December 27, 2019:
Big dude in 28D is irritating as fuck.
His eyes sag slowly shut, he pitches forward, jostles the drinks on his seatback tray so that they slosh toward my laptop, loses his no longer wakeful balance, topples hard to his right, until his massively oversized chin rests on my shoulder while his massively oversized skull pushes hard against mine, shoving me almost into the window. Did I mention he's a big dude?
I give him a nudge, he startles awake, apologizes, distractedly fumbles with his phone, asks the attendant for ice. In a few minutes he's nodding again, eyes sagging slowly shut, pitching forward and to his right.
It's not impossible to be patient with him. He's clearly exhausted. He's contrite when he realizes he's in your space. You have no sense he's being selfish or oblivious or deliberately rude. It's a little bit funny, truth be told. When he jolts himself awake and apologizes, it's bitingly sad.
"I'm sorry to keep bumping into you. My dad died three days ago. I'm returning from the funeral and haven't slept in forty-eight hours."
"I'm so sorry," I tell him, and I mean it sincerely. That's a pain I know.
I gather they were close. He's not just grieving, he's lost, he's bereft, he's a little bit slow which might be lack of sleep or might be simply that he's a little bit slow.
It's a long flight. When he's awake I try to engage him but his exhaustion and his grief are so great that he's not truly present. He's with his father, somewhere in memory. Or he's in shock, unable to imagine how he'll move his life forward forever after.
At the gate he apologizes again. To make what amends he can he lifts my bag down from the overhead, although to be honest it's more awkward for me to heft it over seats than to pull it cleanly into the aisle. That's alright. He means well and there's a sweetness to the gesture which comes from someplace real.
"I'm sorry for your loss," I tell him. He nods, but he's near tears. As I walk to my hotel shuttle I see him meet his wife and daughters. Their sadness is plain, but, they're more concerned for him than for themselves.