by: Daniel DeMay
A terse, but profound, glimpse into one woman’s life and the nightmare it has devolved into…
She has long blonde hair and sunglasses, and she can’t find a place to put her bag. She’s pretty, and a stranger spends a few minutes helping her find an overhead bin with room for the rolling carry-on.
She thanks him with a pleasant, soft voice. He’s grateful for that, but he wants more.
“Sorry it took so long,” he says.
“Oh no, thanks so much,” she says nicely.
Dressed in blue jeans and a black, see-through button-up top, she settles into her seat and fastens her belt. Her sunglasses stay on, the night before showing hard across her face.
Haunted by her memories, months have rolled into years. A divorce turned into a weekend bender to blow off some steam, a weekend spun into a lifestyle.
The plane takes off, her head bobs and weaves as she nods off from exhaustion, a coffee cup rattles in the seat-back pouch in front of her. She dreams of family and a place called home. Back then her husband was pleasant. They had two kids, a twelve-year-old son and a fifteen-year-old daughter. She had a job selling medical equipment a few hours a month. There were bottles of rose with the girls every month, usually too many glasses to drive home, but it was fine, someone always came to get her. Her husband was a high-powered Wall Street lawyer, the pressure always on him. She felt that pressure as well, every day.
He traveled often, and wasn’t much of a role model to their children, but then neither was she. Things began to unravel.
Her husband’s trips grew longer. Expenses began to look suspicious. She told herself nothing was wrong and immersed herself in her work, selling more and more medical equipment to make up for her husband’s absence. The drinking became more routine. Nobody wanted to giver her rides home anymore, so she drove herself. She was losing control, but she didn’t notice.
One day, her daughter asked if she plans to divorce her “cheating bastard father.” Her hair stood immediately on end, and she felt her muscles tense all over, as if she was about to enter a fight. She turned to her daughter and forced a smile on her face.
“What are you talking about sweetheart? Your daddy is just working a lot. Don’t worry about him.” She walked away without waiting for a response. Her daughter was left speechless. She had seen a strange woman drop her father off and kiss him goodbye while her mother was still out drinking wine with the girls.
The woman was aware, if only in the back, lizard part of her brain, of her husband’s exploits. She drank wine at home then, rarely sitting down to a dinner with either the kids or her husband. It’s fine, she would think, we are all just living our lives. These things happen.
One night, the daughter called out her father in front of her.
“You cheated on mom, didn’t you? I saw you with that other woman in the fancy car! How could you?”
Her daughter stormed out of the room when her husband didn’t respond. She looked at her husband and he hit her in the mouth and yelled, “What did you tell her you lying bitch?” She tried to smile, to deny what she knew, but couldn’t manage either. The next day she set off to the dentist to have two teeth replaced, armed with a story about how she was biking and fell. She wondered where her old bicycle was as she recited the tale to her dentist and then again to her oral surgeon.
Drinks with the girls started to come as often as she could get them together. Wine was no longer doing the trick. She drank vodka martinis with only a coating of vermouth, really just iced vodka with an olive. She drank them fast and went out dancing with any man she met who she didn’t find disgusting. She didn’t do it out of pity for herself, but out of spite for him, the husband who she still wouldn’t admit has been cheating on her forever. She often woke up reeling with a pounding head full of fog. Aspirin worked at first.
She is awoken by the rattle of the fuselage, a beep followed by the voice of the captain, and words she can’t make out.
The in-flight drinks are delayed by turbulence, but soon enough the flight attendants make the rounds. She looks over the food menu but only orders two vodkas and a coke. Her sunglasses remain in place and she leans over and reaches into a small makeup bag, pulls out a pill bottle, takes two out and puts them in her mouth. She swallows them dry.
The night before the flight, she was out with friends from work. She sells medical equipment full-time now, and it pays well. She gets to travel a lot, which she says she likes, but the lines on her face say otherwise. The good pay keeps her glass full and helps her avoid a home. Her kids, her cheating bastard husband (she calls him that now), are hardly there, so parenting is done mostly by a Mexican housekeeper who is raising her daughter and son better than they ever would have. She sends money to keep up her half of the household until the divorce is final. She invites the girls for a weekend away at Tahoe, her treat. The cabin is stocked with enough booze for a frat party.
Turbulence once again prods her awake. She pulls out her makeup bag and starts a known routine after taking off her sunglasses. Thirty minutes are left of the flight and she spends most of them on her face.
She finishes, collects her things into her bag and gathers the straps in her hand. She’s ready to get off the plane. Sliding her sunglasses back on her face, she stands up and the man from before helps get her bag out. She doesn’t thank him this time, just nods. She edges off the plane, stepping forward in black heels clumsily. She walks, seems to see no one, but sees them all, and feels the things she thinks she deserves.
She doesn’t deserve any of this.
Daniel DeMay is a Senior Editor at SeattlePI.com, where he covers Seattle culture, transportation, and City Hall. He was born in tiny Chimacum, Washington and has worked variously as a mechanic, electric motor winder, music promoter, and a carpenter before tossing it all away to become a writer in his late 20s. As a journalist, he has lived and worked in Bellingham, the Skagit Valley, Bozeman, Montana and Seattle. Daniel also teaches snowboarding, plays in a band, and spends as much time as possible in the great outdoors that is the Pacific Northwest.