I stared out the cab window and had to find the humor in the rain pouring down, I couldn’t help but think of the many times I had heard people say that Los Angeles was sunny year round and it rarely ever rains there, so of course it rains while I am here. For a week I went from a business meeting to fancy lunch to hotel room. There was nothing worth doing and I didn’t know anyone except business contacts in this sprawling city filled with vehicles. It was safe to say I was glad to be on my way back to Denver, even if it was five degrees at five am.
The Lincoln town car slid to the curve and the driver a tall, quiet kid grabbed is hat off the passenger seat and jumped out and hurried to the rear to retrieve my one suitcase. Then quickly opened my door, I tipped him and said thank you. That was the longest conversation I had with anyone since I arrived a week ago. Granted it was not very informative and I have no idea what his name is but still he seemed like a nice guy. I realize as I am thinking such inane thoughts those are the words of people who live across the street from a serial killer, “but he was so quiet and such a nice guy”. Same could be true of my driver and I would never know, I would go through life remembering that he was polite and helpful, when all along he could have been sizing me up as a potential victim. We just never really know people.
I waited in the security line and ruminated on the fact that as much as I wanted to be back home, and missed my bed, deep down I also wished I was going anywhere but there. Maybe there would be another business trip waiting for me when I returned to the office the next day, that would keep me away another week or two. The line moved forward at a fairly good pace and before I realized it I was at the security check point and started taking off my heels, placing them in the bin along with my briefcase and bag. I passed through security with no incident, unlike the elderly Indian couple in front of me, who were both being directed to step aside as part of the airports random security check. I guessed that because they were married they were both asked to please step aside as part of the security procedure.
I said thank you to the security officer at the other side of the conveyor but was met with a tightlipped grimace that was supposed to substitute for a grin, as I grabbed my personal belongings from the bin. Well, I tried to be casually friendly, even though I felt uncomfortable opening myself up to the slight crack of potential unwanted conversation. I put back on my heels and hurried toward the waiting area where I was to catch my flight in thirty minutes, feeling relieved to be on my own and away from the closeness of the people standing in line and the anxiety of the possibility that it could have been me instead of the Indian couple.
The waiting area was bustling with other passengers and because of the extra time it took to get through security now no one waited until the last minute when it came to flying anymore. There were only a few empty seats scattered through the waiting area but I would have to sit between people regardless of where I sat so I decided it was safer to stand and wait, besides I would be sitting for a couple of hours soon enough and I might as well take advantage of the opportunity to be upright while I could.
I leaned against the wall and covertly from under my thick black eyelashes surveyed the other passengers, not really knowing why, I mean it was not like I would ever see his face in a crowd but I could not give up hope that there was a possibility of that happening. And once in a while I spotted someone walking away that for a brief moment looked remarkably like him and then the moment would be over as they made the wrong gesture or turned toward me and the disappointment of it not being him, made me a quivering mess and then I would have to run to find a restroom where I could get myself under control. It was horrible how my desire to remember would out smart me at the most inconvenient times and I would find myself doing exactly this, looking for the briefest glimpse of him in the faces of strangers. I was going to be disappointed this morning because no one even vaguely looked like him and that was for the best it was a good thing, and I knew that was true, except I ached for those rare unwanted moments. I must have been pretty deeply entrenched in my thoughts because the boarding announcement startled me back to reality. I stepped forward and into line as they called the business class passengers, and moved along to the waiting flight attendant who was smiling brightly and taking passenger tickets. I tried to return the megawatt smile but all I was able to manage was a one sided upturned grin, not very friendly, but she didn’t seem to notice as she reached out for the passengers tickets behind me.
I wondered if there would ever come a time when even the briefest of social interaction was not going to be an exercise in futility and exhaustion. I didn’t have this issue while standing before a group of suits, and presenting my companies new plans to streamline, fancy word for downsize, a workforce that depended on a corporation to keep them employed. I was able to project the information, expectations and walk through the process in a coherent, articulate manner of which escaped me while having the briefest of exchanges with people as I went through my day. I was better off not trying to make social interactions, and just keep moving.
Stepping into the plane another attendant met me, smiled, looked at my ticket and said,
“Row 9 seat b” and pointed me in the right direction.
I made my way to the window seat that I requested so that I could stare out the window and hopefully avoid conversation with anyone who might be sitting next to me. I placed my briefcase in the overhead and took my seat. I stared out the window and realized it had stopped raining and had to internally laugh at the irony of it. Of course it stopped raining as I boarded a plane to return to bitter cold and snow.
“Hello, I guess we are seat mates.” A tall man said as he slid into the seat next to me.
I surmised he was tall from the corner of my eye; I didn’t look directly at him, so in case of an emergency all I would ever be able to tell anyone was all I knew was that he was tall.
How weird I always think of that now, in case of emergency what were they wearing, and of course in this case I would have no idea, but then I didn’t really know for sure back than either, and it still bothered me as I fought my memory to remember, what was he wearing?
Was it the brown plaid or the blue, it was defiantly plaid, with khaki pants, no I couldn’t even be sure about the khaki, it could have been blue jeans. Those questions would never be answered with one hundred percent assurance, so there was no way that I wanted to know or cared what a total stranger looked like or was wearing. I kept my head turned toward the window and watched the airport crew on the ground working as they loaded the luggage in the under belly of the plane. Soon the plane would be in the air and in two hours I would be back home in Denver, where I could hurry through DIA airport and pick up my Prius in the overnight parking area and be on my way to my loft apartment downtown, and back at work in the morning.
“Excuse me; do you know if they serve anything to eat on this flight?”
“I don’t know.” I said, keeping my head turned toward the window, as a matter of fact I did know, but I didn’t want to explain that you could get snacks, and sandwiches.
“I was in such a rush this morning I didn’t stop to power up. Do you have business in Denver too?”
This guy was unbelievable, he would not stop trying to engage me into a conversation that I clearly didn’t want to be a part of, and out of exasperation I turned toward him and almost had a panic attack.
“I’m sorry; flying makes me nervous and when I am nervous, I talk, a lot.” He said smiling at me.
“I live in Denver.” Was all I could say in response, as I took in the fact that he had the same deep blue eyes and black hair, he could almost pass for his twin, it was too much, and too close, but there was no escape, I was stuck sitting next to a doppelganger for the next two hours.
“Wow, really, I have always wanted to go there, so when my boss asked for a volunteer, I jumped on the opportunity and then remembered, oh man I am scared of flying. A little late to back out after I came off all rabid for it, ya know what I mean?”
“Sure.” I said and tried to look back out the window, but I couldn’t.
“So yeah, of course I was in such a big ass hurry, excuse my expression, I didn’t even think about eating until I was standing in the security line and my stomach, man it would not shut up.” He said as he tightened down his seat belt.
“I’m Steve by the way,” He said holding out his large hand to me.
“Sylvia,” I said. I didn’t want to be rude but I didn’t want to shake his hand either but there was no way to ignore him without coming off as a rude snob.
“So what business are you in Sylvia?”
If this guy didn’t look so much like Arthur it would be easy to cut him off and ignore him for the rest of the flight. I would be able to look away and not seem interested in anything he had to say. But the fact that it was like looking at him again, one more time, that it was hard to keep myself from mentioning his name. But that I wouldn’t do, it would be too much.
“I am in sales, and you?” I really didn’t care but out of some weird sense of politeness I asked. But before he could respond the flight attendants began checking the storage compartments above our heads and giving instructions regarding electronics and take off, then there was the mandatory seat belt and emergency demonstration. I wondered if anyone ever really paid much attention to what they were saying, and then I noticed Steve was listening intently and following along with the bi-fold instructions found at the back of the seat in front of you. I looked back out the window and surveyed the tarmac wondering if Arthur knew how much I loved him and how I never stopped looking for him. Whether it was in a crowd of people in another state or walking through the parks in Denver, I would never stop looking as long as there was even a sliver of possibility that he might still be alive.
“Well I hope we never have to put those instructions into action.” Steve said as he took a deep breath.
I turned toward him and found a flaw in Arthur’s doppelganger, he had a small mole at the bottom left corner of his eye, and Arthur didn’t have one of those. But it didn’t make the similarity less shocking when I turned and looked at him.
“Are you o.k.?” Steve asked me with a frown of concern.
“Yes, fine. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know you look a little pale all of a sudden. Hey, are you scared of flying too?”
“No, not at all, I didn’t eat either this morning, and I get a little hypoglycemic.”
“You’re not going to pass out on me or anything are you? I only ask because I had this friend in college named Marvin. Now Marvin was 6’3 and we played basketball together, and if he didn’t eat he would pass out right in the middle of a game. Can you believe that? This great big tree of a guy, would pass out and we would lose the game. Come to find out he was hypoglycemic too and had to start carrying around energy bars. Do you keep anything with you in case you crash?”
“Not today and don’t worry I have never passed out from it.”
“Well your lucky than.” Steve said.
The plane taxied down the runway and now with a great whir of the engines it was pulling into the bright clear blue early morning sky and take off was underway. Soon our pilot came over the speaker and gave his little speech, casually he mentioned that he hoped we all brought our winter coats because it was a chilly 25 degree’s in Denver and the high was expected to be 37 with sunshine.
“Wow, that is super cold, I don’t think I own a coat heavy enough to stay warm in that kind of frigid weather.” Steve said smiling at me.
I thought of Arthur’s coat laying across the couch on that January morning when snow was predicted for the rest of the week and crying because I knew he would be cold. Where could he be? The police had given up long ago and it seemed I was the only one who remembered him.
“Make sure you buy some gloves.” I said without realizing I was even thinking about it.
“Your right, man, I should have packed better. But I was so excited about finally getting to go to Colorado, I didn’t take time to slow down and you know, get the proper gear.”
“Well there are a lot of shops in the airport so you can pick up a pair of gloves before you go to your hotel.”
I imagined Arthur would have had the same kind of excitement for living that I saw and heard in Steve as he talked about how he hoped to go up to Aspen or Vail and ski for at least one day while he was in Denver. At sixteen Arthur had that same fire to try new things and go places he had never been. But he was gone or at least that was what everyone else believed. But that couldn’t be true that he would just walk off and disappear and never contact her again it was unthinkable. The three of them had been too close for him to do that. Their mother had died believing that he had run away and would come home someday.
“Why are you crying, did I say something wrong?”
Sylvia shook her head no, and looked away. This guy was going to think she was an escaped mental patient if she didn’t reign herself in. She had never told anyone about her brother disappearing. It had been ten years and she had never told anyone about Arthur.
“No of course not, skiing is not enough to make me cry, it’s just that you remind me of someone.”