Expectations. The word keeps coming up. Before Christmas. Before New Year’s. After New Year’s. Given that, this seemed a fitting reprint from 2008.


I thought it would be different. There are a number of people traveling to Austin on the 6:20 flight this morning, more than I imagined as I drove through Hartford at four and pictured myself alone and waiting quietly in the terminal.

The man across from me wears snakeskin boots, but I am certain he is not a Connecticut line-dancing cowboy. His skin is too leathered for such foolishness, too wrinkled with worry about the ranch, the cattle, the injuns. Or so I like to imagine. Perhaps I do that too often — judge books by covers and weave stories before I know the truth.

At first glance, the cowboy seems gruff, but I catch a smile on his face when he waves to the little girl across from him as she asks a million questions.

“Is that our plane?”

“Can we go inside yet?”

“What if it crashes?”

She’s asking the questions we would all ask if we were young and unfettered in our anxieties. To ask them out loud would be inappropriate now, so we sit in quiet unease.

Her pointed finger leaves a mark on the frost-coated window. The radio station said 27 degrees, my sister said it’s 75 in Austin.

“Is that sock weather?” I asked her.

“Should I bring a jacket?”

“Jeans or shorts?”

It’s hard to know what to expect when you’re someplace else.

There is a hodge-podge of folks waiting here this morning, young students and older couples, corporate types, and that one character who stands out just enough that we all glance at him with suspicion from time to time. Some read books with necks tilted this way and that. A woman near me works on a crossword puzzle, while her daughter stares into a cell phone, its screen casting an eerie-white sheen across her face.

The man I saw in the food court earlier sits next to me. His hair is a bit thin at the top and I notice a hint of gray — he is about my age. He wears dress pants and a pale blue button-down. Is he on business or traveling home for the holidays? I picture both and wonder.

His cologne is familiar, and I think of my lover yesterday, smiling down as I rested my head against his thigh. It was a broad smile that caught me off-guard, and I laughed as he pulled me towards him for a kiss.

It is the first time I have thought of him this morning and I think I miss him. I want to think I miss him, anyhow.

Wouldn’t this man in the button-down have seen me off this morning?

Kissed me passionately as if we were parting forever?

Shooshed kindly at the tears I cry whenever I leave something familiar?

A line is forming now in this corner of the terminal. First class is boarding, and the rest of us gather our things to wait, single file.

In line at the coffee shop last night, my friend Rhonda turned to me and said, “You expect too much of people.” My blush of surprise was as evident as if she’d slapped me across the face.

“You are very loving,” she continued, “but you expect people to love you the same way in return. It disappoints you when they can’t.”

“I thought it would be different,” I said with a half smile, then changed the subject. “I hear it’s 75 in Austin. Can you imagine?”

• • •

Photo, Morning Terminal, by Connecticut photographer Ellen Bulger. Click here to see more of her work.

“Expectations,” ©2008, Jen Payne, Branford, CT

10 thoughts on “Expectations

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    1. I actually wrote this…in situ? As it was happening. I was reading Natalie Goldberg’s book Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life at the time, and was inspired. Have you read that?

  1. “I thought it would be different” … that says a lot about expectations, doesn’t it? I wonder, if we gave it much thought, how many times our disappointments are directly linked to disproportionate expectations. Interesting.

    1. Thank you so much for the write up on your blog! I’m so glad you found the blog and then found something that inspired you! What fun! I’m even more excited by the fact that you GOT IT! Love it!

  2. Natalie Goldberg is pretty wild herself. And very inspiring.
    This a really interesting piece, and I’m glad you chose to reprint it — appropriate for New Year’s, absolutely.
    But interesting to toss into the mix of the pieces you’ve been writing in the time I’ve been following.
    My husband always finds evolution fascinating — not I. Except, I realize, when it comes in this form.

    1. I love Natalie’s work – wicked inspiring!

      There is some evolution in the perceptions, isn’t there? It’s really exciting – for me – to follow it through the writing! Fun that it’s as obvious “out there” too!

      : )

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