I just eavesdropped on a man reading a letter to his friend on a tiny little plane, where the act of listening in can hardly be seen as inappropriate. We are seat belted co-captives for the next two hours and ten minutes. I can’t see him, but his voice carries.
At first I thought he was just sharing a text, a play-by-play of a plan he’ll join in progress, until strong emotional wishes laced the writer’s thoughts. I feared that I was probably hearing something private.
So I listened harder.
It seems this gentleman is about to be at the deathbed of someone he cares about but not enough to slow the cadence of his oration, take a mournful breath, or shield the words and cherish them alone. There is a larger story that this small one betrays. The longer he reads aloud, the more I feel for the woman who had so much to say.
A natural caretaker, she wishes to plump a pillow of expectations for the man behind me on the plane, whom I care for less and less the longer he speaks. I’m embarrassed for her now as she spills out her truth – that this sad occasion will give her the chance to hold him again. She hopes that all the trouble he is taking to fly to across country will have its reward, if he can just know it is going to be so sweet to her.
His voice trails off as she finalizes her loose ends like clean folded laundry left for him on his bed. Then he makes this comment to his friend.
“Just like Shannon said, she always makes everything about her.”
At one point in the reading, I wanted to see his face.
Now, I want to put ear buds in and feel everything he ought to feel. Like stupid he has stayed away, and pained that someone close to him is dying. But most of all, I want his voice to stop.
Why did he read the email out loud if all he feels about it is that the writer is selfish and why does this graze a nerve for both of us? If he were not emotionally engaged, he would have just explained it. Something about her words, he needed to voice.
No one can see from behind our eyes the hidden back story that tangles our family ties. There is a side, his side, and I will not know it. Motherhood salts my opinion, the one I shouldn’t be having to the letter I shouldn’t be hearing.
Later tonight they are taking a picture at the hospital. She wants him to know. She is creating a space for him in the portrait that she’ll treasure, and he will tolerate. The patient has agreed with a thumbs up emoji to allow a 10 minute photo-op, but apparently needed persuading.
And I recall that we took no photos in the hospital with my mother.
He is comforted now, making small talk, laughing at his own comments, and I am lost in the cloud-cover outside my window. I’m praying for the one who is dying, and for the writer who felt strong enough to air her private thoughts, never imagining that they would be shared far above hospital rooms between Manchester and Chicago.
I smooth down the lump in my throat with a few sips of coffee, thankful that before the wheels went up, I texted my daughters, “Flying to Chicago. 😘 love you” because you never know.*
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