I saw her before we boarded, as everyone was gathered in the waiting area. She was tall, about my height (not that I'm tall, but I would be, if I were a woman). She was wearing tan jeans cropped about halfway down her calves and a beige corduroy jacket. Her hair was dusty blond, and she was tanned, but not overly so. Perhaps it was the uniformity of color that reminded me of the desert, but I had enjoyed my time there and found a subtle beauty in what some may consider desolate. And here was this woman across the way, reminding me of the desert, and I appreciated her beauty as well.
We boarded the plane, and I thought I would leave her behind like that desert I had visited too briefly. I nestled into my seat, and when I looked up I saw her coming up the aisle. I flashed my least awkward smile in her direction. She stopped at my seat, and I let her in to sit by the window.
As she sat down, I noticed her feet, how they were clad in bright red cross-training sandals. Maybe it was the color that fired all my synapses, but as I ran my eyes up her body from her feet to her face—her features were perfect in profile—I fell a little bit in love.
The plane took off, and Phoenix shrank below. We both stared out the window. So much dirt and the color of dirt, only baseball diamonds breaking the monochrome in bursts of green. The world resolved itself into grids. I longed for the asymmetry of Fairbanks or the surrounding untouched miles of wilderness. I thought back to the family farm, and how, though green, it too would become a grid from the sky. I wondered if humans could be happy if we did not exert so much control over our world.
Over three hours later we set down in Seattle. The only words I said to her the entire trip were to ask her if she would like me to throw away her garbage as the flight attendant came by.
As we gathered our things to walk off the plane, I thought about turning to her. You're beautiful, I would say. I wanted you to know that. And then I would walk away, like a scorpion scurrying from the sun.
I said nothing.
As I waited for the flight that would carry me from Seattle to Anchorage, I looked around for her, praying that somehow she would be on the same flight. She wasn't, and my heart broke a little.
I settled into my seat. Then, for the second time that day, a beautiful woman approached up the aisle and—as I flashed my least awkward smile—stopped to be let in to the aisle seat.
She was average height, with long and wavy dirty blonde hair, perhaps a little too tanned, and wearing a dark brown shirt. When she smiled, her teeth glowed a striking white in the semi-dark of the cabin.
She started talking immediately.
She obviously liked talking, but she seemed incapable of taking the conversation into new directions. She would say what she wanted to say, but then would start saying the same thing over but in a slightly different way. I had to guide her subtly to eke any new information from her.
She was from Kodiak, was a banker down there; she had been in Seattle for a vacation. She saw the Space Needle, and Pike's Market, and had wandered the town some. Kodiak is so isolated, and she had wanted to spend some time in a city.
She had lived all around the AK, but was now in Kodiak because her mother was sick and wanted to be there. She wanted to take up hunting because her father no longer did and therefore could not keep her freezer stocked. She talked about how the locals felt about the Coast Guard people and the tourists.
She never asked me a single thing about myself.
Eventually I tired of talk and grabbed my magazine. She fell asleep. As she rested I occasionally glanced over at her, this beautiful, stupid girl. It was only then that I thought that in a different world, perhaps I could be happy with someone like her, someone who saw the world only as it affected the small scope of her existence on a small island on the coast.
The plane landed. When she woke I asked how long the flight from Anchorage to Kodiak would take, and she said she was visiting some friends in town before moving on.
I don't know why, but I thought, ask me to spend the night and I will. There will be other flights. But she didn't, and we parted ways. I knew she would have forgotten me by the time she woke in the morning.
I arrived in Fairbanks shortly after one in the morning. I was exhausted, perhaps from the frantic pacing I did up and down the concourse before every flight I boarded. Being home was nice, but a part of me wished I was still in the desert.
I missed how the desert was so much emptiness, and the city sits there in the midst of it with its five million people.
I've been feeling invisible lately, or somehow unrecognized. Some examples:
I've gone to restaurants and been the only person not served among a group of people.
On my flight down to Phoenix, the beverage cart skipped my half of a row. They systematically move up and down the aisles one by one, but skipped me and the person next to me. I had to call her back from a few rows past me when it became apparent that I wasn't just imagining things.
The reason I had to ask desert girl for her garbage was because the previous seven times the flight attendant had gone past with a garbage bag, she had ignored my eye contact and half-raised hand and strutted by. I had to nearly physically halt her to give her the garbage from me and my beautiful neighbor.
Automatic doors have been ignoring my presence. Automatic-flushing urinals as well.
The baggage check woman, after looking at my ID, told me it didn't look like me.
When I went for my passport photo, the woman looked at the picture she had just taken, looked at me—who, I'm assuming, was no different than two minutes earlier—and said it didn't look like me.
My answering machine is a repository for messages that are not for me.
This morning, I had a green light and was about to make a right turn onto campus. The guy coming toward me made a left turn right in front of me, followed by the next five vehicles behind him, as if none of them saw me or cared that I was there. And the last time I checked, my Jeep is maroon, not camouflage.
What does it all mean? I don't know. I felt like I was hurtling toward some conclusion, some decision to don some metaphorical red shoes and blaze a path to some different life, but that isn't it.
We tend to focus too often on the things we didn't say or do, but ultimately what defines us is what we do, the decisions we did make. My ladies vanished into the night, the rain of Seattle and the wilderness of Kodiak, and I won't be seeing them again. And I am back here in Fairbanks and can honestly say that it is good to be home.