
He was handsome, a great looking guy. He was the son of her dad’s boss and he was in her hospital. She had to go take his blood after he had an accident on the job. She’d never met him, never seen him before that night. “That’s crazy, right?” she says. “My dad’s boss’s son in MY hospital?” “That’s how the universe is sometimes,” I say. They started dating. He was already doing drugs. She was too, some, not heavy like him. His drug use got worse. She was pregnant. They got married. It was too much, finally, and he went home to Texas for rehab. Their son went with him. The grandmother would watch him while her husband recovered. “Does this make me a bad mother?” she says, “Was I wrong? I had to get myself together too, you know. Put my life back together after all that. So I could be his mom again.”
Everything she is wearing is from Victoria’s Secret. Everything but her tank top. It’s from Old Navy. She shows me the top of her corset under the tank top. Her husband wouldn’t expect that, sexy underwear under her clothes, not a corset anyway. She’s wearing it because he hasn’t seen her in a year, and well ... you know. It’s really uncomfortable though. It keeps squeezing her and she’s shifting around, bumping me again. I say, “Well, they don’t expect you to travel in it I bet.”
We’ve deplaned. We’ve trudged to a gate across the airport to get on another plane. We’ve been offered free Direct TV on the monitors in the headrests in front of us. It doesn’t work. They can’t get the satellite to sync or something, so it’s free booze for those who want it. Four hours have passed, two in the first plane on the ground, and now here we are. Flying home. Finally. They give two small bottles of vodka to the girl. She wants to know how much alcohol I think is in each of them. “A couple of shots,” I say. “I bet it’s almost three,” she says, throwing one back with a Coke and a tranquilizer she has because she’s nervous when she flies. She’s quiet then, for a while. Then she’s back from the bathroom and I am approving her makeup job. We land. The last time I see her is at the top of the escalators that lead down to baggage claim. Her back to me, she is wrapped around a guy with a small boy at her side.
“Do you think we’re going to make it?” she’d asked me. I tell her I don’t know. It sounds like they’ve both been working on themselves, so that’s in their favor at least. She’s coming to Texas to try, she says. She has to try, right? “Yeah,” I say, “You have to try.” It’s hot in Texas, warm. She wants to know if there is much snow where her husband lives. It’s rarely even cold there. He lives near the coast. She says, “I’m going to miss the snow.”