I came home from Austin last week. Another Texas trip visiting my sister, and another one where we saw Blink-182 perform.While the show was great, and checking out the bars 6th Street made for a memorable experience, my last day was frustrating. We left the hotel in Austin and got on the road, headed for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport around 11 a.m. My flight, Flight 2496, was set for 4:30 p.m. We should have been there in plenty of time.
But somewhere along Highway 35, traffic came to a halt. We were still more than an hour from the airport. Some kind of accident for sure. Google maps showed deep red on for several miles north of our location. Slowly but surely, it didn’t look good; I was probably going to miss my flight.
My sister had taken the shortest path to the DFW, instead of heading back home to Grandbury and circled to the airport that way. It was the right choice — it’d be wrong to play Monday Morning Quarterback now, stuck in park on a windy highway for God knows how long. I didn’t do that, and she didn’t beat herself up either (though she certainly felt like beating something up after sitting in traffic for two hours).
After some procrastinating, I called the airlines and, a $75 charge later, I moved my flight time back a half hour. We finally passed the accident, the lanes opened up, but we decided to stop for gas and food — I was going to be late no matter what. I thought about fate; how if my sister had taken the other route, we wouldn’t have hit the traffic. I’d have made my original flight, and in my seat, 18B, I could have been seated next to my soulmate. She’d be coming home to L.A., just like me, and after three hours of great conversation, we’d exchange numbers and get together. It would have been destiny.
Of course, the odds that scenario would have played out are not good. I don’t seriously think anything like that would have happened. Still, with some amusement, I wondered …
In reality, my 5 p.m. flight had me in the back of the plane, seat 35B, sandwiched between a woman who took photos of us above the clouds, and older woman in the aisle seat who needed help getting her movie to play. She was nice enough, but you know those needy stranger types who like to talk; I prefer to be left to myself in those situations. I touched the screen enough times and got it working. Sure enough, the lady kept talking throughout her movie (Allied) — where we do put the pretzel wrapper when we’re done? I can’t hear anything; how do you turn the volume up? — and her left arm hogged the arm rest. I was left to read my book in an ever changing, uncomfortable position.
But long after the movie ended, and we started our descent, we got to talking. She was 78, with five children — her son sat across from us — and 14 grandchildren. Born in Puerto Rico, she spent many years living in Brooklyn, and I could tell by her accent. She was down in Mississippi now, and needed a wheelchair to get around, her arthritic knees becoming too much of a problem. I told her my grandma had a knee replaced before she died, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. The scared look on her face told me surgery would be a last option.
She was in town for one of her grand kids’ wedding. She showed me the invitation: Oakmont Country Club, in Glendale. I told her I knew where that was because I live around that area. Up in the hills with a great view, I said. It’ll be great.
After the front and middle of the plane exited, she let me go first because her wheelchair had yet to arrive. She stood up with the help of her son, and I scooted toward the aisle.
“It was very nice talking to you,” she said, with a smokey, earnest tone. “Have a wonderful life.”
Have a Wonderful Life.
That hit me. For whatever reason, just did. I didn’t know how to respond. I smiled quickly and said for her to enjoy the wedding. I waved to her and her son after I turned around one last time.
As I walked to baggage claim, I understood it hit me because although she hopefully has more years to live, I will never see her again. I will go on and live whatever life I’m destined to, and after so many years — maybe on a beach, maybe while I read a book on a couch — I know that she’ll pop into my head, and I’ll realize that she’s gone.
As I waited for the flyway bus outside, trying to keep warm during sundown, I saw her being pushed in a wheelchair by her son, surrounded by the company who picked them up. They used a crosswalk and headed for a parking garage. I watched her disappear; some old woman I only knew for three hours, and a new feeling came over me: I hoped that I can live a long life, and someday on an airplane, I’d meet a young person, and at the end of the flight all of my memories, good and bad, heartbreaking and joyous, would flood my mind. I would be happy with the life I lived. I would think about how all those years ago a woman wished me a good life, and I would smile and do the same thing to this person. They’d walk out of the plane, never to see me again.
But maybe they’d think about what just happened, like I did decades before.
So no, I didn’t get a chance to meet my soulmate on Flight 2496. Fate intervened. It chose something different for me. It chose Flight 331.
And I’m okay with that.