How deep can you get at an airport lounge?
To my surprise, pretty damn deep. Deep enough for a stranger to burst into a wet confession about her ex-boyfriend while en route to meet her new boyfriend’s parents. Deep enough to ask yourself if you told her the truth, and if not, why you lied. And deep enough for you to be writing about this over a year later because, like groundhogs day, the conversation keeps happening.
I didn’t know her, but she approached me anyway, dragging a stool from beneath the bars’ wide island with confidence. She towered over me, gangly yet graceful, tightly wrapped in a plush wool shawl the color of rainclouds. So, where you headed? She yelled, her slicked-back puff sweeping the center of her shoulder blades. I turned towards her, raising both eyebrows in confusion. Bruh. Did I know this girl from somewhere? Middle school? High school? Is this that one girl Bernadette who got cut from my soccer team in 7th grade? I cocked my neck forward and slowly removed one airpod. Soooo where you headed? She asked again, even louder the second time, as if, instead of removing my headphone, I’d put on earmuffs.
Ummm I’m headed to New York, just a quick trip to visit my in-laws. What about you? I asked, immediately irked that I shared too much information. New York would’ve sufficed and might’ve been a quicker kill to this unsolicited conversation. That sounds fun! I’m flying your way, going to meet my new boyfriend’s parents in Jersey, kinda nervous. Shit. Sorry if I interrupted your music; I just feel, I don’t know. I’m trying to figure out how I feel about the whole thing. If you want to go back to what you’re listening to I completely understand.
She averted her gaze in hasty defeat, flagging down the bartender and aggressively pointing towards a low-calorie beer. All I wanted was a little quiet time before my flight, but this girl needed someone to talk to. I mean, no one aggressively orders a low-calorie beer. If you’re going to drink wheat, drink wheat. She’d be better off downing a shot to take the edge off, I thought. I’m Nneka, I said, removing the opposite airpod in solidarity. I’m Erica, she replied, her smile creased with relief.
Erica was in quite the conundrum. Over the course of our hour together in the tuna can of an airport lounge, she told me she was still in love with her ex-boyfriend. Well, the idea of him at least. They unceremoniously ended things after dating for over half a decade, and this trip to meet her new boyfriend’s parents was unearthing a host of mixed emotions. The new guy was nice; she kept saying. SO NICE. He does all the things I thought I wanted. I mean, They ARE things I want. For instance, take our anniversary, he rented out an entire sweet uptown. Rose petals everywhere. Candlelit dinner under the stars. He loves me so much. So, so much.
Erica. I interrupted. Two potent cocktails later. Words mean things. You keep going on and on about how much he loves you. What do you love about him? All of the things he did for your anniversary were nice, but I’m talking about him as a person. And before you answer, please order something other than that seltzer water of an adult beverage. I flagged down the bartender. Two shots of tequila, please. Both for her.
I began writing out the lessons I’ve learned about how “good enough is a dangerous place to be” in relationships (romantic and platonic). My time with Erica popped in mind, and I started to write and laugh and write some more. I thought breaking this story up into a short two, maybe three-part series would be fun. I learned a lot about honesty from my encounter with Erica, and I’m forever in awe at when our paths cross and why.
Part II this week. Audio will be available on the Letters From A Stranger podcast for paid subscribers tomorrow!