As a frequent flyer, I’m interested in the phenomenon of people crying on planes. Perhaps it’s the emotional letdown after the stress of preparing for flight. Perhaps it’s the loneliness that settles in once you’re as far above civilization as you can possibly be without being an astronaut. But I tend to think that for some, it’s the way the intimate space contains devastating moments – the acute sense of mortality when the plane hits a pocket of air; the possibility of proximity to a grieving widow or someone leaving their childhood home for the last time; the discomfort of closeness for those who live lives of disconnection. But that’s not the case for me.
There are always so many ordinary, pleasure-seeking men on my biannual voyages to Vegas. One spilled into the seat next to me on my last departing flight. He maneuvered his bags in a frenzy, tugging files out and shoving stacks of paper in, jumping up and down to retrieve and stow his battered briefcase in the overhead compartment as the B, C, and D boarders trudged down the aisle. Each time he leapt out of his seat, he stalled the line of travelers, earning him grumbles and glares he didn’t seem to notice.
Though we probably had to stow laptops away soon, he opened his, inadvertently – or purposely, I couldn’t be sure – showing me a Word document filled with poetry. He squinted at the screen, tapping his fingers on the keyboard until the voice of the attendant asked passengers to prepare for takeoff. Intrigued, I marked him as a kindred spirit.
As soon as the captain announced our elevation, the man jumped up for his briefcase again, this time pulling out bent manila envelopes bursting with pages of typed poetry. He sat and draped the papers around him, whispering things but not to me. The poems I could read reeked of predictability and passion: aching words, bleeding and deliciously vulnerable. I internally celebrated the emotional turmoil. Even so, they were bad poems, all clichés and uninteresting line breaks.
I reached down to my bag, casually put away my e-reader, and extracted my own book of poetry. I fingered the cover before opening it, willing him to look. But he did not look. I cleared my throat just slightly, tossed my hair a little. Finally, he exhaled, stuffed the pages back into the folders, and pulled out a book about economics. I sighed, too.
There are four forces of flight: weight, thrust, lift, drag. The atmosphere in the airline cabin dries out your nose and numbs your taste buds. People fall in love at first sight with flight attendants. In the air, tears often threaten to fall, or do fall, for reasons we can’t always fathom. I have my reasons. For me it’s the men. The ordinary men who never see the tender space between us.
Emery Ross is a writer living in Idaho. She has an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from Boise State University. Her work has appeared in Jersey Devil Press, Punctuate, Gravel, and elsewhere. Find her at emery-ross.com or on Twitter and IG @hello_emery