"I'm sorry," I interrupted after taking a sip of the water that demanded my attention after I'd finished a sparkling little bellini. "Did you say you got laid? Because that would, I suppose, be a good experience with an airline."
"No," she replied, shaking her head for emphasis. "It's not that kind of story."
A chorus of disappointed sounds met her announcement and I innocently asked if she was sure it couldn't be made into that kind of story. Instead we heard about early boarding and free drinks and quick connections as I debated (and decided against) more sparkling wine.
In the midst of giggles and sips and snacks, there was a dark cloud hovering about one of our companions. I finally stood and slipped into another seat so that I was closer to her.
"So," I said with a gentle smile. "How're things?" And I listened while she talked about how good they were, how important she was, how much better it could be if people would simply listen to her.
I bit back advice - it's in my nature to boss people around - and cocked my head and asked about her ideas. And they're good ideas - not terribly original as all have been tried and failed, but they're reasonable and well-intentioned.
"I understand," I said. "They're good ideas - I've had some that are similar. And it's a frustrating problem." I paused, wondering what I wished someone would say to me as I struggled against the misery that sometimes becomes overwhelming. What might have made life better when it seemed so painful and difficult and unfair.
I wanted to tell her she was hurting her career. That getting hysterical in meetings was ill-advised. That one doesn't interrupt constantly and grow increasingly shrill when corrected by those higher in the food chain we call Industry. That criticizing one's peers in large meetings simply isn't done unless you want them to appear reasonable and sympathetic and you to appear picky and mean. "Take a breath," I wanted to say. "Think before you speak because you're self-destructing and doing so in a way that makes few people want to rescue you."
But looking into her sad eyes and the pinched way she was holding her mouth, seeing the anger and frustration and hopelessness, I said a quick prayer and wished we were close enough that I could have reached to hold her hand or offer a hug.
"I've been where you are," I told her softly. "If you want to talk or if I can offer suggestions or there's any way I can help, please let me know."
Upon her insistence that she was fine, I nodded and patted her shoulder before returning to my seat and my water to sip.
"She has mental issues," the woman beside me whispered, almost too softly to hear.
"So do I," I replied easily, smiling sadly and thinking of the large prescription bottle full of orange and gray capsules I faithfully swallow each night.
"Why so sad?" Sibling asked from my other side and I shook my head, saying it was a momentary lapse. Someone asked if I had a favorite airplane story and I wrinkled my nose thoughtfully before leaning forward to begin.
"On one flight, I saw a man I'd met before but didn't know well. I touched his arm and said hello and before I knew it, he'd arranged for his seatmate to trade me spots so we could sit together. We flirted through the flight - leaning into each other and when we landed, there was a hotel right in the airport..."
"Are you making this up?" PrettyHair asked suspiciously.
"Obviously," I replied, laughing when the waiter winked at me while refilling my water and wishing the girl at the end of the table had at least smiled.