I thought it would be different. There are a number of people traveling to Austin on the 6:20 flight this morning, more than I imagined as I drove through Hartford at four and pictured myself alone in the terminal.

The man across from me wears snakeskin boots, but I am certain he is not a Connecticut line-dancing cowboy. His skin is too leathered for such foolishness, too wrinkled with worry about the ranch, the cattle, the injuns. Or so I imagine. Perhaps I do that too often—judge books by covers, weave stories before I know truth.

At first glance, the cowboy seems gruff, but I catch a smile on his face when he waves to a girl asking questions.

“Is that our plane?”

“Can we go inside?”

“What if it crashes?”

They’re the questions we’d all ask if we were young and unfettered in our anxieties. To speak them out loud now would be inappropriate, so we sit in quiet unease.

Her pointed finger leaves a mark on the frost-coated window. The radio said 27 degrees, my sister says it’s 75 in Austin.

“Is that sock weather?”

“Should I bring a jacket?”

“Jeans or shorts?”

It’s hard to know what to expect when you’re someplace else.

There’s a hodge-podge of folks waiting here this morning, young students and older couples, corporate types, and that one character who stands out just enough that we all look again, at least once.

The man I saw in the food court earlier sits next to me. His hair is thin at the top and I notice a hint of gray — he is about my age. Dress pants and a pale blue button down. Is he on business or traveling home for the holidays? I picture both and wonder.

His cologne is familiar, and I think of my lover yesterday, smiling down as I rested my head against his thigh. It was a broad smile that caught me off-guard, and I laughed as he pulled me towards him for a kiss. It’s the first time I have thought of him this morning, and I think I miss him. I want to think I miss him.

Wouldn’t this man in the button-down have seen me off this morning?

Kissed me passionately as if we were parting forever?

Shooshed kindly at the tears I cry whenever I leave familiar?

A line is forming now in this corner of the terminal. First class is boarding, and the rest of us gather our things to wait.

In a line at the coffee shop last night, my friend turned to me and said, “You expect too much of people.” My blush of surprise was as if she’d slapped me across the face.

“You are very loving,” she continued, “but you expect people to love you the same way in return. It disappoints you when they can’t.”

“I thought it would be different,” I said, shrugging my shoulders to change the subject. “I hear it’s 75 in Austin. Can you imagine?”

• • •

Photo, Morning Terminal, by Connecticut photographer Ellen Bulger. Click here to see more of her work.

From the archives, while I work on finishing my book. ©2008, Jen Payne.

4 thoughts on “Expectations

  1. An apt description of you as well :

    “Her great gift in her action packed life was that she was always paying attention. In her writing what she was basically doing was calling our attention to the things she had been paying attention to. And she did it with a clarity and power that will wash over people as long as there is a written and spoken word. She just kept calling our attention to things, like a firefly that comes at unpredictable times and makes you see something you otherwise would have missed. Something right before your mind you’ve been burying, something in your heart you were afraid to face.”

    Bill Clinton at Maya Angelo funeral


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