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I turned 36 this past week.
It happened in the blink of an eye, and I’ve been so busy working, so exhausted, that I missed it.
Somewhere, about 35,000 feet above the earth’s skin between Chicago and San Francisco, I gained another year.
It was not a quiet day. At noon, I had been lucky enough to do a virtual keynote interview with the hyper-brilliant Angelica Ross to open up the 2022 Lesbians Who Tech San Francisco Summit.
But prior to that was an outside piece that needed to be written and a dozen phone calls to make related to the Midterms. There was submitting a signed release for an upcoming podcast appearance. There was checking on an op-ed pitch a brilliant former student had written that I was attempting to get placed. There were two loads of laundry that needed to be done at the crack of dawn. There were a few letters to write that I somehow managed to get to the Post Office during lunch, and I still don’t know how I swung that.
There was the flight to catch at 5pm at DCA, but before that—and all throughout the day, amidst everything else—there was the annual birthday online fundraiser to do for Running Start, which, thankfully, mercifully, went very well. (By the way, thank you to everyone who donated to it.)
I reached the airport early enough to get my ticket fixed at the United counter to have TSA precheck included (and thus, avoid the body scanners), and when the agent handed over the updated boarding pass and my driver’s license back to me, she offered a warm “happy birthday” with a big smile, which I realized was the first time someone had said that to me in-person all day, grateful as I was for all my friends’ loving texts.
I honestly don’t remember the first leg to O’Hare. I slept for most of it after attempting, in vain, to keep my eyes open long enough to read “Mad Honey”, the brilliant new novel by Jodi Picoult and Jenny Boylan.
There was an hour layover in Chicago, and then we loaded up for the second and final leg to San Francisco.
One of my seat mates was a woman who hadn’t flown in a few decades. In a nervous tic kinda way, she revealed basic facts about herself to me before takeoff, as though imparting information that could be useful if we’re somehow separated in a Nebraska cornfield.
She said she’s much older than me (verbatim). She said she’s a stenographer. She said she’s taking a much needed vacation. She said she’s tired of men and how nice it was to sit beside women on a long flight. She said all this within five minutes of my having sat beside her. She said all these things in an endearing manner that made it impossible not to like her.
She was nervous and quite lovely and I attempted, as best I could, to answer her very reasonable questions about air travel that understandably would come to mind for someone who hadn’t been on an airplane since the Clinton Administration.
We made small talk, with random divergences into deeper subjects, and while our other seat mate went to the restroom, the woman leaned over to me and asked where I wanted to be in a few decades. It was an odd question to ask in the flow of our conversation, a weird hybrid throwaway between a job interview and escalated banter on a date.
I hadn’t mentioned my birthday to either of them and what had been on my mind all that day — honestly, for the preceding several weeks. It felt too heavy, which is ironic given that she had seemingly read my mind with that question.
January 17th, 2049.
I wanted to tell her—and of course, I would never have said this—that my answer is to be alive long enough to reach that date.
It’s on that day that I will have spent most of my life in my authentic skin. I will be 62 years old when I have reached the majority of my life existing outside the closet, existing as my true self.
As of this evening, that’s 26 years, two months, and 29 days away.
But I did not tell her this, of course. Reasonable adults can disagree, but it felt a bit garish to get so existential before the drink cart had arrived. It’s common courtesy, I believe, to avoid discussion of mortality on an airplane without at least a drink in hand.
“I want to be happy,” I finally told her, with an intonation of humor.
She looked at me for a second.
“You will be,” she said earnestly, parrying my jokey response. “But in the meantime, you’re beautiful.”
And sometimes, we are reminded that a little bit of warmth from a stranger goes a very long way.
Ma’am, wherever you are, I hope your return flight was a peaceful one.
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Hi, I’m Charlotte Clymer, and this is Charlotte’s Web Thoughts, my Substack. It’s completely free to access and read, but it’s also how my bills! So, please do kindly consider upgrading to a paid subscription: just $7/month or save money with the $70/annual sub. You can also go way above and beyond by becoming a Lifetime Member at $210.