June 13, 2014
The Woman in the Window Seat


It’s dark, and we all face forward. Here and there, a small screen glows, and occasionally, someone walks by offering beverages. In my dreams, old lovers are trying to kiss me. And my old apartment takes on more romance and sophistication than it had in life. Soft light glows down angularly from the heavens through the tall windows, and people admire my sparse furnishings. I grin, like I knew it all along.

My stomach lurches and my eyes open in the dark. I want to be sleeping. My body struggles against being awake. Now: a stand-off. Angry intestines curse the turbulent air. I can’t sleep when I’m angry. Reluctantly, I am awake. Anxiety courses through my chest and arms in tandem with the bouncing waves. I pray to far reaches of existence to balance this situation, to keep me safe.

On the next swell, I hear a moan. Two seats over, a woman cries out in despair and doubles over in her seat. Either she’s terribly ill and will require an emergency landing, or she’s having trouble remembering to say her prayers.

Without thinking, I grab her hand. She looks at me, shocked, like a wild animal.

“Are you okay?”

She says she is — that it’s just motion-sickness. I feel her anguish pulse into my hand like cold crystals of energy. I squeeze, and she squeezes back. It’s hard to come back down to earth when you’re up in the air.

The baby on the other side of me sleeps soundly. So do most of the other passengers. My heart and my mind have taken off on a competitive race no else seems to be on. Then, my woozy companion groans again, and hangs her head down between her knees.

I remember when someone tried to tell me I wasn’t important, that my feelings didn’t matter, that I should suck it up and do what I’m told. I remember the sickening feeling of that turmoil in my life, and the way it seemed inescapable. I reach over and stroke her back, because I know how it feels. I’m so sorry she’s suffering. She grasps for my hand again.

“I just wish he’d slow down! It’s nauseating!” she exclaims with that same wild look in her eyes.

I understand everything when I hear the helplessness in her voice. She is terrified because she feels her fate is not in her own hands. She thinks she’s being tossed around by things she can’t control and has no say in the matter.

In my mind, the pilots of commercial aircraft are competent people. They know far more about flying than I do. Rationally, I have no reason to suspect I’m in danger. My body — that traitor — has tricked me with nerves and indigestion. My heart, my dear, dear heart was lost for a moment until I saw my despair outwardly manifest in this panicked woman.

“It’s okay.”

When I speak, clarity resounds. I speak softly, yet somehow it pings through the sound of the engine, like the acoustics have momentarily changed.

Being clear makes me feel vulnerable, which catches her attention. She looks at me, and the animal edge dissolves from her eyes. The man sleeping in between us stirs, and seems to nod his consent, as if he’s glad we got all of that cleared up.

I close my eyes, and focus on the moments of stillness in between the bumps, trying to notice how long they last. It’s like when I’m waiting for popcorn to finish popping in the microwave. Was that a second? Not quite. How about now? Oh, that was two seconds. I doze off, awaken by a swell and a dip, and doze again, counting. I think the bumps have probably stopped but by now I’m sleeping.

I’m enjoying it while lovers and friends admire the space I’ve built. What planet are we on that the light wafts in this way? I laugh, knowingly, and don’t explain away the magic.

At dawn, I stow my headphones, collect my things, and stand to stretch my legs while I wait for the door to open. The woman in the window seat looks up at me, in wonder. I smile at her, encouragingly, wondering myself what has just happened.

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