When I decided to fly to Memphis for a second date, my friends were suspiciously supportive. I guess they figured that between playing writer by night and frazzled editor by day, I could stand to get out a little. That I lived in Boston and Michael lived in Memphis did not seem insurmountable. That is, if you are a reckless romantic. Michael's sister, a friend of mine, set us up with the logic, "You're both writers. Maybe you'll get along." It's like when people say, "You're both gay," or, “You’re both Jewish,” which was also true. But I thought, "Hey, we are both writers."
A few weeks after Michael visited his sister in Boston where we met for a two-hour coffee at one of the Starbucks' that litter Boylston Street, he started calling and suggesting I visit him in Memphis. We'd had a fun time; I was intrigued. But I adopted the mantra, No, that's ridiculous, because wasn't it? Michael was dark in a diamond in the rough sort of way. The invitation was renewed and renewed again and because I was going through a fascination-with-the-South-phase and because he was cute and because I did need to get out more, I said yes. But once I'd given in to my spontaneous bent, we both realized there was one glaring problem: what if we didn't like each other's writing? The idea that Michael might be a terrible writer or worse, that he wouldn't be impressed by my stories, was a deal breaker. "So we have to submit writing samples?" I said over the phone the night before I was to leave.
"Don't forget to spell check," he said.
Little did I know there were other obstacles to hurdle before we had the chance to bare all. Like getting myself to Memphis. At this point, fate, or the incompetence of Continental Airlines, took over. Because my flight was delayed and I would have five minutes in Newark to shuttle from terminal C to terminal A, I had been gifted a first class seat in order to "dash out of the plane" when we landed. Dash I did: sweating and panting, bags flung over my shoulders. It's romantic in a movie and downright sad in real life. I was practically in hysterics by the time I rushed up to the departure gate, empty, aside from the two, unamused ground crew at the counter. "Has it left?" I asked, imagining a last minute victory over the universe.
I had four hours until the next flight to fret about how I looked and which story I would share with Michael (crowd pleaser or soul baring?).
What in the hell was I thinking?
"Go get a beer," Michael said when I called, hand shaking to ear. To the Budweiser Brew Pub I went for a big gulp Sam Adams before I had the chance to find the next flight back to Boston. By the time I wandered out, all five feet of me was sky high. "This isn't so bad," I thought. I had a library book and a buzz
When I sauntered back to the gate, punctual for boarding, the flight crew was nowhere to be found. The plane was there, infuriatingly patient looking, but no dice on the crew. An hour later, a passenger in my own nightmare, we were told the crew was stuck en route. As the Continental terminal filled up with people, the temperature rose. Hours later, my back sweat-glued to the seat, I was told we didn't know when they were going to arrive. We? Were we in this together? Eventually the flight information was taken off the screen altogether and up went Tulsa.
Eight and a half hours after I'd landed in Newark, a place that either despised or was infatuated with me, I was sitting on a plane. Sitting on a plane! I couldn't believe my luck. Just as I commended myself for bravely deciding to share the soul-baring writing sample with Michael, a woman a few seats behind me started shrieking.
She had an accent—the passengers were split on Dutch or French—and did not get the gist of the whole "no electronics during take-off" rule. Instead of turning off her iPod, she accused the flight attendant of working too many hours straight. “You’re being illegal,” she yelled. “You’re being illegal!” the other passengers shot back at her. The man next to me, who was supposed to have coached his daughter's soccer game in Memphis two hours earlier, said, "Let's vote her off the plane."
After security escorted the Dutch-French woman back to Terminal A, we started taxiing out into the wet night: take two. So this was why I didn't take chances on love or do spontaneous things, I thought as I gripped the arm rests. I have never liked the ritual of applauding a pilot's landing. It's their job. If they can't land the plane, we shouldn’t take off. But as that plane touched down next to the Mississippi River, my hands found each other in blissful gratitude.
I could tell you what happened in Memphis: how Michael and I lost our feet in the mud, traipsing through the crowd to hear The Roots at the Beale Street Music Festival or about our drive to Oxford, Mississippi, to see Rowan Oak (casa de Faulkner), or being tapped and prodded by Paul, the lewd proprietor of "Graceland Too." But none of the things that were supposed to be romantic mattered, because after the kind of journey I had, you can guess where I was going to land. By the time we traded stories, it was no longer relevant whether Michael's or my writing passed one another’s test. It was a weekend that would have swept me off my feet if I had enjoyed the person I was with. But I may as well have been at home, where I had plenty to do, saving airfare. It took flying to Memphis to find that Michael wasn’t just dark; he wasn’t happy. By the end of the trip, neither was I.
To no one’s surprise, my flight home was already canceled by the time Michael drove me back to the Memphis airport. I’d convinced him, but not me, that I was okay, ready to separate myself from this misadventure. I don't regret my moment of risk, but the next time I do something uncalculated, I'll do it on foot. As I sat in the airport in Memphis, waiting for the next flight, it occurred to me that perhaps the real pearl of wisdom was that I should stop dating writers.
Lindsey Silken is a writer and editor living in Baltimore. She received her MFA from Bennington College and she racks up frequent flier miles each month visiting friends and family all over the country. She also blogs about books on HelloGiggles.