Chicago O’Hare. I’ve re-booked my flight from the previous night, not wanting to spend hours in the airport as delays pile up due to thunderstorms in the East. I’ve gone back to my hotel and flirted shamelessly with the woman at reception, securing a room with a view. Now it’s 10:30 in the morning at the airport, and I’m finishing a cigarette just as Sian arrives — or someone who looks a lot like Sian. I pretend not to see her in the back of her cab, settling up on the fare, and I go inside, through security, where the TSA agent tells me what a great job I’ve done in 1) not having a belt on, and 2) keeping my computer in its own bin for X-ray examination. If there’s one thing I’ve mastered in my year of being a traveling salesman, it’s how to go through airport security.
The previous night, I had texted Sian for reasons I still don’t understand myself, and when she arrived at the Rock Bottom Brewpub across the street from my hotel, my heart broke. She had on magenta eye-shadow and subtle pink lipstick, and she asked me for a cigarette. She looked ravishing. We went outside and smoked and made small talk and realized how silly and serious everything is/was. Later, out for another cigarette, I told two meaty, drunk bros to get drinks at the shittiest bar I’ve ever been to, and they told Sian she was gorgeous, which she was, and then remarked on how lucky I was to have her as my date. I resisted the urge to tell them that I didn’t have a date.
Later still, another cigarette.
“Why did you come?”
And I said that the honest-to-goodness, no bullshit reason was that I needed to see how I felt. And I didn’t say that I was Jesus Christ-ing when she said she was still in town, and that it had been a spur-of-the-moment, regret-the-instant-I-hit-“Send” feeling, that I couldn’t be her friend, that this was a one-time thing, likely to never be repeated. When we discovered that we were on the same flight back to New York, we joked that we were glad we hadn’t bumped into each other randomly at the airport. I fell in love with her again. I invited her up to my hotel room, and she said “No,” hugged me, and walked away, and I thought very, very seriously as I smoked my cigarette about running after her, literally (because she was a few blocks away by now). And then I hit on a 50-year-old German woman, who also smoked cigarettes, and who also shot me down when I invited her to my room (“I’m married,” she said), and I sighed, on my way up to my room in the elevator, and said to myself, “What the fuck am I doing?” Because that’s sometimes all you can say.
Sian and Colleen and Lucinda came to the Blackhawks’ bar at the airport, where I was eating gross imitation poutine and drinking a beer. Introductions were made. Sian sat diagonally across from me. I spent most of the time talking to her boss, who told me that her nickname for one of my co-workers was “Brand New Hands.” We finished eating, and as soon as the people at the gate started boarding passengers for our flight, I got in line. The woman at the gate told me that I was in Zone 3, and that it was only Zones 1 and 2 that were to board now, and I just stood there with an “I’m not going anywhere, lady” look on my face for a few seconds till she let me on. The flight was delayed another hour on the tarmac, the first fifteen minutes of which I spent trying to convince Sian to trade seats with the guy in the window seat next to me. It didn’t happen. The text message exchange, in retrospect, is embarrassing. I’m not always proud of myself.
We landed in JFK, and I left the plane with Sian, Colleen, and Lucinda. They waited for Sian while she went to the restroom, and I said “Bye,” and got the fuck out of dodge as fast as I possibly could. At Howard Beach, I talked to a man who’d just returned from a 29-month stint in India, teaching kids how to speak English. “White people India,” I said about Goa, where the man taught, and we both laughed. When the A train came, we sat opposite one another and didn’t speak another word.