The plane is a turboprop with a body so narrow that one side of the aisle has single seats.
Unfortunately, I’m on the other side, with a seat mate. He smiled jerkily as he came down the aisle, and I wondered: stroke? MS? Now seated he makes erratic hand movements, but otherwise is still. He leans toward me in a way that says he is eager to talk. His clothes are less business and more casual.
He’s a salesman. Hardware used in the telecom industry. I hm-hmm politely. The flight is a good hour and if I appear too interested it may be a long hour.
When he asks me what I do, I say the truth, “I’m a Presbyterian minister,” but keep my hands on the novel I”m reading.
His shoulders jerk up and down. “I used to go to church when the kids were little,” he says. “But they’re grown now.” I nod and open my book.
A few minutes later he adds, “My wife is Jewish.”
I say, “Oh?” in a polite way and keep reading.
“But not really Jewish, she went to church with me. We agreed to raise the kids in the church.”
After a while he says, “I should go to church again, I know.”
“Hm-hmm.” I keep reading but feel his eyes on me. Finally I look up and say: “I’m visiting my parents.” Even as I say it, I wonder why I”m saying this in particular. “They’re in their eighties,” I add.
“My parents are both dead,” he responds. “My mom died five years ago.” I wait. I can feel the other shoe in the air, about to drop. “My father committed suicide when I was eleven.”
“How hard for you,” I say. “How did you manage?”
“I didn’t believe it for years. I just kept waiting for him to come back. I believed he was in another country and he would come back, a hero.”
“Didn’t you go to the funeral?”
“Oh yes. At Arlington. Full honors. He worked for the feds.”
“When did you realize he wouldn’t ever come home again?”
“I was 14 and one day I just knew. I came home and told my mother that he was never coming back, was he.”
“Was your mom helpful?”
“She was in denial. All of her life. She said he was murdered as part of a plot.”
“Was that possible?”
His smile could define the word rueful. “He shot himself in the temple with his gun.” He names the kind of gun and uses his hands to show me it’s size. It’s a very big handgun.
“What do other people say?” I ask.
“I’ve never told anybody before,” he says.