I watched two people fall in love once. It was on an airplane. It happened right before my eyes.
This happened a few years back. I was flying east across the Atlantic. I can’t remember where I started or where I was going. I just know that it was a red-eye and a very long flight. No one sat beside me. I had two seats to myself. I remember being relieved about that. But I also remember an attractive woman in her twenties sitting in the seat directly in front of me and thinking I wouldn’t have minded if she sat beside me. Instead, a young and slightly dorky fellow was assigned the seat next to her. “Lucky him,” I remember thinking.
As soon as he sat down, they started chatting. He was very enthusiastic. Energetic. Charming, I suppose. But I thought he was trying a little too hard. I figured he didn’t have a chance. I also figured that by the time the flight reached cruising altitude, that they would settle into their own little zones with their snacks and movies or that they’d try to sleep. But no.
I can’t sleep on planes. Not even red-eyes. So I always prepare for an all-nighter. I was wide awake and had no intention of even trying to sleep. I figured I’d spend the night writing. But what happened in front of me was more interesting than anything else to which I could have given my attention.
I could hear their conversation clearly. They told each other about where they came from (different countries, as I recall), where they went to school, what they studied and about their travel plans. They hit it off really well right away. They talked and talked and talked. After a few hours, they opened up to one another about their personal lives – difficulties they’d survived, hardships they’d endured. Tears were shed. They drew closer.
They found their way out of their tears the way we always do – with laughter. They joked and wiped tears of each other’s faces. And then they kissed. It happened right when it was supposed to. They didn’t fight it. They just continued to let it all happen. For the remainder of the flight, they talked less and less and kissed more and more. When they did talk, it was almost unbearable. They fawned over each other. They sang odes.
When the night was at its darkest and quietest – when everyone on the plane was asleep (except for me), their passions began to boil over. They became desperate. They conspired on ways they could consummate their new hearts high over the Atlantic. They settled for a careful arrangement of blankets and reckless fumbling. The sparks were blue and smelled like mercury. They spoke in sharp exhales. They explored each other’s clothes. I saw a boob.
The story took another tragic turn as the sky began to turn orange and our approach neared. The flight would land and they would fade into different countries. The world would swallow them. How would they find each other? When? Again, they cried into each other’s mouths.
The serving of breakfast was a sobering cruelty. The lights were up and their faces were red and worried.
“I can’t do it. I’m not going,” he said.
He broke his plans. He decided right then and there to turn his life upside down. His itinerary went into the fire.
“I’m coming with you.”
I’ll never forget the look on her face. I try to remember it when bad news eats away at the world or when the team I’m rooting for loses. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
They went from perfect strangers to runaway lovers in the span of six or seven hours. The last I saw of them, they were navigating baggage claim with an arm around each other’s hips.
What became of them? I wonder from time to time. Could something that wild, that reckless have worked? It seems unlikely, but I hope it did. I want to believe. Let’s decide that they made it. Let’s decide that they’re married now, living in Prague in a two hundred year-old apartment, with a baby on the way. Let’s decide that the fire they built made a mess of their old lives, but that they cleaned it all up in time and that they still kiss like they did on the plane. How about we end it like this:
And they lived happily ever after.