In my teens and twenties, it would be fair to call me a friendly person. I liked making new friends and I enjoyed befriending other friendly people. But something changed in the last few years. I don't want to socialize. I don't want to talk on the phone. And I don't, for the most part, want to make new friends. It could be that a woman in her thirties is too old to keep up with the harrowing social schedule of her twenties, or maybe it's just the fact that I have approximately 10-15 minutes of quiet time per day, including the time I sleep. It's all that dreaming I do.
Nowhere is this more true than on an airplane, where I follow one rule and one rule only: SHUT UP. I don't talk to the person next to me, not even to smile and nod and acknowledge that we are going to spend the next few hours in close quarters. I hate people who talk on planes, I hate people who snore on planes, and I hate people who eat potato chips on planes. Don't these people know that three hours of quiet time are beyond golden for me? (Ironically, I don't mind the screaming child. That's what earplugs are for. It's the adults that exhaust me.)
On my most recent flights to and from Pleasantville, I have used the quiet time to plan my units and listen to books on my iPod. I don't just get work done because I'm trying to appear busy and avoid conversation, I work because I am actually afraid of flying. With all the flying I've done you'd think that I'd be comfortable with it by now, but the physics of a 900,000 pound object hurdling through the sky at 500mph is just not something I can wrap my head around. So I stay distracted, enjoy the quiet, and land refreshed.
This weekend, coming home from California, I found myself sitting next to a man about my age (man?) and his very, very pregnant wife. The flight was so turbulent at the beginning that I couldn't write my notes and couldn't concentrate on my book. I tried to freak out silently, but when his wife knocked an entire cup of water all over her tray and herself I couldn't ignore it in good conscience. My offer of some napkins led to a conversation about this being her fifth pregnancy, my neighbor being a PE teacher at a local school, and aren't the prices of homes in California just outrageous?
It was hard to be annoyed that I had struck up a conversation when the people I was sitting with were so darn nice. When the turbulence ended my neighbor said, 'It's so nice to meet you,' and his wife said, 'I'm so glad we found a way to be distracted through the turbulence', and I said, 'yes, yes, all of that', while putting in my earbuds.
Another hour in the flight, we hit another patch of turbulence. The kind that illicits screams. The kind that has the pilot come on the intercom demanding, 'Flight attendants, sit down and buckle your seat belts immediately'.
It's hard to say what goes through the mind of a woman in her thirties at a time like this. In fact, I'm sure there is little thinking at all. What I did was pure instinct: I threw my hands around the arm of the stranger next to me and buried my face in his sleeve.
When the turbulence stopped, the moment of extracting myself from my neighbor was not unlike a sitcom. I lifted my head slowly and looked up at the man who I had just molested and his pregnant wife who was watching me with an I-don't-quite-know-what-to-say-right-now look.
'Sorry,' I said. 'I- just- um- scared- earplugs- normal- really...'
There was an awkward laughing period, some joking about how I could 'feel free to hold on to him whenever I wanted', but the damage was done. I was that girl- the one who had embarrassed herself on an airplane and would star in their stories at cocktail parties for some time. And we still had an hour of flying to go.
I almost called this entry 'A Woman in her Thirties Makes Friends with her Neighbors', but who am I kidding? The story would be so much funnier if I hadn't said a word to these people, if the man's wife didn't have any prior knowledge of me before seeing my face buried in her husband's arm, if I had to spend the final hour on the plane wondering if the pregnant woman was going to jump me when we landed. As it was, I spent the rest of the flight watching Flight of the Concords with my neighbors and laughing at the same jokes together. Who knew?
So I guess a woman in her thirties doesn't have absolutes. She doesn't follow hard and fast rules about anything in life-- not even when it comes to flying. And when it comes to surprises, she doesn't fight the urge to hold on. She reaches out to whoever is closest to her, and silently finds comfort in the turbulence.