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Southern Comfort – Pt. 1

By Hannah Beatrice

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“At this point, I don’t care what I have to do, I have to see her again…”

You’d think in the middle of a pandemic, no one would really want to get acquainted on a 3 hour flight to Dallas.

Thank god there’s WiFi,” I thought to myself as I approached the business class aisle with grace that morning, laptop bag in hand ready to tackle some work. With a busy mind going, I just wanted to sit down and get settled. I reached my row and came across a woman adorned with long, silver dreadlocks and tribal tattoos. She had a very ‘Burning Man-esque’ vibe to her, wearing a bottle green shoulder wrap, charcoal knee-high socks, and crimson platform Doc Martens. I was intrigued by her eclectic style; she had to be an artist.

Excuse me, I think you might be in my seat.”

She looked up, a bit unsettled.

“But you’re more than welcome to have the aisle if you’d like!”

“Oh my… I’m so sorry… ugh, I always mess things up. I did request the window seat… I’ll move over. Don’t worry, I wiped your seat down already.”

I assured her I didn’t have a worry in the world.

We got situated, and I sat scrolling mindlessly through the blue light screen before me until it was time for takeoff. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I always try to find some middle ground on the plane when I’m sitting next to a stranger. Do they want to talk? Or do they need me to shut the hell up?

The woman beside me embodied a heightened sense of anxiety. Before takeoff, I silently observed as she nervously fidgeted in her seat before taking several deep breaths and closing her eyes. I could relate; I too close my eyes and twiddle my St. Christopher that hangs from a delicate, silver chain around my neck. It’s the little things like this that bring me so much peace when I’m traveling solo. I consider it  divine protection.

After about twenty minutes at a steady cruising altitude, the woman finished her breath work, dropping all tension in her body. She opened her eyes and checked her Apple Watch.

“So… with COVID and everything, they’re probably not serving cocktails huh.”

It was 9:45 in the morning. I liked her already.

“No unfortunately. This is my second flight this year and they’ve discontinued food and drinks until further notice… but I could really go for a morning G&T right now.”

We laughed at the irony. What a wild year it’s been so far.

After a brief pause, the tattooed woman asked me what I did for a living.

I’m a travel writer. I also work for my brother’s digital marketing company as a content strategist. I help businesses look good on Social Media. I can go wherever I want and take my work with me. Despite everything that’s happened this year, I know I’m better off than most. Life has been pretty damn good… I honestly can’t complain, especially being able to fly business class across the country. What about you?”

Her slate grey eyes lit up with delight.

“Wow, that’s quite the gig. I’m in the film industry. You know the scenery and prop set-ups for all of the major movies? I draw and paint everything from start to finish; blueprints and everything. It’s been 20 years in the making to get here, but damn am I grateful.”

My eyes lit up as well. I’ve always had a passion for film and television.

“Sounds like a dream. I used to do film and TV acting classes years ago… I wish I still did them.”

So, that middle ground thing? We hit it off. It was almost like we knew each other from before. I couldn’t figure it out, but she seemed so familiar. It was like talking to a long lost sister.

“I’m Amelia by the way. What’s your name?”

“I’m Hannah. Nice to meet you Amelia.”

__

There was a moment of brief silence before I asked Amelia why she was going to Dallas. She took her readers off and paused before speaking. Her light, heather eyes gazed out the window for a moment before drawing back to me.

“I have a brief layover there before I head to Ohio to see my mom… she had a really bad stroke, and now she’s stuck behind a plastic wall in her nursing home… God forbid something else happens to her… I’m all she has right now. Because of this damn virus, I had to fucking beg the manager to let me sneak in so I can spend time with her. At this point, I don’t care what I have to do, I have to see her again… before it’s too late.”

Tears started to fill her eyes, and so did mine.

“Sorry… that was a lot. I just needed to get that off my chest.”

Her story tugged at my delicate heartstrings. I wished I could have hugged her.

“No need to apologize… I’m sorry you’re going through so much right now. COVID has made visiting long distance family so difficult. When my Granny had sepsis a few years ago, my mum did the same thing and hopped on the next flight to Ottawa to see her in the ICU. I know this isn’t easy and it feels scary right now, but you’ll be reunited soon enough. Everything’s going to be okay.”

She took a deep breath and wiped her tears.

“Thank you for listening and being so kind. It just hurts to see someone who’s accomplished so much with her life succumb to being bed ridden with a feeding tube. She used to run our hometown with my dad. They met each other while working for City Council. He was running for Mayor, she was part of the campaign team. The rest is history…“

I told Amelia how my parents met on the phone, had a blind date and moved in together several months later. It made me think about how easy and organic love used to be; no dating apps or social media to distract anyone. Simpler times.

We took a beat before changing topics.

“So, what awaits you in Dallas?”

 I paused and smiled before responding.

“About two weeks ago, I was finishing up my morning yoga when I thought to myself; ‘I wonder how much tickets are to Nashville right now?’ So, I grabbed my laptop and a cup of coffee to find that roundtrip flights were only $57. After calling my friend Kaley who lives out there, we figured out some dates and I booked it. We’re going to house and  dog-sit for her friends Triniti and Chris, so you could say I’m flying across the country for a dog and my best friend.”

I could tell by the look on her face that she wasn’t expecting that type of response whatsoever.

“Hey, you gotta make the most out of these trips while you’re young… I hope you have fun. I know it’s the topic of the year so far, but are you worried about the virus?”

“I’m trying my best not to think about it… I’m being cautious, but I refuse to worry about the things that are solely out of my control. My Mum is considered high risk because of her age, but she and I have both discussed that we refuse to let this stop us from living our lives. I’m not going to parties or crowded bars and we’ve all kept an extremely small “quarantine” circle of friends. This isn’t the first disaster the world has faced and it won’t be our last. We’ll get through it together.”

Amelia was blown away by my response.

“You know something? You are exceptionally mature for your age. May I ask how old you are?”

“I’m 24,” I replied.

She was genuinely shocked. Most people are when I tell them my age.

“A word of advice? Don’t ever let your success or wisdom intimidate anyone. I mean it. You have a particular advantage over most people your age… utilize it.”

It was so refreshing to sit next to someone with substance. I started to think we knew each other from a past life. The synchronicities were uncanny. “There are no coincidences,” I thought to myself. Our discussion covered an array of topics, from the BLM protests to sharing the most finite details of our childhoods; Amelia truly felt like family. There was a reason we crossed paths. For a moment we just stopped talking and looked at each other. The exchange of silence was enough for us. No words were needed; this was the best conversation I’ve ever had on a flight. Even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, people were still human.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be touching down in Dallas Fort-Worth momentarily… local time is 12:27pm with partly cloudy skies and a high of 80 degrees…”

We looked at eachother, genuinely surprised. Did three hours really fly by?

“I guess time flies when you’re having fun,” Amelia said before gazing out the window once more, mentally preparing for landing.

I felt a strong urge to ask for her business card or contact info, but I didn’t want to be a burden. She was going through so much as it was, so I reluctantly chose to ignore my gut.

As soon as we landed, I told Amelia that she could leave before me because she only had 40 minutes to make her connection. It was the least I could do since I had two hours to caffeinate and catch up on emails.

Amelia stood up to grab her bag. Before rushing off, she turned to me and said;

“I hope to read your work one of these days. Keep writing. You’re gonna go far… safe travels.”

“Safe travels, Amelia.”

And just like that, she was gone.

Watching Amelia leave that plane left me in an introspective daze. I could have buried myself in my work as I usually do, but I chose to sacrifice three hours of my time to console someone who was scared for their next part of the journey. I allowed myself to be present and meet someone new. The world wasn’t about to fall apart for the time I spent making a new friend. Amelia made me realize how short life can be; how she wasn’t going to let anyone get between her and her mum. This experience happened for a reason, making me all the more grateful for booking such a spontaneous flight.

I silently prayed Amelia made it safely to Cleveland. I hope she successfully “broke in” to her mother’s nursing home. I hope despite the plastic curtain, she could see her mum and talk to her about this wonderful conversation we had in our luxurious business class seats. She reminded me of myself… someone with their heart on their sleeve, unapologetically themselves in the presence of others. Someone who wasn’t afraid to stand her ground and declare boundaries when needed, but stopped at nothing to protect her loved ones. Someone resilient yet so vulnerable; an open book all around.

As I sat down for my second business class flight en route to Nashville, who knew what would await me; the people I’d meet, the faces I’d recognize, the energy of the South moving through my bones… 

I was ready.

“What’s taking so long?” the woman across from me exclaimed, impatiently bouncing her knee. I started to think the same thing; the plane was already full. Who had the audacity to make us late?

And there he was, a tall lumberjack in an olive green tee, navy Levi’s and cognac Chelsea boots stepped onto the plane. Chiseled jaw with the perfect amount of scruff, broad shoulders and arms that could take down a grizzly bear; he was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen and definitely worth waiting for.

Within seconds, my amber pools of honey locked in on his lakes of cobalt, my heart skipping a beat…

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