As a young woman, it’s not unusual to be looked at while sitting alone in an airport terminal. So when I felt him looking, I did what I normally do – I crossed my legs, hugged my arms tighter around myself. Fixed my gaze out the window. Turned my music up. Tried to wait for him to lose interest.
Men seem to think that they deserve this. That it’s one of their inherent rights as the masculine gender. But I wasn’t in the mood, my flight was delayed and it would only be a minute. One uncomfortable minute in the chaos of many.
But he kept staring. And it wasn’t long before he planted himself in front of me, his body sprawled across two seats, saying, “Excuse me. I don’t usually do this – and I’m sorry if I’m bothering you. But… you look just like my wife.”
My response was silence, I just looked at his face. My usual response to unwanted attention, to count to ten in my head and play dumb. But then he filled the space again, instead of waiting for me to respond. “She passed away four years ago. Cancer.”
I shifted in my seat and he apologized once more, his eyes on a loop darting from me to the window. Me to the window. In the mitts of his second apology I interrupted him, speaking for the first time, “No, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you lost someone you love”.
I’m 30. I’ve never been married but I’ve been in love and I’ve seen it taken away. His eyes said it all, the lost dreams, forgotten promises, the future that would never come. I uncrossed my limbs and opened myself up to listen. He told me of Seattle, where they met in college and fell in love. In Portland, where they had their son and bought a home. He talked about how hard it had been and how they’ve been trying to coup unsuccessfully sense.
He never looked away. His eyes lingering on every and all parts of my face. In between the problems his son was having in school and his lack of motivation, I realized he wasn’t talking to me. Wasn’t looking at me. I was a stand-in for the woman he pledged his life to.
I wondered if he spoke about her often. Or if this was the first time he was opening up. That he’d been waiting four years to talk to someone that favored her.
He worked through his visits from her parents. How everyone around him seemed more worried about what he was doing wrong than seeing it for what it really was.
He didn’t have to say it. I reached for his hand and he held it in his palm. Just a few months prior my best friend lost his brother. A loss of a love that I know too well. The pain that encased his face that first month was firmly implanted on this man.
I had no words for him, just silent tears. It was as if someone I loved had lost someone they loved. Even though we had just met, I could feel his sorrow as he stared into my eyes.
And so, I gave him another minute.
Another minute to feel this connection. To know he was loved because, at this moment, I did love this stranger. Seeing someone so open, so vulnerable to our shifting experiences. Someone looking for something in someone else to fill a whole unseen my most. Having nothing standing between us. This is exactly what love is, and everyone deserves such a minute.