I am boarding a short flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Soon, I’ll take an overnight flight they call the red-eye to my final destination. I’m drowsy and looking forward to a few hours of peace in my own mind during this stretch of travel.
The young Australian couple seating themselves behind me have other ideas. His nasal twang is behind my right ear within minutes of beginning to taxi. I can see him twisting in his seat, moving his shoulder away from his partner but pushing his face into hers. He spat out the words.
‘Get off me! We’re going to be next to each other for 15 bloody hours, the least you can do is give me this one flight without cuddling me to death.’
My mood breaks with a crack. My head hits the back of the seat and I can’t help but tilt my ear towards the rest of the conversation. Human observation is my skill and trade, inescapable even in a steel tube hurtling down a runway.
‘Look, would you settle for holding my hand? Honestly, woman – you should just be over it by now.’
The pieces fall into place. She is afraid of take-off, it’s possible she is afraid of flying all together. My distaste for her partner grows, he is lacking in compassion. His tone is cold, dry and has no feeling in it.
There is a thread of familiar memory that runs through me. Every so often when something treads upon it, the thread pulls tight and hums a little. Like a tiny pluck, the idea blooms in me. The thought, the fragment of an idea.
It’s an idea birthed in a feeling. When I was 28 and my father thundered against someone who had committed an unkindness against me. I had it once as a 6 year old, in conversation with my uncle. Again, when I was 26 and visiting him for the first time in many years. It’s a feeling I have when I spend time in the South where men open doors and walk with their hand in the small of your back, or with your arm in theirs. I experience it in the company of one or two gentleman, when they buy me a drink, make a way for me in a crowd or take my bags.
Some might describe these mannerisms as patriarchal or territorial, but I don’t believe it to be the case. In fact, I believe it to be the highest order of masculine strength; to display compassion and presence. Paying attention to detail, to care beyond the borders of self and caring for what is in your domain. The thread I recognize is simple: this what it feels like to be cared for. To open a door for someone is to make their way easier, to make a path for them.
He, the young Australian, is not one of these men. He may love her, even like her more than he appears to now, but he does not care for her.
I am sad. Resigned, I lean my head against the window and watch the lights of Las Vegas fade above. He changes the subject to what he hopes to eat on the long flight home and how long it will take her to do the laundry before he needs his shirts. I sigh out loud this time.
He is a cliché of a boy I once knew. I am already planning this story when he tells her to let go of his hand already. I stop myself from turning around to catch a glimpse of her, but when they disembark in Los Angeles I see them for the first time. I glance away, my mood is somber. She is tense, he is telling people to hurry up, to leg it off the plane.
From a sentence or two, I’ve made a character of this man with no sense of his story or how he became this way. Still, I’m full of compassion for his wife (I saw the ring as they left). I hope that someone pays attention to the details for her and looks after her.
It’s true I have a fondness for gentlemen who treat people and women well. It’s one of the things I look for in people before I care about their intelligence, politics or appearance. How a man treats other women, how a man treats strangers and how he treats his friends. I would hope all the men I know to be of this ilk.
As a single woman, people will sometimes bravely ask what I’m looking for in a man. I have traveled great distances yet never brought a man home, despite expectations of family and friends. I don’t know if what I’m hoping for comes from a place or from good manners.
It’s simple, though. I don’t care much for where he’s from or what he does. If he is tall or short, smart or funny, savvy or sassy. I don’t mind he likes to be home or out; alone or in a crowd. But I know that I want a man who knows how to be kind, how to guard and care for a woman, or anyone in his path. I want a man who wants to be where I am, or wants me to be where he is. Who believes being present with one another gives us something more than when we are apart.
Someone who will hold my hand when I am rarely vulnerable, sharing his shoulder even when he doesn’t like to cuddle if comfort is what I need.
Songwriter Jane Siberry wrote these words;
“love is simple
be sure to know that
all in love
and love, as a philosophy
I only believe her on the days I feel that thread in me humming. When that compassion sets the kindness in me resonating.
Sometimes when I leave the office in the evening, someone opens the door for me. It can sometimes be the first and only time I feel cared for all day – when someone takes a moment to make the way a little easier for me.
Maybe love is simple when it just means making the way easier for someone. What a thing to look for in another person.