Within two minutes of meeting, she mentioned she was a recovering sex addict. Who knows when it’s appropriate to reveal that kind of information, but it’s probably not sometime between stowing baggage in the overhead compartment and fastening seat belts.
Small talk with strangers usually doesn’t interest me. There was nothing small, however, about my talk with Dawn.
The flight wasn’t full, which meant an empty seat separated my aisle seat from her window one. Eye contact and a smile would suffice for communication with the ginger-haired middle-aged woman sharing my row on the plane that night.
It would suffice for me, at least.
“Are you flying to Vegas or continuing to El Paso?” she asked. “What takes you to Vegas?” she followed up. “What do you do there?” she probed.
All innocent enough questions, but my answer to that last one triggered the sex addiction confession. She’s also a writer. Her work appears on her blog, which, if the publisher she met on her last flight has any say in the matter, will eventually become a book. The blog, and pending book, is all about her addiction. Not the recovery, but “the highlights.”
This stuff never happens to me. This stuff happens to other people who then tell me, with horror, as I wonder, with jealousy, why it never happens to me. Yet, here it was, happening to me.
My full appreciation of the moment, however, was interrupted by visions of the flight attendant asking us to please straighten our chair backs, turn off our electrical devices and stop being total perverts.
As much as the highlights intrigued me, and the lady’s grin dared me, I changed the subject — my imagination kicking and screaming.
“So, do you live in El Paso?”
“Yes,” she answered. “But not for long.”
This woman was clearly a conversation baiter. This used to strike me as manipulation, so I’d refuse to take the bait. I’ve come to recognize that it is manipulation, but less of me and more of them. She wanted to say something, but first had to convince herself someone wanted to hear it.
My compassion bit the bait: “Oh really, why’s that?”
You know at weddings when someone gently lifts the lid on a tiny box and a flock of butterflies emerge? That’s kind of what happened with that one little question. She rattled off enough information for a pretty thorough biography.
There was a Mexican polygamist compound in there. An escape. A marriage. A divorce. Three children, two adopted. What it means to be Jewish. What it means to be Irish. What it means to be Jewish and Irish from Mexico. A hospital administration career. And some advice on whether yours truly should have kids.
This, all before beverage orders on a 90-minute flight.
While I pretended to read my book, but really just sat absorbing the dramatic novel she just shared with me, the woman pulled a blanket up to her chin and got cozy.
She had one last question: Would I mind giving her a hard nudge if she started snoring really loud? See, she just took a pill and would pass out any second.
A pill. Of course. Sure, I told her, hoping our definitions of “hard nudge” matched up.
That’s when I had another vision. This time the flight attendant was asking me to return my tray table to its original position — so she could resuscitate my redheaded friend. The only ending that could make this meeting more bizarre.
I tapped the woman’s shoulder and asked her name. You can’t know someone’s life story and not know her name.
She told me, we did the “nice to have met you’s” and that was that.
Our little exchange either served as evidence why you should never carry on with strangers, or proof positive why you should always do it.
Either Dawn has lived a most fascinating, strange life, or I sat next to one entertaining liar. There’s another possibility, though.
When the plane landed and deboarded, Dawn never opened her eyes.
They say the most vivid dreams happen during the deepest sleeps.
Maybe on her last flight she dreamt she lived on a Mexican polygamist compound, only to escape and become a sex addict …
Contact Xazmin Garza at email@example.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.