Two Elbows and an Armrest



A Soaring True Story of Love, Luck, Connections Missed—and Made—with the Person in the Next Airplane Seat


Auna Louisa Jornayvaz



“The Wright Brothers created the single greatest cultural force since the invention of writing.

The airplane became the first World Wide Web, bringing people, languages, ideas, and values together.”  — Bill Gates




United Airlines #39

Austin to Denver

His Last Flight


Stealing a peek at his chiseled jaw, I audibly sigh.

“Are you okay?” he asks, concerned.

“Um, yeah. Sorry,” I croak, bashfully returning to an editorial on America’s financial future in the Economist. Dorky reading, I know, but I devour it regularly.

He reaches for his backpack.

I close the magazine and set it on my lap. There’s a caricature of Saddam on the front. Think, Auna. Think. Say something funny before he finds his iPod, book, magazine, and photo of his stunning girlfriend, probably a surgeon saving children in Africa. None of my dependable jokes are appropriate. Churchill, knock-knock. Think.

“What a terrible illustration, isn’t it? He’s not as bad-looking in person,” he says.

I raise my brow; our eyes meet. “Uh, yes, It’s uh, really just terrible isn’t it.” I fumble for words. How does this guy know what Saddam looks like in person?

“So you know, you’re the prettiest person I’ve ever caught reading the Economist.” He grins. Revealing nothing more.

United Airlines #334

Indianapolis to Denver 

 Saving Sarah 

A woman sinks into her seat, holding a small child with heavy eyelids who’s clasping onto her shoulders like a koala to a eucalyptus tree.

“Oh, what a beautiful child!” I can’t stop myself from cooing at the poster Gerber baby; one of those you can without a doubt tell is a girl. “How old is she?”

“Twenty-three months. We’re planning her second birthday party,” she says to me, then turns to her daughter and says sweetly, “It’s fun being a mom, isn’t it?”

I don’t notice the woman’s expression shift until her daughter falls asleep. Her eyes are watery and she’s staring at the threads unraveling in the seat in front of her. I immediately apologize, “I’m sorry, did I say something?”

She doesn’t answer me and instead tops the sleeping girl’s soft hair with kisses. “I love you,” she whispers. She looks up, openly crying now and wiping her nose on her cashmere sweater.

“Are you OK? I didn’t mean… Is there anything?” I ask.

“Earlier today, this morning. Something happened.”

American Airlines #821

Denver to New York


Broken Eyes

His piercing blue eyes stare ahead, but they are broken. He reminds me of my grandfather.

“It’s a hereditary disease,” he explains. “Colors became gray, people turned into silhouettes, then shadows. Now all I see is black. Do you mind if I Braille you?”

“Sure,” I say, though I don’t know what to expect. He runs his hands over my nose, temples and cheekbones. I feel the warmth of his breath. I fall into his world; it’s quiet and calm. His thumbs pause over my closed eyelids.

“You have a third eye. You must make excellent decisions.”

“Wait. It isn’t fair that I have three working eyes and you don’t have any, is it?” I joke. Dating a man in Iraq was a debatable decision.

He laughs a deep belly laugh. “It all evens out in the end, trust me.”

I sit back into my seat and open my eyes, returning to the noisy passengers, distinct faces, and a view of the earth hundreds of feet below. I am relieved it had only disappeared briefly.

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