Love did not blossom on the transatlantic flight but fear did, writes Cheryl Pearl Sucher.

Ever since I was an adolescent flying alone abroad for the very first time, I have loved the giddy anticipation that accompanies every flight away from my past and into my future.

I met the Kiwi who would become my husband on a Virgin Atlantic flight travelling from London to New York in January 1998, the morning after I farewelled the man I had believed was the great love of my life.

I had been in London to celebrate the sale of my first novel to a paperback publisher with my friend, a mergers and acquisition banker who had settled there after marrying a British colleague.

Originally, we had planned to spend the weekend in Rome, but due to her demanding work schedule, we remained in London where I decided, against her protective judgment, to meet with my Welsh former fiance, whom I had not spoken to since he told me that his then-housemate, the sister of a mutual friend, was pregnant with his child but that it had nothing to do with our ongoing, relentlessly unfinished relationship.


Since the publication of my novel, however, I was eager to hear what he thought of the work, as he had been my primary cheerleader during the earliest days of its writing. I was also keen to meet his young daughter and the son that followed, as well as reunite with his eldest daughter, Rebecca, who used to spend weekends with us when we lived together in North London, and I had managed the local bookstore while he wrote his first novel.

Cheryl Pearl Sucher with husband John, in Tofino, Canada. Photo / Marti Friedlander
Cheryl Pearl Sucher with husband John, in Tofino, Canada. Photo / Marti Friedlander

The reunion was surprisingly successful. Rebecca, on the eve of going to university, remembered me with great fondness despite my memories of the agitation her visits often wrought in my relationship with her father. And seeing the former great love of my life ensconced in the matrix of his young family allowed me to finally let go of whatever fantastic hopes remained that we would find each other in the future, like the paramours in Gabriel Marcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera.

The next morning, I boarded my flight home and did what I always did, which was step on the seat to put my hand luggage in the overhead locker. The Kiwi was sitting by the window, fumbling with the canvas wallet stringing from his neck that contained all his important travel documents. I had never before seen such a cumbersome accoutrement hanging from the neck of any creature other than a St Bernard. Later the Kiwi told me that he had never seen anyone step on the seat to put their luggage in the overhead locker.

I settled in, hoping to get some sleep after finishing The Reader, by Bernard Schlink, which I placed on the empty seat between us. While the plane accelerated to take-off, the Kiwi turned to me and said, "If I knew what aircraft this was before my company booked me on this flight, I would have changed planes."

Though my life to this point had been riddled with anxieties and depressions and I had stopped driving a car years previously after I had a panic attack on the Interstate approaching Manhattan, the Welsh Bard in tow; I had never been afraid of flying.

"What do you mean you wouldn't have boarded this aircraft if you knew what it was before you got on?" I asked, my heart pounding like a kettle drum.

"It's an Airbus. Fly by wire. There's no way to steer this plane if the electrics go down. That's why I like Boeings."

I looked at him for the first time. He was tall, with jet black hair and wore a light-coloured plaid shirt and black jeans. He had kind, dark eyes and a sly, earnest smile.

Cheryl Pearl Sucher met her Kiwi on a Virgin Atlantic flight to New York, where their first date was at the Iridium Jazz Club. Photo / 123RF
Cheryl Pearl Sucher met her Kiwi on a Virgin Atlantic flight to New York, where their first date was at the Iridium Jazz Club. Photo / 123RF

When I asked him how he knew so much about planes, he told me that he was an amateur pilot and his brother was a commercial pilot. He was working as a seismic surveyor for an oil exploration company in the Middle East and had just checked in with his British-based American employer on his way home to New Zealand, stopping off for a 24-hour jaunt in New York City to listen to jazz.

He continued to regale me with tales of skydiving, bungy-jumping and scuba diving, while I shared my knowledge of navigating the New York subway systems at rush hour and the jazz clubs that were open late and had no cover charge. I told him that it was easiest to get from JFK to his hostel by bus, yet he insisted that he was going to take the subway because Lonely Planet suggested it, even after I explained that the beleaguered weekend E train took hours to arrive at its destination.

Sometime during the six-hour flight, he asked for my telephone number. We exited the plane together and as I said goodbye, I felt slightly guilty I hadn't offered to take him to his hostel in the black car I had ordered.

The next day, he telephoned not once but three times. In the course of my recent dating history, if a date had telephoned me three times in three weeks, I would have thought he was interested in discussing eloping to Las Vegas. We agreed to meet to listen to jazz that evening.

A few hours later, he appeared at my apartment door, freshly showered, fragrant of cologne, wearing what I knew was his only best outfit.

"I have to be honest with you," he began as I nervously showed him the publicity packet for the German translation of my novel.

"Oh no," I thought, waiting for him to tell me that he was married or had a fiancee back home.

"I like you a lot and I'd like to get to know you, but I can't promise you anything."

I murmured assent, stunned by his forthrightness. I was used to men who tantalised by reciting lists of achievements before retreating behind invisible walls constructed around their raw, fragile egos. The Kiwi was as broad and open as his sawhorse stance.

We didn't go downtown to Greenwich Village but to Iridium, a jazz club which was then a few blocks away from my apartment. During dinner, he started to kiss me, losing interest in the music. Eager to leave, he discovered that he didn't have enough cash to pay the $50 cover charge. I paid the difference.

He spent the night and left the next morning. For six weeks, we corresponded by letter and I phoned him once a week when he had access to his company's satellite phone.

We agreed to meet in Paris, where we discovered we had nothing in common other than film and food, and when we parted I thought we would never see one another again, but he phoned a few weeks later to ask if I would meet him in his father's hometown, Belfast. I went, because my friend insisted that I only lived once.

Within 24 hours of our reunion, the Kiwi wound up in hospital, and I was good at hospitals as I had spent much of the prior 10 years caring for my very sick Holocaust-survivor parents. I can truly say that we fell in love in the emergency room. We were married not long after that.

We also have never stopped travelling, although he still prefers the window seat and I still take the aisle, hoping against hope that no one will ever be seated between us. And even though he is more than 6ft [1.8m] tall, I still step in my stockinged feet to put my luggage in the overhead locker.