My mind is back on the goodbyes I said so recently: only a lifetime ago, in a different country, in a different world, as I do the chicken dance through the metal detector. Mail and plate clinks as I remove the layers of armor built up so dutifully over the years of broken promises and hearts, and pile them up high in the plastic container provided for my convenience, to stand there stark naked in my vulnerability. I wonder how deep inside me they can see. Would they still let me through if the x-ray could detect the metallic aftertaste of bitterness? But I’m through without any adventures, and this is exactly what I love about airports: regardless of who and what we are, we are all equally barefoot in the eyes of the customs officials. As we file along clutching metered ounces of vital fluids to our chests I assign biographies to the nameless barefoot: leader of a drug cartel disguised as a businessman; a femme fatale causing turmoil in the president’s chambers; a runaway eluding the Fates across borders and continents… And you, you are trekking the globe in search, on a quest to find what lies within your own heart.
I find my seat, 20A, by the window, so should shit go down, I will at the very least have front row seats to my own demise. And just like that, before the plane even takes off I’m on a journey of my own within the pages of my latest drug of choice – whatever book it is that gets me away from the here and now, from the dread of a repeated yesterday. The next time I lift my eyes off the page you are walking down the aisle, awkwardly maneuvering your backpack between the two rows of seats. I look and I wonder and it’s been a moment or two longer than it is socially acceptable to stare at strangers so I fashion my face into an apologetic smile and so do you. I shift my eyes back onto my book but see your face: the recycled airplane air thick with the impending doom of an aborted love affair; a could-have-been that will never have a chance to get its bearings now. It will never establish its hold on my soul, nipped in the bud before its tentacles get a firm enough grip on my heart, infesting my stomach with butterflies, killing me a little with every passing day until I’m little more than just raw yearning for yet another man brave enough to attempt this fucking feat of rom-com surrealism. Then you sit down. 20B.
As you settle among the seat belt, the pillow, the blanket, the safety instructions and the barf bag I feel the back of my neck prickle under the heat of your eyes on me. I look up and catch your lips form a word: was it “kismet” or “kiss me” you said? No matter… Chances, however unlikely, should not be wasted.
“Are you coming or going?” I ask.
“Going home” you answer, nearly caught off guard by my question. Where had your thoughts taken you? Had they taken me along as well?
We speak of suitcases and stamps in passports and trains, of missed connections and customs officers and perplexing customs of alien lands. We speak of beaches and icebergs and cloisters and castles. Of very first trips in VW Beetles. Of me. Of you. You have been running with the bulls, and throwing tomatoes, and sleeping under the starlit sky on top of the world. You have been chasing the sunrise, marveling at the magnificence of Gothic cathedrals and imbuing the magic of the mundane everyday life as somebody else. You have been discovering the world and yourself in it and falling in love.
“Are you married?” asks the stewardess as she hands me a customs form to fill out. “No” I answer, flustered. “Not yet” you smirk unabashedly as she hands you a sheet of your own. “Though it would have to be presided by Elvis” you reveal our wedding plans to me. Our first date progresses rather quickly as we cram lifetimes into one transatlantic flight. “A captain on a ship can perform weddings, why can’t an airplane pilot?” There is a dinner, and a movie, and music, and the thought of heavily fined candlelight, and at last I close my eyes with my head on your shoulder and the armrest digging painfully into my spleen. You offer me melatonin to help me sleep, and I wonder what it has been helping you forget all this time. Were your dreams better than the reality you have been running away from? You put your arms around me. The thumping of my heart deafens the engines.
The landing announcements come too soon in a thick Irish accent: “Ladies and gentlemen, as we start our descent, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position.” I know the way my skin tingles at your touch. I do not know the sound of your voice when you whisper my name. “Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened, and all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins.” I know how you got the scar on your right hand. I do not know what it is like to love you so violently that my heart and my hand break. “Please turn off all electronic devices until we are safely parked at the gate.” I know what you wanted to be when you were a child. I do not know the way you will look at a child of your own. “Flight attendants, prepare for landing.” You hold me as we descend from our cloud nine.