It was a short ride on a commuter plane with seats so small that only slim folks could be comfortable. It was the norm now that there were fewer flights and smaller planes. Passengers were required to have masks on at all times. Andrea took her seat next to a very lean young man crouched over his cell phone. As Andrea squished herself into the seat she made every effort not to jostle her neighbor but it didn’t work.
“Oh I’m sorry…these seats are a pain.”
Flight attendant over the crackling microphone, “Make sure your tray tables are up, seat belts fastened.” She continued with the standard safety instructions: “Find the exits nearest your seat…
“You seem uncomfortable. Are you ok?”
“Yes these seats were only made for really narrow people”
“Yes I get it, I never have enough room for my legs.”
“Yes I see but at least you fit into your seat. Are you sure I am not crowding you?
“A little…but it’s a short flight”
“Thanks… I’m Andrea.”
“Mark. If we switch seats.. I could have more room for my legs with the aisle and you could maybe be more comfortable leaning on the window side. Do you want to switch?”
“That is so thoughtful of you. Yes. Let’s do it before the flight attendant gets upset.”
“Oh that’s better” Mark stretches his left leg a little into the aisle. “How about you”
“Yes this is better. I can lean against the window and give us both a little breathing room”
“Who can really breathe with these masks on?” They both laughed.
As Andrea laughed Mark noticed her bright hazel eyes peering over her mask. She talked with her hands almost hitting him when she laughed. He was unsure about her age. She was one of those folks who could be 35 or 50 .. He liked her warmth and jovial nature immediately.
Andrea starts digging in her handbag. There was so much stuff, coins, keys, makeup, tissues, trinkets, little notebooks. “I am sorry Mark. Am I elbowing you?”
“No what do you need?”
Flight attendant scowls.”Mam that bag has to go under the seat in front of you.”
Andrea closes the bag and whispers under her breath. “Oh darn!”
“You didn’t find what you were looking for?
“No I didn’t.”
Andrea notices his concern seems genuine.
Andrea is it medicine or something important like that?”
“No, no, I have a special notebook for writing in when I am afraid.”
Andrea bows her head. “Yes, I am not so good at flying. I am very nervous and we haven’t taken off yet. I usually write down what I am feeling and it seems to help.”
Mark takes out his hand sanitizer and uses it. He puts a couple of drops in Andrea’s hands.
As she rubs her hands together, he takes her hand and looks into her eyes. “Talk to me instead. Tell me everything you are experiencing”
“I can’t do that. Sometimes it’s not words, just inner screaming or tears. The notebook catches the tears and I write the word: SCREAMING.”
Mark speaks softly still gently holding her hand in both of his hands. “ I will get you through this.”
“I am so embarrassed.”
“Don’t be. We all have fears ..maybe different ones but fears nonetheless.”
“Thank you.” Andrea thinks to herself. This man is young and very handsome probably late twenties.
The pilot’s voice comes over the speaker,” We have our place on the runway. We are ready for takeoff”
“Andrea holds his right hand tighter and tighter.”
“Go ahead talk to me.”
Water is coming out of her eyes, “I want to scream but I won’t. I’m screaming inside”
“I will hold onto you. Nothing will go wrong”
Plane is off the runway and up in the air,
“Look at me Andrea. I have got you.”
Andrea takes a breath and seems to calm a bit as the plane begins to level.
“Takeoff is always the worse for me. Thank you for holding on to me and getting me through this. Is there anything I can do to repay your kindness?”
“No I completely understand. I have my own fears and unfortunately I don’t think anything can help me.”
“Perhaps I can. Now that I am breathing again. Talk to me. We probably only have this plane ride together. You can share anything with me. I owe it to you”
“That is the problem”
“What do you mean?”
“You were so able to open up to me and tell me about your fears. I have never been able to do that. I’m okay with listening to others, but opening up about myself. That feels impossible.”
“Not even to a girl friend or family member?”
“Nope. not safe.”
“Okay, I won’t beg you to share. Just look at me and take my hand again. I’ll admit, I liked holding your hand.”
“I can feel my throat closing up as I think about talking about myself”
“That’s okay, just look at me and breathe. Keep looking at me and take slow gentle breaths.”
“Hey that’s what I said to you.”
“Yes and what do you notice?’
Mark noticed his body relaxing and water coming behind his eyes. He felt safe with this stranger.
“I can’t tell you anything yet but I can show you.”
Mark releases her hands and slowly pulls his T-shirt up revealing extraordinary scarring. So much that there seemed to be almost no places with smooth skin on his torso.
Andrea breathes as Mark puts his T-shirt back down. Mark drops his head.
“Look at me please.” Mark raises his head and looks at her eyes again,
“Mark that took courage to show me.”
“Are you horrified by what you saw?” Marks voice is trembling
“No it is only horrible in that whatever caused the scarring caused you great pain.I only feel
like you let me in.”
Mark leans back on his seat and breathes.
“I am returning home from fighting in Afghanistan. I am afraid that once I am with a girl or even my family that no one will see me beyond the scars.”
Andrea touches his hand. “I see you and you saw me through my fear. You’ll know when you are with people who see you. And you’ll stay away from those who don’t.”
“Captain has turned on the seat belt sign”
“Mark I need your hand again. Landing is just as scary for me as takeoff.”