My shuttle bus driver was one-of-a-kind, cherry-on-top this morning

What airline was I using because he didn’t want me to be confused or get lost and he had the power to care for me and make sure that I would get to where I was going safely but how was my time in Phoenix and how long was I was here and what I had done and did it feel good?

He pressed me to talk to the man on my left who responded “I don’t think that’s possible” when I shyly said that I preferred not to ruin his focus on a productive morning while the guy to his left leaned forward four times to look at me and smile and find a way to insert himself into my conversation

And then, in a heartbeat, we pulled up to the curb and the doors opened and I stepped outside then I stepped inside and then suddenly the world was only me and them — the staring men

They were all there and they were everywhere

They where the men who perked up from their newspaper and looked down their nose to appreciate the shape my body made as I passed them by

They were the security guard at the entrance to Gates 1-11 who surveyed me as I approached, synchronized his head with my passing and who lingered too long on my departure 

They were the men who whispered a silent prayer for me to step into their line so they might slip the pass from my fingers, saying nothing worth saying in hopes to maybe just maybe elicit a smile, the imprint of my mouth tucked into their memory like a ticket in their pocket that they’ll pull out later and make love to alone in the dark

And that leaning guy from the bus that would find a seat close to me at our gate, but not too close because he knows enough not to look desperate, and eagerly come to my rescue when I removed my earbuds to ask a neighbor if our flight was boarding 

“It’s not and you’re okay,” he said and then asked where I was sitting to see if it was his lucky day (it wasn’t) then sadly said “don’t worry, go back to your music” and trust him and watch him and follow him onto the plane

That same leaning guy who’d search for my eyes as he cued for boarding to wave me toward him then laugh to pretend it was a casual, innuendo-free gesture so that there would be nothing to report but so that we might share one more moment because somehow he needed a little piece of me to make returning home to his wife more bearable

And the men on the plane, the first class men who have the most to offer and always stare the longest with the least inhibition because of what they would like to do and what they have the power to do and what they have been given the power to do

So many men, in so many rows, on my way to seat 28A

Like the ones with the headphones and black sweatshirts that burned a hole into the right side of my face as I made an artless shape with my mouth because I suddenly didn’t know what to do with my lips that would appear both pleasant and neutral 

The staring men, they were all there and they were everywhere and there was me and there was my walk down the aisle, splitting them in two

And I was a woman who’s spent a lifetime looking at men looking at women, a woman who knows her value not because I was so beautiful but because I knew that I was good and honest and kind and capable and that it made me far more powerful and potent than simply being a beautiful woman

I was a woman with a lifetime of these staring men and the expanding knowledge that it won’t last forever, I know, and so I meet their sidelong gaze head on, sometimes in defiance but also, in a way, with gratitude 

But the good and honest truth is that I would trade a lifetime of these men for the solid, eternal eyes of one good man, for a lover who had the desire to look and never look away

For a lover who asks me what I had done and did it feel good? A lover who says “I don't think that’s possible” when I tell him I don’t want to ruin his focus on a productive morning. A lover who leans forward to look at me and smile, who perks up to get a better view as I approach, who synchronizes with my passing and who lingers on my departure. To come to my rescue. To let me back to my music. Who tells me to trust him and watch him and follow him

For a lover who whispers a silent prayer to maybe just maybe elicit a smile then take me home to make love over and over

And because that lover is so beautiful, and because that lover is the only man I want but also the one man that wouldn’t be on that plane, I offered my own invocation to please let the man in 28B be gay because I was split in two, as always, wanting to be near the shape of a man with an affinity for woman

“Oh, I’m sorry” he said because he was gay and simply because I waited an extra half second in the aisle with my heavy bag

“I’m sorry,” he said because he knew what it was to be a woman trapped inside a man trapped inside a man’s world

“I’m sorry,” he said because he knew what it was to be a woman watching men watch women