I’m sitting in the airport, on my way back to college, and it’s the usual. You know. The awkward silence. The impatience that you can feel growing up your spine, the awareness you’re about to sit in a tin can that will hurtle through the air and has a tiny chance of exploding, and an even bigger awareness that everyone else feels the same way.
Does anyone really like the airport? I guess that guy from Up in the Air, but he figured out how nuts that was eventually. Anyone real, and not fictional? I’ve never met anyone. It’s like a casino without the fun, just a world unto itself with no fresh air, expensive food, and horrifically bad service.
I’m sitting there, and I’m just waiting for this whole ordeal to be over.
And then she laughs.
Now, normally in a piece like this, a laugh is lilting and high and pretty, and eventually the two people get married.
Not her, nosir.
It was a laugh like… an epically nerdy laugh. Like, “HA! Hahaha! HAHA! Ha… HA!”
A laugh with no rhythm, that seems to jump from a guffaw to a giggle at a moment’s notice.
Of course, like everyone else at the airport in such situations, I’m embarrassed to look up. Even worse than the experience is when something unexpected happens. Airports may suck, but there’s a comfort in that suckiness, the awareness that it’s never different, and that we all just focus on ourselves into the whole thing is over, like a really long shot or something. Plus, most of us Americans have a bad association with unexpected things happening around planes.
But it kept coming. “Ha! Hehehe! HAHAHAHA! Oh dear, oh dear…”
Ugh, it was so nerdy. I had to see it. I had to, and when I looked up I saw my fellow miserables also trying to kind of look without looking, their eyes glancing around, at the TV, at the floor, at the window, but passing her on the way.
Yep, nerd. Around my age, actually, like freshman or sophomore in college. Glasses, of course. Pokemon shirt or whatever was popular back in those days among the nerdy. And she was reading a book. A hilarious book, apparently.
But there was something else that took the neediness to the next level. Something I couldn’t put my finger on for a moment. Until she laughed again, and it was so much more nerdy with vision attached to it, her whole body convulsing, her eyes lighting up like she was a Jewish kid that got to celebrate Christmas, the way she did more than laugh, she shook her head and then nodded and whatever people do when they’re in a comedy show and no one else can see them.
And that’s really what it was that struck me: the total lack of care of what anyone thought about her. The book was funny. She laughed. Laughed like we all actually laugh, not like a freaking cartoon princess. It was utterly unappealing, and that’s what made it so fascinating. What the hell was she thinking?
At the time I just kind of shook my head and focused back on my own sad life and misery in the airport, adding this to the list of sufferings. I went back into being a nameless, faceless, empty airport prop, waiting for the needle to get out of my arm.
But then it just kept happening. “HAHAHAHA! Heh. HEE! Heehaw!”
It was like torture. But not because the laugh was annoying, it wasn’t. It was natural. It was normal.
And that’s just what tore me up. That’s what bothered me.
Life, as far as I was aware, am still aware, is a series of events in which we try to fit in. In which we would never allow a true cry, a true thought, let alone a true laugh, escape our lips in the company of people we do not know. Life is a performance and the audience is scary and super-judgmental.
I know, I used to be a nerd. Scratch that, am a nerd. Nerdiness was never encouraged, was never tolerated. I stuffed that neediness deep, deep down, and even college and nerdy friends didn’t make me feel fully comfortable in my awkward, supremely enthusiastic, obsessed-with-all-the-things mentality. The airport was just an extreme version of reality: where anyone, everyone needs to hide who they are to find true happiness (happiness = no one pointing out you are different).
And here was this… person… just… shattering that. Just, totally, utterly destroying the illusion. What the hell?
It wasn’t fair of her, really. To remind us that we aren’t just numbers. To remind us that life is so much more beautiful when we’re enthusiastic and bubbling and alive, and when we get to show it to the world. It wasn’t fair that she was reminding us that we were all nerds, really, all had some sort of utter joy that we were bottling up in an anxious desire to satisfy our middle school demons.
This damn reminder, this damn reminder. That it doesn’t really matter what other people think. That she was a million times happier than any of us would ever be just because she was absolutely, ridiculously insane and let herself show it to the world.
We stuff our enthusiasm down our own gullets like it’s the devil. I suppose that’s part of why so many people in America are anxious, depressed, over-prescribed. I suppose it may even be part of the reason we all die of heart disease (being a country that drowns its sorrows in fat, I’m sure, doesn’t hurt either). I suppose that’s why we throw our souls into stuff like politics and the bad, preachy kind of religion, and just, like, anything we can criticize and get angry at, because then, at least, we get to feel, to live, some emotion with total abandon.
Damn her for reminding me that it can be different, that emotion expressed can be utterly worth it, that life isn’t meant to be a popularity contest, that enthusiasm is just the best. Damn her.