Haunted by a lovely stranger on a plane

Elise T. Chisolm

June 29, 1993|By Elise T. Chisolm

It was on a plane that I first saw her. She looked like Shirle MacLaine, but she was much prettier, more refined, almost ethereal looking.

This girl, and I'd say she was about 26, had wonderful high cheek bones. Her face was fascinating, because it was so beautiful and without artifice. Her nose was straight, not retrousse, and her lips were not too wide as is fashionable now. Her skin was very white. Her wispy hair, almost too fine for someone her age, fell around her face like soft sculpture.

She was dressed in tan silk, and her clothes hung lose and graceful from a slender figure.

Later, at the airport where we waited for flight changes, she sat opposite me, and what a joy to look at her.

But there was something sad, something resigned, about her. A man joined her. He gave her a kiss on the cheek and sat down by her. He, too, was handsome. She did not have a wedding ring on. He talked and she listened.

I decided to do what I do on long trips -- speculate. Were they having an affair? Were they ending the affair? There was an aura of tranquillity to their body language.

When I have traveled long distances I have often met someone interesting. I have heard whole life stories on a three-hour flight. Do people talk to me because I am older and look like a grandmother? I like to listen.

I have found this is not unusual. I read where psychiatrists say that sharing private details with strangers can be therapeutic.

I still hear from several people I met on long flights.

Back to the beautiful girl. Why was I so curious about her? Why was I worried about her?

Our connecting flight on a small commuter plane was rough, with high winds and a bad storm. She and her man sat in front of me.

She never moved a muscle. She was calm when no one else was. I wanted to smile at her. I wanted to know what she was about. I wanted to tell her that nothing is as bad as she thinks, because she is still young. He held her hand through the storm and looked at her, always lovingly.

He's going back to his wife, I guessed, and this was their last fling.

Then, at the luggage pickup I heard him say: "Listen, you can wear a turban this time. Maybe you won't be as sick this time around." And I heard the word "chemo."

She was having chemotherapy again. Why did it have to happen to her, so young, so lovely? She wasn't someone famous. She was merely brave and beautiful.

I wish I'd sat next to her to hold her other hand.

They say you can mourn the death of strangers. But how will I know? If she doesn't make it, will I feel some kind of jolt or tremor? And, please God, let that man be holding her hand then too.

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