First Timer

She was crying in the airport. A college kid. Maybe 19. She had just goodbyed her family. They hugged each other at least 3,293 times before parting ways.

We were in a long line, waiting to pass through the TSA checkpoint. TSA is the wonderfully unique government institution wherein security agents with cheery dispositions frisk little old ladies and demand them to remove their insulin pumps.

The girl’s eyes were puffy and red. Her nose was stopped up. “Sorry,” she said, wiping her cheeks.

“You should be,” I said. “I’m horrified.”

She smiled.

Then the girl looked back at her family. They were still waving to her in the distance.

“I’ve never flown before,” she said.

“You’re in for a real treat.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I won’t spoil it for you.”

Ahead of us, a barefoot man with a walker was being patted down by TSA agents. His beltless pants fell to the ground, displaying the perpetual whiteness that follows him.

“Nervous?” I asked the girl.

“Little.” She looked at me. “You fly a lot?”


“You have any tips for me?”

“Plant your corn early.”

“I mean about flying.”

I nodded. “You can use your shoes for a pillow when sleeping in the airport.”

A small trace of another nano-smile worked its way across her face. Meantime, her people were still waving goodbye, as she inched farther away from them.

“That your family?” I said, nodding toward her people.

“Yeah. My mom and sisters. My boyfriend. My little brother is the one on the left.”

“Where’s Dad?”

“He passed away a few weeks ago.”


“Last month.”

Our line moved forward by steps. If you closed your eyes, we all sounded like cattle awaiting entrance to the processing plant.

Another TSA agent was wandering through the waiting area, shouting reminders for us passengers to empty our pockets, take out IDs, remove our pacemakers, etc.

“And how are you holding up so far?” I asked.

Her eyes watered. “I don’t know. I’m not.”

By now, her family had finally given up waving. The goodbye ceremony was officially finished.

The girl watched as her family exited the airport. She was on her own. It was real now.

She stared ahead blankly. You could see that she wasn’t really with us. She was stuck inside her head. Not a friendly place to be.

“You in college?” I asked.



She pointed to the University of Georgia logo on a keychain. “Georgia.”

“What’s your major?”


“I majored in English.”

“How do you like it?”

“Working at Kmart is great.”

Another smile. It was a nice smile. An honest one.

“Favorite authors?” I asked.

“You go first.”

I shook my head. “I only read books with pictures.”

Smile Number Four.

She was quiet for the rest of our wait. When the TSA agent beckoned her, she presented him with her ID. The girl nailed a smile to her face and tucked her emotions into a far-off place. She was a lot stronger than she let on.

Before we parted, we shook hands.

“What was his name?” I asked.

Her eyes were glistening. “His name was Michael.”

Rest well, Michael. Your girl’s going to be okay.


  1. stephenpe - June 8, 2024 12:50 pm

    Kindness is so important. Sad and sweet story done perfectly. Thank you, Sean.

  2. pattymack43 - June 8, 2024 11:04 pm


  3. Dana Vitelli - June 10, 2024 12:13 pm

    Bawling. 😭 Love this so much. ❤️❤️❤️ My 22-year-old daughter is a flight attendant so the plane grabbed my attention. Just listen to your 1000 Hours Outside podcast episode with Ginny. New fan from Ontario. 🇨🇦 Thank you so much for your love, kindness, words, storytelling and shares.


Leave a Comment