“A few years ago, my husband and I were traveling a lot. I hate flying. Like, it really scares me. The first year we were married, he wanted to go to Hawaii and I made him cancel the trip because I was that afraid. The next year, he booked a cruise that required us to literally fly across the country to get on the ship. I was pretty sure if I didn’t go, he would divorce me, so I put my big girl panties on and got on the damn plane after he reminded me he was ‘MacGyver,’ and that he could fix anything. He promised me if the plane started going down, he would climb out on the wing and maneuver his way to the engine and fix it. With a piece of gum if he had to. Just like in every other part of my life, he was going to keep me safe. And I believed him. Because that’s what he did. That’s what he always, always did.
In May 2016, we were coming home from Arizona on a nighttime flight, both of us tired and drained from what the trip had brought us. We had rented a convertible Mustang and sang ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ with the top down on the way to the airport, and all that excitement immediately put my sweet man right to sleep the minute he found his seat. I was surprised the passenger who came in like a hurricane didn’t wake him up, and I thought my husband missed the whole interaction, but looking back, I now remember him mumbling something like, ‘be nice’ after he stirred in his seat before going back to sleep.
I tried to be nice, but this particular passenger, who took his seat in 2C, was loud, rude and over the top demanding. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and he probably should have worn a sign around his neck that read, ‘Do you know who I am?,’ even though none of us knew who he was, and still don’t. Over the course of the next few hours, he managed to upset most everybody on the plane, and I couldn’t help but write him a letter and post it on social media, in the hopes he might read it one day.
Dear Passenger 2C,
I would guess you are about 45. Maybe 50. It wasn’t super easy to tell, but I did notice you when you came on board the plane. Well, we all did. Only certain people stomp onto a plane with the phone to their ear and assume everybody wants to hear their conversation. I mean I’m guessing so since you were so-damn-loud. Don’t forget milk on your way home. Your wife will be pissed.
We get it, people have to tie up loose ends before getting on a flight so whatever, talk away. But did you really have to throw your foot up on the armchair in front of you and pull out your bag of ice and plop it on your knee? Aw, poor fella. Maybe a golf injury? Sad, really. But when you had to summons the flight attendant to empty your bag of ice (but bring you back the empty bag), I was pretty sure you were just gonna be one of those kinds of people.
I didn’t even know airplanes had call buttons anymore, but I sure do now, and so does everybody else because by God you used yours enough. I’m thinking you should have paid the extra $25 and called yourself an unaccompanied minor because we now all know you can’t do anything for yourself.
Was it really all that cold in the plane? Really? I know the whole passive aggressive ‘shake under the blanket and rattle your teeth’ didn’t work, so thank goodness you were already a pro at that whole call button thing. Convincing the attendant to turn the heater on in a small space? Brilliant. Until everybody else was peeling off their sweaters and blankets because nobody really wants to sit and sweat. I’m just glad 4B didn’t get naked.
Just when we all thought you had finally fallen asleep (so glad you didn’t ask anybody to sing you a lullaby), the attendant turned the air up ever so slightly so everybody else could stop suffocating. But I don’t have to tell you that because, right on cue, you immediately rustled from your nap and I’m pretty sure the attendant rolled his eyes when your call button went off again.
I heard him explain that he had set the air at a halfway point that would be comfortable for all, but I guess you pulling up the blanket around your neck caused him to feel sorry for you. Even though he tried to explain that the lady behind you (me) was very hot, you didn’t care and demanded he turn up the heat.
But I do have one question for you. Couldn’t you have asked for another drink and snacks while the attendant was standing there, or did you really have to wait until he walked away so that you could use your call button again?
Oh, Mr. 2C, I’m sorry my reading light was angled in such a way that it shined on you. I sure hope it wasn’t too much of a bother but I’m guessing, by the look on your face every time you wrenched your neck to look at me, it might have been. When I adjusted it again to try to please you, did it hit you in the face even more? Darn. So sorry.
I’m also sorry you heard me call you a whiner. But looking at me with your mouth open and eyebrows raised did nothing for me. Yes, you can stare at me all you want. I’m not afraid to stare back. And for the record, you blinked first. So there. Neener, neener, neener. At least I offered you my blankie.
Anyway, our flight has arrived and I’m 15 pounds lighter thanks to the sauna. So maybe I should thank you after all. Er, maybe not. Enjoy your trip, but just a suggestion, you might want to rethink those orange corduroy pants and mint flannel shirt combo…just a thought. I’m sure your momma loved it, but you may want to double check a mirror once or twice.
I was so mad at that guy. I thought for a long time it was his lack of manners, or maybe it was just his general disrespect for everybody. Maybe it was just his face. I didn’t know what it was exactly, but I was so mad at him.
And now, three years later, I have finally figured out why I was so mad at him, and I know why my heart was so full of hate.
Because less than a month later, my husband died. He fell asleep so fast on the plane because singing in the car on the way to the airport was like running a marathon for him. He barely took up much of the seat because of all the weight he lost as the cancer ate him away. The man who, at one time, was going to repair a plane engine midair, was wasting away, and I was angry watching it happen. The man who just wanted his wife to go to Hawaii with him was literally dying in the seat next to me. I still hate myself to this day that I didn’t go on that vacation, because, I would have given anything to be on a plane with him for any other reason other than flying home from a doctor’s visit just to die. I try to forgive myself for that. I didn’t know. I didn’t know that only 15 years after he wanted to go to a luau that he would be dead. I didn’t know our time together would be cut so short. I didn’t know we wouldn’t grow old together and have a million chances to travel. I didn’t know my daughter would never get the chance to go with us. I didn’t know.
So, on that night, in that dark plane, just hours after being told they couldn’t heal my husband, I hated everything, and everybody. I hated passenger 2C because he walked on that plane with no regard for anybody else, acted like a jerk, and he was going to live. And the man whom I loved, who spent his live making other people’s lives better, was going to die. Me, my kids, the world; we were all going to be cheated 23 days later. I didn’t really hate passenger 2C. I hated my situation.
So, Passenger 2C, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I stared you down and said mean things under my breath. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, but please know my pain that night was immeasurable, and I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t know what else to do and if I hadn’t been making fun of you, I’m pretty sure I would have doubled over in my seat sobbing while my heart was slowly breaking.
I guess what they say is true. We don’t really know what somebody is going through. I have to constantly remind myself of that when somebody is mean to me and remind myself of the way I felt that night. ‘Just be nice’ keeps ringing in my ear. ‘Just be nice.’ I realize now what my husband meant by that was to show compassion to each other because we don’t know the other person’s story. We don’t know what’s causing them to act the way they do. He didn’t know mine, and I didn’t know his. And instead of having a face off, we probably both should have smiled at each other and offered our understanding, no matter the circumstances.
The love of my life is gone now. He’s never coming back. He’s never going to sit next to me on a plane again and we’re never going to go anywhere together again. And I still hate it. I really do. I still hate flying. But, every time I get ready to board a plane, I think about that night and I’m thankful for the experience I had. I’m more understanding now. I’m more tolerant now. I’m more compassionate now. I hope I never lose that lesson. I hope Passenger 2C learns it too, and I hope if you take anything away from this, it’s to understand that sometimes, people just need you to ‘get it,’ whether you do or not. Sometimes, the best antidote for our pain is just simple understanding. And maybe a smile.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her book “Grief Life” is available in print and kindle. You can find more of her books here, and her podcast here. Connect with Diana on her author Facebook page, and Instagram.
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