Flying into RDU the other day I sat next to a young woman wearing jogging shorts, flip flops and a black sweatshirt. Her bronzed bare legs looked photo shopped – perfect. Just before we began our descent, she pulled out a flowery make-up bag and opened a good-sized mirror on her tray table.
We hadn’t spoken during the flight but I’d heard her on her phone when we first got on the plane.
“He’s meeting me at the airport,” she said. I imagined she was talking to a girlfriend. “I cannot wait.”
From her end of the conversation, I learned that it was her fiancé who would be waiting for her and that they were getting married later this month.
June, I thought. Of course. The wedding season.
Glancing at her with what I hoped was discretion, I watched as, with a puffy brush, she dusted mineral powder over her tanned face. She applied mascara and liner around her blue eyes and painted her lips with a little stick.
The flight attendant came by and told us to turn off our devices and close our tray tables. My row mate took a last admiring look at herself before zipping her bag and closing her tray table. Next came the brushing of her thick dark hair.
I recalled the homecoming from a trip I took when I was engaged to my husband, back in 1975. He was meeting me at Boston’s Logan airport. I didn’t wear make up and my hair was so short people mistook me for a boy. My skin never tanned well. But could an older woman sitting next to me have sensed my raw joy? Noticed that I didn’t stop blushing? That I couldn’t sit still?
Finished with her beauty prep my bronzed row mate put buds in her ears and played music loud enough for me to hear, though I couldn’t identify the artist. She sat back and smiled. She even laughed aloud.
We were about to land. She shouldn’t have been listening to her iPhone. But I wasn’t about to interrupt her fantasy.
Young love. I remember so well.
These days my thought on the descent is: Will my husband be on time? Often he isn’t, and I can already hear why. He just had to finish one more bit of work or he was trying to tidy the kitchen and where had the time gone? Or there was no gas in the car so he had to stop. One time we ran out of gas on the highway.
Our reunions are usually a bit bumpy. I’m mad if he’s late. He’s flustered. We might argue over who’s going to drive. Eventually, back at home, we settle in and chatter over drinks, our cats play-fighting on the rug in front of us.
The other night we were out for dinner with some old friends. One noted that my husband and I had been married longer than anybody they knew.
“How did you do it?” somebody asked.
I shrugged. My husband shrugged. We shouldn’t have survived. We’ve had almost all the crappy stuff happen that breaks couples up: financial uncertainty, life-threatening illness, the death of a child, career swings, moving into my mother-in-law’s house.
Before we met, my husband always tired of the women he dated. He would make excuses to get away from them.
"For some reason, I’ve never felt that way in our marriage,” he says. "Chemistry, maybe. Or just blind luck."
My nickname in college, right before I met him, was “the ice goddess.”
When we met, she melted and was never seen again. And despite all, we’ve been able to make each other happy for 37 years.
I think about my bronzed plane mate and wonder if chemistry or blind luck is on her side. I hope 37 years from now she’ll still be laughing and happy to see her man when he meets her plane – even if he’s late.
Carol Henderson is a writer and writing teacher who also leads workshops based on her new book, “Farther Along: The Writing Journey of Thirteen Bereaved Mothers.” Contact her at email@example.com