Holding my luggage in front of me, pushing it forward with my leg as I walk, I awkwardly waddle down the narrow aisle of the airplane cabin, trying not to whack any already sitting person in the knee or in the head with my load. It’s an aerobic experience just trying to find my seat, and then another workout as I heave my bag over my head and attempt to stuff it in the small, crowded overhead compartment. I sit down out of breath.
I always offer the window seat to my husband. I don’t like to feel any more closed in than necessary. In the confines of the small cushion I’m allowed, the armrests digging into the tops of my thighs, I struggle to cross my legs and attain a more comfortable position. But it is impossible with the proximity of the seat in front of me, and I cross my ankles instead.
There is no space to move. I cannot stand up all the way without hitting my head on the overhead compartment. I cannot stand up at all when the seatbelt sign is on. I cannot use my mobile device. I have to wait until the crew is ready to serve drinks before I can enjoy a refreshing beverage. I cannot do anything on my own time. I cannot make my own decisions. I’m stuck in a tin can with hundreds of strangers thousands of feet up in the air.
When I finally have a cold drink resting tediously on the tray table, vibrating and bouncing with the turbulence, I realize my book is in my bag, stowed under the seat in front of me. I pick up my drink off the tray, secure the tray on the back of the seat in front of me, dig into my bag for my book with one hand while trying not to spill my drink with the other hand, put the book in my lap, release the tray, and then finally set everything on the tray. Another elaborate exercise.
A little boy kicks the back of my seat. His sister whines loudly.
Yet through all this, I am calm. I am in my own little cushioned seat with my seatbelt buckled loosely against my lap. It is like a private sanctuary. Barely anyone can see me. Barely anyone knows me. I have to be here, but I have absolutely no responsibility. I can read. I can play mindless games. I can watch a movie. I can nap, which I never do at home. There is no task that I’m avoiding. Nothing needs to be done. All I have to do is pass the time however I like. What a rare gem in this adult life.