Russell Lehmann (RL) and David Apkarian (DA)
RL: I remember sitting in the same exact spot for seven hours crying, and, uh, not one person approached me. Not one person made eye contact with me.
The next day, once again my flight was delayed. And that’s when I found an empty ticket counter. I sat behind it and I started sweating bullets, rocking back and forth, hyperventilating.
I hadn’t had an episode like that probably since I was like 11.
And, uh, that’s when you came up.
(DA): You were sitting on the floor and you looked really upset. Do you remember what I first said?
RL: I don’t remember a whole lot, ’cause for me, in the midst of a meltdown, my brain literally feels like it’s on fire, with a vice grip around it, just getting tighter and tighter. I have a hard time comprehending the simplest sentences. I just, uh, feel like I’m on a planet all by myself.
But when you crouched down beside me and asked me what was going on, my feelings started to change. Having someone actually recognize that I was human and that I was there — it meant the world to me. I didn’t feel as fragile. I had someone on my team.
DA: I remember letting the crew know that you were very uneasy about getting on the airplane, and I brought the captain over to hopefully, you know, give you another boost of confidence.
RL: Yeah. That’s when I made up my mind, “Yeah, I’m getting on this plane.” You walked me onto the flight, I was able to board before anybody else to get situated and just kind of have some peace.
So David, did you wonder what happened to me after I finally got on the plane?
DA: Yeah, it’s actually funny you should ask that. You know, I have access to our computer system at home, and I followed you.
DA: I saw that second flight did have a little bit of a delay, but it showed that you had stayed on board and got through. I was very happy about that.
RL: You didn’t really know much about autism that day in the airport. But you connected on a human level. And, uh, you can’t lose in that situation. What you did really changed my life.
Um, knowing that since this was such a, a difficult meltdown — and one of the worst I’ve ever had. That since I got through that, I can pretty much get through anything.