The Hazards of Air Travel

At a party last week, a woman said to me, “I think you know my friend Amy.”

“Who?” I said.

“Amy. You met her on a plane.”

I knew instantly whom she meant. Six years ago, I boarded a flight to London. Next to me was a grad student who looked nervous about flying and eventually said to me, “I’m really sorry. I have a bizarre favor to ask you.”

If possible, she asked that I not let her sleep too long on the flight, because there were pills she had to take.

“If I don’t, I might have a seizure.”

“So you’re an epileptic?”

She nodded.

“Well, I’ll do my best, but you’ve just asked the guy who downed four whiskeys and two Valium, so you might also want to tell the flight attendant.”

She laughed and introduced herself. I asked where she was headed. She said to her sister’s wedding in Scotland. I told her I was going to a wedding, too. Mine was in Ghana. The plane took off and we kept talking, and drinking, and laughing. And after parting ways at Heathrow, we stayed in touch via email, etc. for several months, maybe more than a year. We even met for lunch once, and I’m pretty sure we’re Facebook friends.

Fast-forward to the party last week, when I was standing with the woman who said, “You know my friend Amy.”

“You mean Amy who was a grad student in social work, very funny?” I almost added, “lesbian,” but thought better of it. I did recount the unorthodox way she introduced herself and said, “She was on her way to her sister’s wedding in Scotland, and they had a gay brother who was in grad school at Harvard, and she wanted to fix me up with him but couldn’t decide if we were each other’s type.”

“Oh my God! That’s exactly her! What an amazing memory you have!”

I also clearly remembered that Amy was living with a woman and they were planning on moving somewhere together after she finished her degree.

I said, “How’s she doing? She was great. I really liked her.”

Her friend said she was very well, living in Chicago.

I asked, “What’s her last name again?”

“I can never remember her maiden name. I only know her married name, because our husbands grew up together.”

If there’s a flavor for awkward, it was all I could taste right then. I kind of checked out of the conversation for a minute and listened, astonished and a little embarrassed that I knew something about her friend that she didn’t, simply because we’d talked each other through the inhuman tedium of a trans-Atlantic flight. When I met her, Amy had definitely been living with a woman. Some kind of artist, as I recall.

Meanwhile, the other woman we were standing with said, “Did I ever meet her?”

The friend described Amy in more detail. Finally, to my tremendous relief, she added, “But she was a lesbian when she lived here.”

It was one of the more bizarre exchanges I’ve had recently, but a valuable lesson learned: Never tell anyone your personal business on a plane, unless you won’t be embarrassed to have it repeated at a party six years later.




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