Fiction: Wrong Seat, Wrong Plane ... Wrong Jennifer?

A 737 takes off or lands somewhere in the world every 1.8 seconds, according to plane manufacturer Boeing. A middle-aged Jennifer boards a plane in the U.S. every 7.5 minutes. That's my guess -- and since I'm middle-aged, named Jennifer, have flown multiple times and have a graduate degree, we'll call it an educated guess.

The chances of two 40-something Jennifers sitting next to each other on a domestic flight seem pretty good. Again, this is based on life experience and not on my D+ in statistics. The Jennifer who got the window seat I coveted seemed to be my kind of Jen. Her name tag from the conference she attended still hung from her neck, enabling to start the conversation with, "Hi Jennifer, I'm Jennifer! How was the conference?" As any amiable Jennifer would, she looked down at the lanyard and laughed.

She had the tell-tale vertical wrinkle between her eyebrows caused by many years of making the thinking face. Good for her, botox-free, just like me! Her smile revealed straight white teeth framed by a subtle berry-colored lipstick. Jens like us reveal our age when we pull our professionally-colored hair back into a ponytail gathering at the base of our necks for all to see our laugh lines, which aren't funny. 

While fellow passengers filed past us searching for their rows and overhead compartments to cram their luggage, Jennifer and I discovered we both had backgrounds in communications and live in the Charlotte area. We played the "do you know so-and-so" game before being interrupted by the flight attendant spiel. We both listened intently, as all Charlotteans do when flying from New York to our home town.

You know what happens next. The sudden, sickening thunk against the window and rush of loud, cold, powerful air. The other Jen becomes something different, a body, one that's  no longer whole. My scream matches the high pitch of the wind as I grab what's left of other Jen, holding her down. Hands from somewhere join my effort. My eyes sting, my legs shake, and I try to tuck my head down while keeping my hands on the woman who could have been me. 

Don't tell me "things happen for a reason" or "it was fate" that other Jen with a husband, two kids, and a do-gooder job got sucked out of a plane. Even saying, "You got lucky!" seems untrue. I would have felt more fortunate if I had missed that Southwest flight. 

Maybe I could turn this so-called luck into a small fortune by speaking in front of mega-church congregations and giving TED-like talks about how every moment should be appreciated, how positively-life changing that hellish experience turned out to be for me. I may need to do that whether I believe it or not to pay my current therapy bills. The five visits covered under my health insurance plan weren't enough. Anger and anxiety flows to me and from me since that flight. Those feelings were always present within me but other Jen's death amplified those two awful emotions.

Approximately 720 lightening strikes happen somewhere in the world every two seconds. Some days I wish a bolt would hit me so my all-consuming fear would stop. Other days, I think about lightening bolts striking the nimrods who failed to check the plane properly. What keeps me going are those momentary flashes of light when I laugh with my beautiful children or I feel my body relax in my husband's ropy arms. 


Jennifer Zajac