Friday, June 25, 2010

Message in a bottle

Every single person we meet alters the course of our lives in some way. Sometimes they send you on a big diversion, sometimes it's only a subtle course adjustment. You don't always realise at the time, and it's only later you find out they've taken up residence in your head.

September, 2006. I was on a plane with my mate Jay, on our way to the Fantastic Fest, a film festival that was showing Severance. We were a few hours away from landing in Dallas. My in-flight TV wasn't working, so we'd been merrily drinking Jack Daniels to pass the time. Towards the end of the flight, they ran out of JD. We were, understandably, heartbroken. But the guy in the seat next to me offered me his mini bottle, as he had only used a bit of it. I gratefully accepted, and we got chatting.

He was in the army. Must have been about 20, looked really young. He was on his way back from Afghanistan, going home on leave. His daughter had been born while he was away. He'd never seen her in person, never held her in his arms, so obviously he was really looking forward to meeting her. But once his leave was over, he was going back overseas - this time, to Iraq. He wasn't worried though, in fact he was looking forward to it. All of his unit mates were there, and he felt responsible to them. They were there, so he should be there too. He would miss his family, and newborn daughter, of course. But he'd signed up for this, and was going to do his duty. I can't imagine having that strength and courage in the face of such danger. But it was second nature to him. And at least he was getting to see his family now, before he went back over.

Soon after that, it was time to land. We said our goodbyes, and wished each other luck. We must have chatted for about 10, maybe 20 minutes. But I've wondered, pretty much every week since then, how he is, and if he's okay. Obviously there are many, many more who serve, and they always have my absolute support and admiration. But he was the only one I've actually met in person, so I can't stop wondering what happened to him.

He seemed like a really good guy. I hope he had a great time with his family. I hope he made it through his time in Iraq, and got home safely. I hope he's safe and well now.

And I hope that one day, I get to meet him again. I owe the man a drink.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Here's the part where, hopefully, you enter the story. I would really, really love to find out who he is and if he's okay, so if you know him, or know of him, or *are* him, please get in touch (email address on the contact details page linked under my profile up on the right). The tricky thing is, I'm terrible at remembering names, so… I can't remember his name. I'm not even sure we exchanged names, it was a fairly short conversation. If I'd known he was going to stick in my head for so long, I'd have asked him. But here are the details I do know.

It was a flight to Dallas Fort Worth, Texas, on Tuesday, September 20th, 2006, from London Gatwick. American Airlines flight AA51, economy section, departing Gatwick at 10.25am, arriving in Dallas Fort Worth at 2.20pm. The takeoff was delayed about 45 minutes. The in-flight movies were X-Men 3, and Firewall (hey, anything that might jog a memory…) Me, Jay and our new army friend were in the middle column of seats, at the front of a section by the bulkhead, with the big projected Skymap in front of us. I'm fairly sure he was Texan, as far as I could tell he had a Texan accent. He was in civilian clothes, had blonde or very light brown cropped/shaved/military style hair. I'm not sure what branch of the army he was in, whether he was stationed in Texas, lived in Texas, or was getting a connecting flight to go somewhere else. Think he was about 5 foot 9 inches high, wiry to medium build.

That's all the info I have. I realise it's not much to go on. But hey, it's a big old internet out there, and somebody might know of somebody who knew somebody else who was getting home on leave around that time to see their newborn baby daughter. It's a slim chance, but you never know, stranger things have happened. So this is my message in a bottle. Hopefully it'll find its way to dry land.