The following narrative was written in response to a prompt I gave my creative nonfiction students: Develop a scene that describes an important event in your life. The catch? The event you choose has to be less than 5 minutes long, and the scene should be no longer than 700 words. For the record, I went over the 700 word requirement. . .oops.
“Is that him?” I mutter as I study the faces of the passengers floating up from the arrival tunnel. I wonder if he actually made it onto the plane, or if this is all some elaborate joke being played on me by. . .somebody? Anybody?
I shift impatiently, tugging my jeans up and my shirt down, contemplating whether or not the cute factor is worth constantly fiddling with my outfit. As I turn, I lock eyes with a young soldier who clearly approves the jeans and soft green knit shirt I am wearing. He smiles at me, and I wonder if he is coming from or going to Iraq or Afghanistan. The soldier walks confidently, duffle tossed over his shoulder, and his eyes are clear.
“He’s been through boot camp, but he is stopping by home before being shipped off,” I decide as I return the smile. I hope he remembers smiling, remembers my smile back, after he leaves. I hope I remember the kid with the duffle and the green eyes when I read future stories about the conflicts happening in the Middle East. I hope. But that is not why I am here right now, not the reason I turn back to the escalator in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. David is.
I’ve known Dave for about 4 ½ years at this point, in April 2006. We’ve written hundreds of emails to each other, and we’ve spent hours laughing at each other on the phone. I know that he has a comforting voice, though it is not as deep as I expected when I first spoke to him. I know he enjoys laughing and embracing the goofiness we cultivate in our conversations with one another. I know he is ambitious, yet he is one of the most spiritual people I know. And that says a lot, since I went to Catholic school for thirteen years. I know him well, but I haven’t met him yet.
Which is why I am standing at the top of the escalator in the Delta terminal of the Cincinnati airport, waiting for him to arrive on a Thursday afternoon. Dave and I both practice Transcendental Meditation, an unusual trait for two twenty-somethings who live in the middle of the US. We are both second-generation: Dave’s father learned in the 1970s and passed it onto his children at an early age. My mother also learned in the 1970s, though I didn’t start meditating formally until I was twenty years old. I started meditating with my then-boyfriend, and I added that information to my AOL profile in the hopes of connecting with fellow meditators who might help me maintain regular meditation practices.
Dave had been scouring the AOL profiles for references to TM in order to connect with meditators his own age, male or female. Having grown up in Oklahoma, he knew that there weren’t too many people in middle America who practiced—or even wanted to understand—Transcendental Meditation. So when he saw my profile, he emailed me. And I responded.
We were both in relationships, so our early correspondences were strictly friendly. Friendly and goofy. We joked constantly, and we actually got each other’s jokes. The emails were sporadic for three years or so, but always entertaining. Eventually, we kept in more frequent contact, and the emails turned into chat sessions that, inevitably, turned into phone conversations. Through all of this, we were each in romantic relationships with other people; after all, he was a landman in Oklahoma who traveled to Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, and Texas for his work, and I was a graduate student who moved from Kentucky to Ohio to pursue a Ph.D. What chance would a long-distance relationship like that have?
In 2006, we decided to find out: we were both recently single, and he was making enough money to afford the plane ticket to Ohio to visit me. So he booked it. And I drove to the airport. And now I wait for him to appear.
I’m getting more and more nervous as the escalator continues to push forward eager passengers, each of whom look around until they smile and move forward into the arms of a friend or loved one. I’m nervous. Maybe he missed the flight, got cold feet, is actually a 65-year-old man who managed to fool me into caring for him over the last few years. Maybe. . .
“Hey.” He makes eye contact and smiles nervously. The blue stripes on his shirt make his eyes pop; they are beautiful, something that the photos could not convey. I smile.
“Hi. Did you check a bag?” He nods, and we walk over to the luggage carousel, smiling and giggling. He puts his hand on my back as we wait for his yellow suitcase to shoot off of the conveyor belt.