Friday April 8th 7:15pm
I sat on the semi-comfortable padded bench typical of Tucson International Airport as I watched the sunset out of gate A9's massive window. I was trying to pass the time before my flight with any distraction my bored brain could create.
I fumbled with the wires protruding from my walkman, I tried to make sense out of the annoyingly unsymmetrical southwest style pattern on the rug, but mostly I tried to people watch without being too overt about it. For some reason airports made me sad — they still do really. There is something about leaving even if it is for a short time that makes me wish I could take everything with me in my backpack.
I had arrived in Arizona five years before in an effort to escape Philly's smog filled skies, dirty crowded streets, and the noise that seemed to stay with you for a few days after you left. But there were some good things back there too. I had good family and friends, hangouts, memories that I could share with others without actually having to explain myself. I had thought that if I left for a little while I could always come back and have those things again. But when I did go back to visit during the summer after freshman year, things were different.
My friends had found new friends and new hangouts, my family had continued on without me admirably, and the memories I had shared with these people had been replaced with new memories that didn't include me. It was then that I realized home had ceased to be home anymore. Philly was just a place where I used to live. I tried my best to make a home in Arizona, but I never got that feeling back again.
I was in my second senior year at the University of Arizona studying English literature. I don't know why I chose reading as my major, I didn't even really like to read all that much, but I needed to choose something and it seemed like a cool thing to be able to talk about at parties. After four semesters and four summer sessions I still couldn't quote Shakespeare or truly appreciate Moby Dick. I was just going through the motions, trying to graduate before my younger sister could catch up to me. My parents weren't happy with my reluctance to finish school on time, but I didn't really care as long as I could finesse them into paying for next month's rent.
I casually glanced around the terminal and sized up my wingmen. There were the usual suspects, a young mother and her baby who had undoubtedly never flown before, a few frat boys, random businessmen, but the one that caught my eye was a particularly attractive young woman. She looked no older than 19 or 20 maybe, and sported a brown paperboy cap over her reddish brown shoulder-length hair. I could tell by the windbreaker she wore that she also went to the UofA. She was leaning against the wall next to the window watching the sunset. I couldn't see her face as she was facing away from me, but I could tell she was different from the rest of them.
While the other passengers concentrated on their watches and flight times, she just stared out the window. Something about her posture seemed sad to me; it was like she was saying goodbye to Tucson, and as odd as that seemed to me at the time I couldn't help but understand what she was going through. I had done the same thing when I left Philly for the first time. I didn't see the cityscape or the marshes in the distance; there was only the sense that I would never see that place again -- at least not like that.
The sun continued its fiery descent beyond the mountains in the distance and left blazing patterns on the other passengers' faces. To me, everything looks prettier during a sunset. The terminal occupants seemed to be more alive and more reverent as the sun gave its final burst of reddish-purple light before darkness overtook them. But darkness never does overtake anyone literally. The lights overhead would keep us protected long enough for the sun to bathe us in the aftershocks of its birth once again.
The sun finally died and the boarding process began. I was in seat 6A, which is the second window seat on the right after first class, so I would be one of the last people to get on the plane. That was fine by me, the less time I have to actually spend on the plane the better, but I'm always amazed how people will get up to stand in line before their row is even called. What point is there in pushing and shoving to get on a flying cattle car? I stayed seated on my bench and waited until it was only me and the girl by the window who hadn't joined the herd. Eventually, she hiked off towards the line. Feeling like I had made a point to all the other impatient travelers, I collected my things -- which consisted of one backpack filled with a change of clothes, a toothbrush, and fresh batteries for my walkman which I always had activated despite warnings from the crew -- and boarded flight 287 bound for Las Vegas.
Friday April 8th 7:43pm
I made my way through first class and bumped into a particularly jittery businessman -- accidentally of course. As I arrived at row six I noticed my window seat had been occupied.
At first I was frustrated with the occupant's obvious stupidity for not being able to read their ticket, but on further inspection I noticed the seat was held by the girl from the window. She noticed me immediately and began apologizing before I had a chance to inform her of her oversight. "I'm so sorry, really, I just wanted to watch the baggage cars roam around. Here, I'll get out and let you in", she said, or maybe something like that. She was speaking so quickly that I had to fill in the blanks.
"No, no it's cool, I like the isle more anyway. I like the leg room", I lied as I put my backpack into the overhead compartment and fit myself the best I could into the cramped seat. She thanked me and went back to looking out the window.
The flight attendants began their robotic spiel that I had seen a hundred times before on similar flights. But as they were explaining the fascinating intricacies of the seatbelt my attention kept diverting to the beauty sitting next to me. I masked my interest by pretending to look out the window and turned up the volume on my walkman. She seemed a bit happier now that we were actually on the plane and almost to the point of no return. Just before takeoff one of the flight attendants helpfully informed me that, "All electronic devices must be turned off and stowed for take-offs and landings." I tried to bluff her by saying that it was off and I was just wearing the earphones for comfort, but she didn't believe me and was happy to remind me a second time. I took them off and quickly realized that I had the volume up way too high for any sort of fast talk. I chastised myself under my breath and heard a giggle from my left. Window girl had her hand over her mouth, trying to hide her amusement.
I finally got a good look at her face. She looked so young and beautiful, yet she had a weariness about her that could only have come from age and experience. Her large almond shape hazel eyes were expressive and vibrant. To this day I have never seen that spark of divinity in anyone else. Of course, my thoughts were not as articulate at the time. I could only reply with a muffled chuckle of my own.
Before I continue, I should mention that I detest flying in general. I hate flying, but I loathe take-offs and landings most of all. Something about being rocketed across the ground at a hundred miles an hour with nothing but a few flimsy tires to stop us is more than a little disconcerting for me. But as I gripped the armrest in preparation for the most harrowing experience my stomach goes through, I noticed that she had done the exact same thing. It was too late and my hand covered hers. I pulled way and turned to her apologetically, but she didn't seem to be upset. She just giggled at me again, and I couldn't help but laugh at my awkwardness. I could tell then that there was something special about this girl. She made me feel less cynical, like I didn't have to be so angry, like I could just laugh about things and let it go. She also made me feel a little uncomfortable, but I forgave her for that. Before I knew it, we were completely airborne. At the very least she had distracted me long enough to get through the first rough spot.
"That's the worst part," she said. "Well, the second worst, I hate the landings the most. It feels like the landing gear could snap off at any moment," she continued. I was stunned, more so at the fact that she was talking to me more than her words. Not that girls don't typically like talking to me, I'm not an ugly guy and I can be quite charming when I want to be, but she just kept talking like she assumed I was on the same wavelength. She went on about how she hated flying but didn't have the time to drive the seven hours back home. Again, I'm paraphrasing. I couldn't catch all that she was saying because of her habit of talking quickly. But I liked listening to her. She had a kind of sing-song voice that made whatever she spoke of seem about ten-times more interesting than normal. I followed along as closely as I could, catching a full phrase here and there and replying with some sort of anecdote. Gradually, I manage to coax out some facts about her. She was indeed 19, from Las Vegas, and was about to finish her freshman year at the UofA. She was going home because she missed her mom who lived by herself in a two-bedroom off the Strip.
"What about you," she asked. "Why are you going to Vegas?"
"I'm not really," I said. "I have an hour layover and then I'm heading to Philly for a wedding."
"Oh really," she squealed. "I love weddings! Is it yours?"
.... There is more of this story ...