As we roll along on the granite floors of the concourse on our way to Gate 44, I feel a bit hypocritical about the handsome matching luggage my husband and I just bought. If you were to unpack those bags an untidy array of 35 years of living together would pour out.
As we reach the gate, he’s digging in his jean pocket for the crumpled ticket; we are about to be scanned through by an agent cooing Have a nice flight to each passenger. We hold hands and our bags roll along together behind us on the damp jet way; then more welcoming greetings from the next set of attendants. I notice how neatly my rolling bag fits between the tight aisles of business class and the even tighter aisles of coach. I like the bag more.
We’re not that far back, 27 E and F, a window and an aisle and to complete my good feelings the new luggage fits magically in the overhead bin.
We sort through the books and magazines we need, the laptop, our well-packed dinner larder and we buckle up and watch the long parade of passengers who aren’t so lucky to board early. My husband reaches over and holds my hand. We have been “doing” New York, seeing friends, eating, are jet-lagged and now, finally on the way home we can exhale and just be together confined to doing nothing.
I close my eyes for a moment in the swirl of hushed passengers’ murmurs of excuse me and pardon me, a weepy child, and the faint sound of rain pelting my window.
My nap ends with the appearance of two young women, in their mid-30s standing in the aisle by our seats. One has short dark hair and beady eyes, the other taller and mousy blonde; both dressed in the usual comfortable combat wear for a long flight. The blonde gazes down at us, her warm brown eyes pleading, “I don’t mean to interrupt you, but I’m a breast feeding mom and I need the electric outlet that’s under your seat for my breast pump. Would you mind swapping seats with us…we are 12 rows back, same configuration.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, I say, “Oh my God. There isn’t much I wouldn’t do for a breast feeding mother.”
My husband takes a different approach. “Actually, I have a lot of work to do, and I need the plug for my computer. Gee, sorry.” I disengage my hand from his.
I am shocked, stunned but don’t feel like having a major battle on Flight 181 in front of these two desperate women. My inner plume of rage grows and sinks into the blue fabric seat. I stare at the floor. The gray light coming in the small window highlights an archeological dig of debris where the carpet meets the wall, thick brown and beige crumbs, pink and green gum wrappers and bits and pieces of colorful debris collected over so many years. I never noticed so much garbage before. Of all things, there’s a turquoise baby’s pacifier on the floor.
How can my husband refuse a breastfeeding mother? How can he be so rude, so selfish, and so insensitive? What did he ever know about breastfeeding, except to get jealous? My mind is spirally down that dark tunnel that only suppressed anger and rage knows. Those early years of raising two kids come blasting back to me, his long assignments away from home, his ridiculously insane hours, my being buried alive at home responsible for everything, cooking all the meals, the diapers, the sleepless nights alone and of course, my cheerful façade masking my anger. I wish I could redo those years. I am wearing the bomb and I will implode. I become a terrorist who explodes the plane with matching luggage! They’re a cover up deal by my husband to brush away my anger.
I hear the girls say to my husband, “Oh I completely understand. Please don’t think twice.” But the blonde is looking at me; that look that says, “Who is the asshole you married?” They move down a few rows to ask the next couple, leaving me in a pool of guilt and anger.
“Why did you say that to those women? She’s a breastfeeding mother.”
“I didn’t think she was for real”
“What? Why would someone make that up?”
“She didn’t look like a mother to me. I thought they were just trying to con us out of our seats.”
“Look, they needed the plug. Where is that plug? Do you see a plug here? I can’t see a plug?”
We both are hunting all around and under our seats for the plug. We can’t find one.
The attendant comes by and we stop him.
“Can you show us where the plug is on our seat?"
“Plug?” he says. “There’re no outlets in coach.”
“We’ve been duped,” I blurt out.
The attendant, so crisp and innocent in his navy jacket looks at me like I’m crazy. “Sorry, if there was a mistake booking your ticket ma’am, but no coach seats have outlets.” And off he goes, slamming down the open overhead bins.
“How did you know? How did you see what they were doing?"
“I didn’t smell milk on her.”
And I know he’s telling the truth.
“I knew she was faking it.”
We looked about six rows ahead of us and the girls have found their victim; a couple is headed to the back of the plane.
“Do we tell somebody?”
“What can you do? They were going to find their patsies.”
“Well, I was almost their patsy!”
“Hey, you’re with me.” And he reaches over and squeezes my hand.
I think about our matching luggage again.
Only he and I know what’s really in them. There’s a weekend's worth of dirty underwear, wine stained shirts, my favorite moth-eaten cashmere sweater, big arguments, kisses, promises and broken promises...all those hard-earned secrets tucked in neatly above our heads.
Marguerite Kenner is a strong believer in bungee jumping through life, is the double star recipient of “Two Most Amazing Grown Children Award” for her commitment to parenthood, cooking and family travel and, more recently, winner of the cherished, “Beloved Wife Award” for 35 years of delicious dinners. Marguerite is currently writing with her creative non-fiction group in Los Angeles.