I am frequently mistaken for a priest. People confess things to me. I don't ask them to tell me their secrets, but I must have a non-judgemental face because in under five minutes flat the gentleman in seat 2C on my flight from Denver to L.A. confessed he had a Catholic wife, two sons in Brea, California and a mistress in Schenectady:
I blame it all on the tornado. If it hadn't been for the damned tornado, my seat mate might not've confessed.
Let me set the scene:
I was sitting in a wine and cheese bar at Denver International airport when a booming voice shouted over the P.A. "There's a fucking tornado coming this way! Everyone get to the shitter!" (Or something very similar to that.)
Instead, me and some other blonde woman with four kids back in Kansas got mildly tanked and ate enough Meunster to empty Wisconsin. Apparently the tornado missed the airport, so I was able to weave my way onto my flight a mere hour and a half late.
Just after boarding, as my airplane was taxi-ing to the runway under the onslaught of what appeared to be hailing locusts preceding the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the same scary booming voice came on over the P.A. in the plane. It was like this guy was the omniscient God from the Old Testament, all pissed off, vengeful and everywhere.
"Denver International Airport is now shut down!" he bellowed. Why? I wondered. Did the tornado still have us in its crosshairs? Was this to be my last day on earth?
This is when I struck up a conversation with the gentleman seated on my right, cheating death by ignoring it.
The gentleman, whom we will henceforth refer to as Francois, looked just like my Uncle Teddy, tanned, a balding pate and a Cheshire cat grin, which made me immediately distrust him. (My uncle Teddy had done a little time in a British gaol due to some questionable import/exporting.)
But as Francois and I chatted, I was impressed to discover his expertise in his field, which I'm not at liberty to discuss as he might have to kill me. Then he asked what I do for a living.
"I'm a blogger," I said, feeling under-qualified for this conversation considering his high-level security clearance (which I can't talk about, unless I want to wake up being smothered with my own pillow by a Ninja).
"What do you write about?" Francois asked.
"Mostly about parenting, but also about body image, beauty and, strangely, married sex."
Suddenly his eyes took on a mischievous glint, I believe brought on by our imminent tornado-related deaths and my married sex column, and he blurted, "I have a girlfriend."
I glanced at the gold wedding band on his finger, momentarily befuddled, because this admission happened so abruptly lacking, what seemed to me, any discernible foreshadowing.
As is common with me, my anthropological curiosity got the better of me. "And you're still married?" I asked.
Francois grinned with naughty delight, and just like that, I was complicit in this perfect stranger's duplicitous life.
We were briefly distracted as pilot informed us we were clear for take-off.
As our plane climbed through the cataclysmic clouds it might've been a good idea for me to dive into some Martha Beck advice in my May copy of O Magazine, instead I ordered another glass of red wine from the stewardess, turned to my companion and asked, "Are you in love with your mistress?"
Initially Francois denied being in love with his mistress, whom we shall henceforth (and for obvious reasons) refer to as Emmanuelle, and told me that if the affair threatened to destroy his marriage (to a wife who cut him off sexually years ago), hence the well-being of his two children, then he would end the affair.
But very quickly, I smelled a rat.
Francois relished telling me the details of meeting Emmanuelle in a bar in Dubai and, after their affair began, of dining at the next table while she dined with her grown daughter in New York. His enjoyment of their forbidden passion was palpable.
He regaled me with the details of their arrangement. How often they see each other. The excuses they make to their spouses (she lives separate from hers, according to Francois) and the time they hired a "professional" for a menage e trois, "the most fun three people have ever had in their lives."
At one point I tried to steer the conversation in a different direction because, in listening to this couple's sexual exploits, I began to feel like I was passively participating.
It seemed like Francois wasn't just getting off on having an affair, but was also getting off on sharing it with me. I was beginning to feel like the "professional" in a mental menage a trois.
We talked about politics and war, but somehow all roads led back to Emmanuelle.
Francois showed me his jawbone. Not the one on his face, but the black, Jawbone bracelet he wears that tracks all his activity during the day, and his sleep patterns at night.
He pulled out his iPhone and showed me the data he downloads into it from his Jawbone, so he can track his progress. Then he showed me a second set of data cozied right on top of his.
"This is Emmanuelle's data. We're linked so our data downloads onto each other's phones."
Emmanuelle's data was represented in a fluorescent purple, Francois's data an electric blue.
"See, she slept four point two hours last night, and I slept four point eight," he pointed out. "We each had only two periods of R.E.M. She walked nine thousand steps yesterday and I walked ten thousand five hundred ..."
Francois's eyes seemed to caress Emmanuelle's data. His face softening at the thought of her.
At the age of 60 he feels the weight of his mortality upon him. And Emmanuelle, being a cancer survivor, has the same prescient sense that time is limited and if she isn't going to live now, then when?
As we landed at LAX Francois' phone came alive with a ping and a text from Emmanuelle, checking in as her own airplane touched down. He showed me their texts.
"When my friend or I travel," Francois said, "we always let each other know when we are taking off and send a text, OTO-OL (one take-off, one landing), as a reminder to fly safe and keep the number of take-offs and landings equal. When we land, we send a note, 'cheated death again' as a reminder that it really isn 't natural for us to be at 35,000 feet."
The glint in his eye now seemed less mischievous and more ecstatic. Ecstatic that he'd found this woman.
"You lied to me," I said.
"What do you mean I lied to you? I just told you more about me than the closest people to me know."
"You lied when you said you weren't in love with your mistress."
He smiled, caught out. Then looked tenderly down at his phone, the inanimate object standing in for the flesh-and-blood woman who brought him back to life and the, perhaps, illusory dream that he can have it all.
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