Reality was setting in; the vacation was over and we were on the last leg of our trip. I quickly glanced through my section of the paper and decided I would much rather finish the last chapter of my vacation book, ‘Beach Road’ by James Patterson. Just as I opened the book and read the first page of the final chapter, I glanced up as the gentleman took the seat directly across from us.
Patrick and I arrived at the airport, ready and eager to return home after a wonderful vacation in Jamaica for our daughter’s wedding. It was the start of winter, and the stores were already filled with an array of Christmas decorations and advertisements to entice the holiday shoppers. After leaving the sun and surf behind, my mind had not quite grasped the reality of the pending Christmas season. The holiday music echoed through the airport speakers, but shopping for gifts was the furthest thing from my mind. We headed for security, bags checked and scanned, and we were through without any problems before making our way for coffee and muffins. With lots of time on our hands, we strolled along the busy corridors, popping into the shops along the way to our gate. The wide selection of books and magazines was more to our interest than Christmas gifts. We eventually plunked ourselves down in the waiting area, only to realize that the gate had been changed. Gathering up our carry-on bags, we were off to find the new gate.
We spotted two seats by the large windows overlooking the aircrafts. The planes taxied in, as we watched all the ground crew directing the aircrafts and the luggage handlers ready and waiting for the endless task of unloading bags. Airports are always a beehive of activity, and watching the never ending line-up of planes arrive and depart definitely helped pass the time. The bright sun that streamed through the vast floor to ceiling windows was welcomed, after arriving home to the cold. The warmth of the sun felt wonderful on our already tanned bodies, however deceiving it was. The temperature outside was unmistakable, by the layers of outerwear sported by the ground crew. Every so often you could catch a glimpse of the steam rising from the frosted wings of the massive aircrafts.
After taking in all the sights in our immediate waiting area, we settled into our seats and began reading the morning paper. It had been two weeks since we picked up a newspaper. It was now time to catch up on the news of the world around us. Reality was setting in; the vacation was over and we were on the last leg of our trip. I quickly glanced through my section of the paper and decided I would much rather finish the last chapter of my vacation book, ‘Beach Road’ by James Patterson. Just as I opened the book and read the first page of the final chapter, I glanced up as the gentleman took the seat directly across from us. We were both engrossed in our reading material, only looking up for a minute before the middle aged man pulled out his cell phone. At first I didn’t pay much attention, but when his voice escalated, becoming louder and louder, and his conversation much more personal, I found myself going over the same paragraph more than a few times. It was somewhat annoying, and distracting, but my mind seemed to be tuning in on his, out of the ordinary, yet interesting phone call.
The gentleman was dressed very nicely in a brown leather jacket with a sweatshirt over his buttoned-down dress shirt. His pants were dark in colour, which noticeably pronounced his stark white socks poking out from the bottom of his trousers. I guessed his age to be around the early 60’s. His hair was short and nicely groomed, parted and swept over to the side as many men from that era combed their hair. He sported oversized glasses which hinted at the fact his style was a bit outdated. All in all, he looked to be a clean-cut gentleman.
After overhearing parts of his conversation, I glanced over at Patrick, both of us rolling our eyes at the same time. He too found himself caught up in his conversation. I quickly came to the conclusion that he was a bit of a ‘player – a lady’s man’. He assured the woman on the other end of the phone that her flowers would be arriving today. His voice bellowed around the room when he said, “You should come to the next dance.” I am not usually quick to judge people, but I believed he was an ‘internet dater’, and that he knew just how to sweep a woman off her feet. Patrick and I kept glancing back and forth at each other as his voice seemed to echo throughout the large open area. I wondered if he realized that his personal call was being heard around the waiting area. He went on and on, with endless chatter of how much he cared for her. Then I thought to myself, 'give me a break' as I looked over at him, his eyes also focused on mine. I thought that if I stared at him long enough, that he would get the picture; his obnoxious phone call was very disruptive. He only smiled back at me, as he continued to bellow ‘sweet nothings’ into the phone.
I looked around to see who else was caught up in this drama. Another lady a few seats from me kept looking over and I could sense that she was feeling the same way, a hint of embarrassment also apparent on her face. This was certainly not a conversation that the average person would have in public, but it didn’t seem to bother him. I eventually closed my book, realizing that ‘Beach Road’ would have to wait till we boarded the plane. It seemed like forever before he finished his conversation and closed his phone, but in a matter of seconds it was open again and he was dialing the next number. “Maybe another female friend” I thought to myself. This guy is really a ‘man about town’ with the women. Of course this was only my presumption, but ‘if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”
He slipped his cell phone back into his pocket and looked over at me and smiled. I was still clutching my book, which I had been opening and closing for the last ten minutes. It was obvious that he wanted to talk, and he didn’t hesitate in beginning the conversation. He quickly blurted out, “That was my new girlfriend on the phone.” I smiled back at him, wondering why he would want to tell me that. He continued on, saying, “I met her after I placed my wife in a nursing home. He stood up from his seat and began pacing around in the small area between the rows, but kept talking to us. “My name is Ray and my wife’s name was Martha”, speaking of her in the past tense. I took care of her for 7 years at home until her Alzheimer disease got worse. She doesn’t know who I am anymore. I had no choice but to put her in a home where they could take good care for her.” He added, “I visit her every day.” My heart went out to Ray at that moment as I noticed the pitiful look on his face, but his love for Martha was still very evident.
My thoughts and early theories about Ray quickly went out the window. Now I was feeling badly, a bit ashamed of how I judged him. Ray sat down again, crossing his leg and leaning back in the seat. He tugged at the bottom of his trouser leg, pulling it down over his stark white sock. He had a lot on his mind, as he nervously repositioned himself in his seat, looking more than eager to tell us everything about his life. Ray’s voice was a bit shaky, a far cry from the confident man we listened to talking on the phone. He was now more demure, even a bit humble as he spoke. It was obvious he was hurting inside and I sensed he wanted some reassurance that he had done the right thing. Ray went on to say, “I am now just finding a new life, even though it has been difficult,” I sympathized with him and Patrick mentioned that we were in the health care field, and understood how painful Alzheimer’s can be on families. He seemed comforted by those words, and maybe that was just what he needed to hear. If it was approval, or confirmation Ray was seeking from the words of strangers, it didn’t really matter. He was already moving on with his life.
Ray was like an open book; willing to divulge a painful chapter from his life. We asked him if he was returning home, but he said, “No, I am visiting my sister who is not well. She is suffering from a liver condition and waiting for a transplant. I don’t know how long she has to live.” Ray quickly added, “My doctor prescribed anti-depressants for me and that has helped me emotionally. He surprised me when he said that, but Ray didn’t seem to mind exposing such personal details.
I looked at Ray differently now; completely opposite from the man who sat across from us only a short time ago. He seemed sweet, sincere and vulnerable, and like us all, just trying to cope with life as best he could. He was visibly torn between the loyalty for his wife, and his new found lease on life. The guilt of his feelings for another woman most likely plagued him at times, but Ray had the right to find a life of happiness. He had given many of his good years caring for his wife, until he could no longer cope. Ray, in all reality was a simple man, learning how to survive through adversity.
Our flight was finally ready to depart, and we all gathered our bags and headed for the check-in desk. With our tickets in hand, we boarded the plane for the short flight home. Patrick and I found our seats in the rear of the plane, and Ray was a couple of rows ahead of us. I watched as he placed his bags in the overhead storage bin, removing his leather jacket to place along side his bags. I found myself thinking about Ray’s life. He gave freely of himself and his feelings, not hesitating to reveal his vulnerability to perfect strangers. That seemed a bit unusual, but at the same time it was refreshing to witness his candidness.
I was touched by Ray’s story. I sat back in my seat as the stewardess came over the intercom to announce our departure. She gave the usual instructions; pointing out the emergency exits and floatation devises under the seats. I quickly opened my book to the final chapter and in a matter of minutes I was finished. The ending was great, but it wasn’t the final words of James Patterson that captured my thoughts, it was Ray’s story that engaged my mind during the flight home.
Thinking back to the conversation in the waiting area before boarding, and Ray’s humbling words, I now realized that you truly can’t ‘judge a book’ by its’ cover.