I’m writing this on a plane. I’m flying home from Europe. Next to me is a big-boned gal from Wisconsin farm country. As I saw her bounding down the aisle like an over-eager golden retriever, I knew that she was destined to sit next to me. Once, just once, I’d like to share a transcontinental flight with a reserved British person who wants nothing less than to make friends with me.
Sure enough, she stopped at my row and loudly proclaimed that the window seat was hers. She lumbered over me before I had the chance to exit my seat and clear her a path. She grabbed my hand with her large paw and shook it senseless, declaring that this was not only her first overseas trip, but also her first plane trip.
I had been in Europe for two weeks, and to my discredit assumed a number of snooty affectations, so I was not prepared for her aggressive American friendliness. And while I, too, am a gregarious Midwesterner, I travel a lot and know the dangers of being too friendly with the person sitting next to me on a long flight.
So, I greeted her enthusiasm with considerable chill, which she simply ignored. Instead, with increasing gusto, she began to recount the details of her trip. As she spoke, she noisily inspected the small environment around her. She slammed down the tray table and repeatedly opened and shut the window shade with the glee of a toddler banging on a pot with a wooden spoon.
“OK,” I said, reaching over and calming her hand, which was busily ripping every document out of the seat-back, “We’re going to be sitting next to each other for nine hours. You’re going to have to settle down.”
She stopped her fidgeting and leaned back in her seat with such deliberate carefulness that it made me laugh.
“I’m sorry,” she said, relieved that I was no longer annoyed with her. “I’m just kind of hyper right now because I’ve never been in love before. And I hope this doesn’t shock you, but I’m in love with a girl!”
Well, that got my attention.
For the next couple hours, she breathlessly told me her story. How she was raised in a small town and never hoped to escape. How she defied her parents and began attending a local community college. How she broke up with her fiancée just weeks before their wedding because she felt “something was missing.”
And then how she realized she was in love with a new friend, a Scottish girl who was attending her college as a foreign-exchange student.
“My first friend with an accent!” she proclaimed. “That’s what I thought I was attracted to: the accent. But then I realized I wanted to kiss her.”
So, she “looked up stuff on how to be gay. I had never even thought of it before. I wanted to do it right!” Then, she marched over to her friend’s house, told her she loved her, and tried to kiss her.
“She pushed me off and asked me to leave,” she said. “Then she ran back to Scotland. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I saved up my money and bought a ticket.”
She showed up at the woman’s home unannounced. “She was not happy to see me! She told me to go home,” she said. Undeterred, she spent the next week trying to woo her. And then it was time to return home.
Finally, she felt defeated. But when she arrived at the airport, she received a text. It was an emoticon of a face with hearts as eyes with a single word: Yes.
And for the first time in a long time, I was proud to be an intrepid, pushy American.