I sat down and had some tea with Crystal Smith one Californian afternoon. I had just finished reading her novel, Three Girls Named Beautiful, and began to discuss the success it will inevitably have in the near future. Our conversation drifted from her novel, to subpoena procedures, to an experience she once shared with a stranger on an airplane. After she finished telling her beautiful story, I asked if she would do me the honor of sharing it with the Yeti community. Ms. Smith happily obliged.
It had been an eventful first semester of college. Singer Aaliyah died in a plane
crash in August, the twin towers fell in September setting off what would turn
out to be a decade long war and I watched as schizophrenia invaded one of my
friend's life after she abandoned her medication.
It's an understatement to say I was more than ready for my Christmas break to
begin as I sat on the plane reading Song of Solomon, which I planned to keep
me occupied for the five hour flight. I've spent more time in the air than most.
I'm not anything close to George Clooney in Up in the Air, but as a divorced kid I
flew across country at least six times a year and had all kinds of experiences. I
made twenty dollars once when I was eight to trade my window seat for an aisle,
enjoyed the food and entertainment perks in First Class so my parents could rest
easy knowing I wouldn't get lost and started conversation with whomever had
been lucky enough to sit next to me.
There's something very isolating about travel and as I grew older, I embraced
that and came to prefer to read, write or listen to music while I daydreamed. So
imagine my surprise when in the midst of college dating and getting over my
high school boyfriend, I met a guy on a plane. I was playing the guessing game
in anticipation of who was going to get the aisle seat next to me. I was already
crowded in the middle (the lady next to me would have been forced to buy two
seats if this story didn’t take place ten years ago).
He and his friend walked down the plane wearing full fatigues and then he stopped at
my aisle. He was cute, in a boy next-door sort of way, and sexy, in the fatigue-
wearing-soldier type of way. Mixed, maybe Hispanic with brown skin, dark hair
and dark eyes, which now reminds me of Jay Hernandez. I must admit the whole
military thing intimidated me. I mean what was I supposed to say: "What was
your last mission? How many people have you killed?" So instead I said nothing
and smiled as he sat down, hoping I wasn't visibly blushing.
As soon as the plane took off he tried to sleep. I saw him fighting to get
comfortable out the corner of my eye. Somewhere above Kansas his head
dropped onto my shoulder tearing my attention away from Toni Morrison. He
snuggled up to me and I let him. He looked so utterly exhausted like he was in
the midst of the best sleep of his life and I couldn't bear to wake him. It seemed
like his setting foot on American soil and then flying in her skies was all it took for
him to exhale. I felt my stomach flip as he held me like he was missing someone.
At first I felt uncomfortable and wondered if the physical contact could be
considered cheating on whomever we were both linked to on the ground but then
I quickly realized that his need for comfort and my willingness to provide was far
above the typical male/female sexual tension. So, I relaxed and abandoned my
book realizing I couldn't turn the page without disturbing him.
The next thing I knew I was asleep too, cuddled up to a perfect stranger. We
knew nothing about each other, I don't even remember learning his name or
telling him mine. We didn't discuss the war; I didn't ask him where he'd been or
how long he'd be home. He didn’t try to get my number or make a move. He was
just a soldier who needed a shoulder to lean on, and perhaps I did too.
When I tried to rehash the scene aloud it sounded illogical. In the moment we
were just two people, two Americans suspended in the air. He wasn't a soldier,
his fatigues seemed softer like they’d been washed over and over in scented
Tide as part of some trendy outfit instead of a camouflage meant to help shield
him from harm. I still think of him occasionally when I'm on one of those long
flights or I hear a report of the fatalities in Iraq or Afghanistan. Our troops exist
so far outside of our reality but I met one once and can't help but wonder if he's
even still alive.
Learn more about Ms. Smith.
Crystal Smith | Los Angeles, CA
She once actually wrote her way out of a paper bag.