Jennifer Danny | Tales from the Airplane’s Middle Seat

Jennifer Danny

I was traveling recently and normally I try to sit by the window of the plane or the aisle, but the only seat available was the middle seat. It’s kind of fun to have the random conversations with the person sitting next to you on each side. In this case the gal who was sitting by the window had her AirPods in and the man in the aisle seat was finishing up a conversation on his cell phone before takeoff. 

Because of us sitting so close together, I could hear him speak as he tried to build up the confidence of the other party on the phone. He spoke with such kindness; in fact, he was quite fatherly. He said goodbye and told the other person he’d let him know when he landed. 

Once the plane had reached its altitude and we were allowed to use our electronic devices and put our tray tables down, I noticed the man next to me was reading a book. It looked like a sort of self- help advice kind of book. 

He smiled at me, and I said, “I overheard you talking before we took off.” And, I continued, his input seemed very genuine and helpful. He told me he had been talking to his son — his grown son who was going through a divorce and was terribly upset. 

He said that he was doing his best to help his son try to move beyond this. And then he brought up something that I found quite enlightening. 

He said although his son and his wife had been together for over 20 years, the wife refused to see the maturity and growth that her husband, his son, had achieved. She simply saw the man as the same one from 20 years ago, regardless.

Then I pondered in my head, which is what I do often, and thought, Is this a God Wink for me? Am I supposed to be learning something from this complete and total stranger? Was this man sharing this with me because I needed to hear this? 

I knew that I tend to get very rote in my behavior and often I run the gamut of Post-It reminders on the door leading into the garage of what I call Jen-rules. The Post-Its say things like: 

Is the front door locked? Are the back doors locked? Is the toaster oven unplugged? Is the living room floor fan turned off? And I realized that maybe I was guilty as well of not seeing the maturity of my marriage. After all, it’s been almost 33 years. 

I guess Mother Hen Jen could learn to relax a little and be mindful of what the gentleman in the seat next to me was saying and perhaps glean a little wisdom. I smiled at him and told him that his son was lucky to have him and to have such a wise elder he could count on. He thanked me and he started to read his book. 

The flight attendants were making their way down with the refreshment cart and at that time the young lady sitting by the window had taken her AirPods out and was waiting for the cart to get closer so she could request a beverage. As we got our sodas and the complimentary pretzels, she placed her items on the tray in front of her and looked out the window of the plane and stared off into the horizon. 

She turned to me and said, “Look how pretty the sunset is.” I agreed that it was stunning. She told me her name was Jessica, and I told her my name was Jennifer. She had just visited her family and was heading back to Los Angeles. She had moved there to go to cosmetology school eight years ago and enjoyed it so much, she decided to stay. She had worked previously as a tattoo artist and recently she had been terminated at her data entry job. 

She explained she didn’t fit in with the other girls in the office, and in fact, she used a term that she had experienced “pretty privilege.” I asked what that meant. She told me the girls in the office were good looking and she didn’t fit in. 

As she continued to talk, I was looking at her. In my opinion she was pretty. I wondered why she didn’t see that in herself. She told me she had ADHD and found that by wearing headphones at work it helped her to focus on the task of entering data. She thought that maybe by her doing that it alienated the other girls in the office. She also told me she liked to wear clothes that show off her tattoos and at times maybe that also contributed to her feeling like she didn’t belong there. 

I said, “There are so many remote opportunities, maybe that’s something to look into.” She told me she lived in a one-room apartment in the city. She shared photos of her place with me, and I asked how long she had lived there, and then she responded a couple of years and prior to that had bounced around from various friends’ houses and even a few times found herself without a place to stay. So, she would sleep in her car and a few times the manager of one of the nearby public storage facilities let her sleep in one of the units. 

The mom in me was somewhat shocked. I asked her couldn’t her parents have helped her. She told me they didn’t have the means to do so. She had a good sense of self and that was refreshing to see. 

When we landed, we both walked together to the baggage claim and she got her luggage and said, “It was very nice to be able to sit near you and talk with you.” 

I said, “Right back to you, and take care of yourself.” She started to walk to the curb where her ride was waiting. She got in the car, and I watched as it drove away. I thought to myself, dearest Jessica, may you rise above the perceived hardships that you shared with me, because in my opinion you are confident, capable and deserving. 

And I then kissed my index finger and rose my hand above toward the starlit sky and said, “Dear Lord, please watch over Jessica. Amen!” 

Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident.

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