A Letter

Handwritten and signed, left in a seat back pocket on American Airlines flight 1103 from Chicago to Seattle.


October 12, 1997

I have become desperate in these past months. Please, if this letter reaches your hands, do not consider it too lightly; your action may be all that lies between me and an endless, lonely future. I have been lost already - but how much worse, to be lost and forgotten.

It was three years ago when I boarded this airplane. I had much for which to live: my wife, eight weeks pregnant; my career, rising quickly in both responsibility and reward; my outlook on life, held high and optimistic from continued fortune.

How little I understood of these things; one twist of fate may turn the greatest promise to naught. And so I was to learn, in the harshest manner imaginable.

I took my seat that day knowing that a happy reunion with my wife approached. For several days business had taken me away, and I was lessened without her company.

Soon I grew restless and looked in the seat pocket for some pamphlet to browse. I caught sight of a magazine cover, and with mild interest took upon to inspect it. And well I might have then, but it was stuck on some unseen thread within the seat pocket.

No matter how I attempted to jiggle it free, it would not come loose. I reached deeper into the pocket, trying to find the obstruction - first with a hand and then with both. My frustration grew and I forgot my restless boredom.

Certainly, one would not expect such a trifling thing to affect my emotions so profoundly; but it was the sheer triviality of the thing that drove me on. Why I could not accomplish such a simple action irritated me such that I could not ignore it.

So I set to the task with a kind of mad vigor. I tugged and twisted, sometimes scratching my skin and once drawing blood. I half-stood in my cramped area, trying to gain a bit of leverage against it. I shoved around the other contents of the pocket, hoping to unbind whatever held it inside.

Before long I felt around at some tangled threads in the pocket, and, curse my luck, a finger became snarled in the mess. Now my efforts were doubled and tripled. With frustration and a vague sense of panic, I yanked at my hand and damn near pulled myself in. If I had stopped then and asked for help I might have been saved. My obstinacy would not be outdone; I struggled and felt the tight elastic pull close behind my body.

The darkness was sudden and stifling. I felt the press of booklets and brochures, and the constant pressure as the pocket held me tight. I was cramped and the slightest movement chafed my skin.

I could speak but my words were muffled even to my own ears. When we eventually reached the end of our descent, I could scarce make out the bustle of passengers disembarking.

It became routine.

I knew the flight schedules by heart, even if I wasn't sure where we were going. No, but I always knew how long the next stretch would be; which directions we would taxi when we landed; whether airline policies had changed (as I would often read the laminated sheets by the dim light of my wristwatch).

These days I can move more freely in my confines, but not enough to inspire my will - for I have withered away into almost nothing.

Long ago my body began to feed on itself to sustain life; all that I have left to nourish me is the occasional courtesy packet some unknowingly generous soul drops upon me.

The elastic above, which once pressed upon and restrained me, is now no more than a distant curtain, unreachable and impenetrable by my weakened limbs.

This wretched existence is not one for me - not one for any man with hopes and dreams still lingering. Many times I have lost sight of any future at all; sometimes I glimpse it for a while, but it is one stale and tainted with the distant repetition of pre-flight instructions.

One day I may be freed; one day I may find my way out. One day I may wake up and find that all has been dreamt.

Ah, but that last is too fragile a hope to endure. For too long have I recognized my tactile existence. The dark is biting, not dull. I still cut myself upon pamphlet edges, but have learned to ignore the pain. The knees that bump, the books that are shoved in my face - these things are too real for dreams.

Should you find my lifeless body, pity me not for this merciless end. All I ask is that you tell my wife and child, that they might know what has become of me. And if of my presence you can find neither sight nor sign, I bid you only pray for my health. In the far corner is a buttonhole - and with luck, I might yet make it through.

Copyright (c) 2002