An Apology to the People in Rows 7-9 on SWA Flight 2782
It’s been over a week since our brief hour and a half flight from New Orleans to Austin.
Maybe you’ve already forgotten about me and my row mates completely. Perhaps we’ve been relegated to an amusing (or annoying) story you share with co-workers or whoever picked you up at the airport or loved ones.
I want to reassure you that it’s completely OUR fault!
You should have been safe in your seat selection.
No crying babies to worry about. No young children to kick your seat. No annoying teen girls babbling incoherent “like” incessantly. No loud, bragging bros.
A thin, middle-aged goateed guy in a black hat at the window. Me, in my simple black midi sleeveless dress, on the aisle. And the septuagenarian woman sitting between us.
You’re right! You should have been safe sitting near us.
We all make a bet when we opt for a Southwest flight. We attempt to be strategic in our seat selection. We like to think we’re savvy and knowledgeable.
When you placed your bet on rows 7,8, or 9, the odds were in your favor.
But we, an unlikely trio of strangers, mucked it up for you!
I totally own that we were loud — cackling, talking inappropriately, and being obnoxious in general.
Not enough to have a flight attendant intervene, but I’m self-aware enough to know that we were a little…extra.
And I do apologize for being more than you bargained for.
But you don’t know the full story. That serendipity or the airplane gods or a higher power stepped in for those 90 minutes.
Because I have no doubt that the three of us were supposed to sit next to each other last Saturday night. Our lives only intersected for a moment, but sometimes that’s all we need.
What you couldn’t possibly have known is that the 72-year-old woman next to me (I’ll call her “Betty”) had just returned from visiting her daughter and granddaughter. Her son-in-law was out of town for work and her daughter needed help.
Six years ago her totally healthy 18-year-old granddaughter suddenly developed a mysterious illness. Over the past 6 years her granddaughter’s health has deteriorated so severely that she is unable to get out of bed without help.
It’s unlikely that she will ever have a job, a chance at having a family or spouse, or be able to live on her own.
While her granddaughter finds a certain amount of acceptance of her cruel fate, her mother is a wreck. She’s exhausted, depressed, overwhelmed, and still processing the loss of what she thought her daughter’s life (and her own life) would be.
Betty confided that it had been an incredibly emotional visit for her. Although Betty is typically stoic, she allowed herself a good cry midway through the visit. Seeing her daughter’s life torn apart and the limited life of her granddaughter left a heavy toll on her.
As our flight continued, I gave Betty a brief synopsis of a dear childhood friend of mine (I wrote this story in honor of my sweet friend) who died earlier this year. Though her story was a bit different than Betty’s granddaughter’s, there are unique parallels. I suggested that Betty encourage her daughter to seek out support groups — online if none exist in her daughter’s small town.
Meanwhile, “Jose,” who was sitting on the other side of Betty, had piped up a few times.
He was jovial, silly, irreverent, cheeky, and fascinating.
He and Betty were enjoying a couple of strong cocktails, but I suspect he’s a character even when he’s sober!
When Betty finished her story, he opened up as well.
A dark childhood and teen years had led to a miraculous detour later in life: a successful acting career. His experience with drugs and gangs made him the perfect character actor for those types of roles.
He reveled in his good fortune, choosing gratitude over bitterness.
He flirted with 72-year-old Betty and me! Honestly, he and Betty had some amazing chemistry despite a 25-year-old age difference!
I ended up sharing that I had been visiting the gulf coast of Mississippi. I had flown in around 2 am two nights earlier on a very delayed and exceptionally turbulent flight, stayed at a decrepit La Quinta overlooking I-10 getting about 4 hours of sleep, then learned that the house I planned to buy for me and my son had some unforeseen problems.
I was heading back to Austin unsure of what to do about housing and faced with a myriad of decisions that would impact my young teen son.
Although I was trying to stay calm amidst all the uncertainty in my life, there is no denying that some laughter and escapism were welcome!
We talked about dating. (What can I say? I mean, I do write about dating!)
Betty shocked us by saying that she had gotten married a second time because she’d had too many margaritas 3 years ago while vacationing with her beau at Panama City Beach.
I beamed at Betty’s second chance at love after losing her husband years earlier! The older I get, the more I see that many people live full, twisty, interesting, unexpected lives.
Jose and I got such a kick out of Betty’s life! We were encouraging her to go back to Europe one more time! She had so much spunk — we wanted her to have one more adventure abroad!
Meanwhile, Jose and Betty generically talked (loudly) about sex. As the lone sober person, I tried to shush them a bit.
Unfortunately, I had spilled my Coke right as I sat down upon boarding the plane. I’m sure no one around me believed that I was sober!
Heck, I even instinctively cried out “party foul” when I did it!
(For the record, I haven’t yelled “party foul” in at least 25 years. Does anyone even say that anymore?!?)
Jose kept hinting that he wanted to go out with me. I had shared earlier that I rarely go out on second dates. He commented that he thought he could get a second date.
My silence made him rethink the situation.
Jose: “Wait. Am I going to get a first date?”
Finally, I shared that I was into pale British guys with gorgeous accents. He responded that he would stay out of the sun for a year. I just shook my head.
I never did give him my number, but I did get Betty’s number.
So, my fellow Southwest Airlines passengers in rows 7–9, I am sorry.
But each of us needed to laugh, to release, to share, to connect.
Sure, we could have been quieter and less raucous while doing so.
What might have been annoying to you was healing laughter, sheer joy, and a miraculous connection between three souls.
If you see me again, I owe you a drink!
Bonnie from Austin (soon to be Southern Mississippi)
Until her 40’s, Bonnie’s worst nightmare included writing and sharing personal stories publicly. At her friends’ suggestion, she bemusedly started Bonnie’s Mixed Tape on Medium in 2017. She remains shocked that anyone reads her stories and that P.S. I Love You, the Writing Cooperative, and the Ascent have published her work.
She is moving to Mississippi in the coming months and is trying to embrace the fact that she has no idea what she’s getting herself into.
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I know you are busy and have lots of ways you could be spending your time. You using your time to read my work means the world to me — my sincerest thanks!