How to Be a Flight Attendant
There is only one way to survive life as a new ﬂight attendant. Appear perfect. Luckily, this comes easy for you. You have been pleasing people all your life.
Arrive twenty minutes early for your 4 A.M. check-in. Carefully pin each strand of your hair into a wisp-free French twist. Buff your black high heels on the Buffmaster electric shoe shiner in the preﬂight groom room. Cheerfully welcome 312 passengers with a well-feigned enthusiasm for predawn departures. Try not to let the guy in 14E remind you of the last man you kissed. With twenty-six thousand flight attendants, the odds of running into him are slim.
Push the beverage cart down the aisle and pass out OJs and coffees and decafs.
Make sure to place the napkins face-up with the airline’s logo pointed toward the passenger. You have to be careful. A girl was actually sent home from training for blowing this one.
Ask the man in 17H, “Can I get you something to drink this morning, sir?”
“I don’t know if you can, but you may get me a sparkling water with lime,” he says with a scowl.
Sweetly ask him if he would care for ice as you place a can of LaCroix on his tray table with another perfectly aligned napkin. Force a smile and roll on.
Say thank you when people hand you their trash. When the passenger in the middle seat is red-in-the-face angry about her botched seat assignment, compliment her shoes. It works every time. Enjoy giving, giving, giving. You don’t ask anything of anyone. You are not in management, worrying about the bottom line. You get to be nice.
A man in business class asks you for an empty soda can. You have no idea what he could want with it, but you pour out a Canada Dry and give him the can. A few minutes later when you are collecting trash, he hands it back. But it’s full. And warm. Thankfully, you manage not to drop it in the aisle.
Drink three cups of coffee on the next night’s red-eye. On ﬁnal descent, watch the little boy pressing his face to the glass as his mom leans over him, pointing out the landmarks of their hometown. Look out your window at the glowing Lite-Brite carpet below. From up here, the world is peaceful. The trafﬁc lights cycle from green to yellow to red and there is no swearing or honking. A Ferris wheel quietly turns, no shouting ticket sellers, no screams coming from the neighboring roller coaster. You could get used to this untroubled version of life.
It’s morning when you reach your hotel. Sunshine springs from the cracks in the curtains. Seal them shut using the safety pin that kept the gaping neckline on your dress from exposing your chest. Wash your dress in the bathtub and hang it on the shower rod to dry.
Accidentally say good morning when boarding the 7 P.M. ﬂight.
Fly to Columbus and Atlanta and Dallas and Memphis and so many cities you have to check the hotel stationery each morning to remember where you are. Consider moving to each place you land.
Check his schedule and see that he will be in San Francisco on Friday. Conveniently arrive at the airport at just the right time. See him walking through the terminal with a girl you don’t know. Wonder how many girls he kisses and wonder if he likes this girl with her out-of-date spiral perm. Watch her touch his arm as she says something. Think, What a slut. He’s married.
But when he sees you, he stops and she doesn’t. Smile.
Reciprocate when he reaches in for a hug. Feel the warmth of his body and want to press your head against his chest and be comforted by him. Before you are ready, he begins to pull away.
Look around the airport while trying to think of what to say. Find a place for your hands—try your pockets, then try crossing your arms.
Say, “I just got—”
But he starts to say, “So it looks like—”
“Sorry,” he says and waits for you to talk.
Tell him your fake story—that you are there for a meeting with your supervisor.
“I was thinking if you’re off tonight and, um, why don’t you come for dinner?” he asks.
Suddenly think that if he asked you to dinner so casually, maybe he does this all the time. Begin to dislike him and hear yourself saying you can’t because it’s a really bad idea.
“I understand,” he says, nodding.
Think, You do? But say, “It’s not that I’m not happy to see you again.”
He says that you’re a smart girl and that he was so excited to run into you that he got carried away.
Realize that you’re resistible. That if you were prettier or more interesting, he would be convincing you to come over.
He says that he’s not That Kind of Guy, which makes him perfectly sensible and responsible and completely appealing.
“Well, if you change your mind,” he says, trailing off.
Tell him you’ll let him know.
Resist for a few hours, then stand outside the door of his hotel room and think about knocking. You don’t want to be here, yet you want to be here more than anything you’ve ever wanted. All of your life, you have acted according to should.
Headlights from passing cars shine through the window at the end of the hall. Turn to look outside. Through the fog you see the ﬂashing red martini glass atop the bar where you danced.
You deﬁnitely should not be here.
You have to be here. You need him to show you the want and heat and pain of life. One night with him and life will hit you with everything it has at once.
You are technically still married, your papers waiting with a judge, but no one knows where you are. No one is waiting up for you. No one anywhere in the world.
Double-check the number beside the door. 612. Just as you have written down.
Imagine him opening the door, wearing the same layover clothes—jeans and the black T-shirt that clings to his arms and chest. This time he will take them off. His chest will be smooth, hairless, brown. He will smell of vanilla like last time when you got drunk and he kissed you and you swam into that kiss’s current with all your strength. Only he wasn’t drunk and neither were you. You were pretending.
If you knock, another woman’s husband will open the door and he will press you against the wall and slide his hands onto your hips. You will run your hands through his hair, this other woman’s husband’s thick black hair.
This time when he opens the door, you will let him lay you down on the bed. Let him press you so deep into the mattress you can’t crawl out of the shame. He will tell you again that he is to blame. You will say no, no, I am not a good person. I am far from perfect. So love me. Love me anyway.
TIFFANY HAWK is a former flight attendant and the author of Love Me Anyway, a darkly funny novel about life at 35,000 feet. She has an MFA in creative writing from UC Riverside and her work can be seen in such places as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, StoryQuarterly, and NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
Adapted from Love Me Anyway, by Tiffany Hawk, Copyright © 2013 by Tiffany Hawk. With the permission of the publisher, St. Martin’s Press.