I’m Not in First Class

The train took me to the airport, and I settled into my not so comfort- able seat in coach. My father purchased a first class ticket for me, but I changed my flight so I could spend another week with Milo. Now I had to live with coach. As much as I enjoyed my extra week, now I missed the comfortable seat in front. The woman next to me was quite chatty, “Did you enjoy your trip? How long were you in Italy?” I tried to be polite, but I was in no mood to talk. I gave her the least amount of information as possible, “Yes, I’ve been attending a writing work- shop for eight weeks.” That may have been the worst answer I could have given; it opened up so many questions. The woman continues, “You’re a writer, what kind of books, that’s so exciting.” I nodded my head and quickly replied as I slipped my earbuds in, “young adult.” I turned on some music and closed my eyes, hoping she would leave me alone for the rest of the trip.

Now I was alone again with my thoughts about the day, about re- turning home and what I would do when I got there. I was doing the right thing, at least for now. I knew I had to finish the book since I’d already spent the advance and Meredith was expecting the rest soon. I’d meant to finish it, or at least work on it while I was in Italy, but when you’re in one of the most romantic places in the world, it makes no sense to spend your time writing. I could write when I got back home. I would just need a little more time. As I drifted off to sleep, I heard the lady next to me in a muffled voice, “I bet you’ll be glad to get back home.”

Jolted awake as the plane hit a patch of turbulence, the pilot came on the speaker and told the passengers they should remain seated and buckle their seat belts. I don’t mind flying, but I did wonder if it was this bumpy up in first class. The woman sitting next to me asked another question as if our conversation had not been interrupted by the nap I’d taken. I began to wonder if I’d been asleep at all. “Do you have family in Chicago,” as she leaned in. I answered, “Yes, my father and sister are there.” It was as if I had just supplied this woman with enough ammunition to carry her throughout the rest of the flight. What was I thinking? I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep now. Oddly, I heard myself start talking, almost like I wanted to tell her my story, the story I meant to put on paper, somehow it never came out quite this effortlessly. Is it easier to talk to a complete stranger than it is to be alone with our thoughts? Was I scared of my memories, too frightened to lay them out on paper?

This woman was probably about the age my mother would have been now, did she represent a mother figure? Had I’d been holding in so much for so long that I needed to release some of the pressure before I exploded? I admit carrying so much burden alone had become exhausting and now this poor woman, whom I hadn’t even asked her name, had become the victim of my eruption. Always be careful before you ask a complete stranger a question, because there may be a slight chance they will answer you. The kind woman watched me with compassion as I opened up and told her the story of my life so far.

“We grew up in Lake Forest. I had a perfect childhood, the kind that everyone wishes they had. It feels like a lifetime ago.” The woman reached out and touched my hand, “You’re too young to talk that way.” She made me feel oddly comfortable, “I know, but when your mother dies, the whole family dies a little.” The woman nods, “That must have been terribly difficult for you.” Without a pause, I replied, “It still is.” “I’m sorry,” The woman chimes. I went on as if I were asked to give the details of my mother’s death. My father had tried desperately to get me into counseling, to do this very thing years ago, but I resisted, wanting to keep my memories of my mother for my- self. I was afraid if I shared them there might be less for me. I realize how silly it sounds now. In a plane headed back home to Chicago, where I would face all the very same problems I had left, I felt safe to give this stranger my most valuable possessions, the memories of my mother. “It was a lovely spring day,” I started in...