I’m not a great flyer. I try to keep it quiet, though. I don’t freak out so anybody notices, except if I’m holding your hand on takeoff, in which case you will think I am Thor or The Incredible Hulk and suffer immense and surprising pain as my small hand nearly crushes every bone in your hand. I need to see out a window. I can’t sit next to the window or I will feel like I’m falling out of the window. Unless it’s over the wing, because if you’re gonna fall out of a plane, you’re better off falling onto the wing, right? (Don’t answer that.) So I have to sit on the aisle. In case I need to spring up and sprint to the emergency exit before everybody else.
I have a few set
superstitions beliefs: if the pilot announces there’s going to be turbulence, there rarely is, so I do a silent cheer when that one rings out over the PA system. The mumblers worry me. I always assume right before they put on their jaunty little pilot caps and popped over to the airport, they were doing shots at a seedy airport lounge or taking huge bong rips in some apartment decorated with chili pepper twinkle lights and stained towels for curtains. Another belief: if the flight attendants are mean, we’re going to land safely. Don’t ask me why, but it might have something to do with “only the good die young.”
Speaking of turbulence, I hate it. Several years ago a couple of know-it-all friends assured me turbulence was just like driving over potholes in your car. So one night at a dinner I asked a guy I knew who was a pilot for Delta. Apparently no one had given him the heads-up that I was to be coddled and lied to, because he said, and I quote, “Turbulence is serious. It can be very dangerous.” Thank you. I told you so. My husband wanted to kill him.
I really don’t understand about the physics of lift and thrust and drag and whatever else. Just suffice it to say I know that the real reason planes go up in the air is because they are borne aloft on angel wings. That, and the power of my mind. Yeah, you heard me. I have this weird compulsion to pay very close attention to everything that’s happening during takeoff. I have to listen to the engine and watch us rise above the ground (fast, preferably, I hate those big, slow, languid takeoffs) and hear the landing gear safely curl up into the belly of the plane. You see, it is the SUPERIOR FOCUS of my brain that’s making everything work. I can’t listen to music or read or chat. Because I am SUPERVISING. And if, God forbid, something goes wrong and the pilots are shot or stabbed with box cutters or blacked out or otherwise rendered useless, and I’m distracted, who’s going to fly the plane with her mind?
Then I discovered Xanax.
Which helped a lot. And made everybody in my family much happier about flying with me. And now when I fly, instead of acting like a crazy person, I am pretty much a female version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski. I breathe, my heart beats normally, I smile. I close my eyes. I don’t wear a bathrobe, but you get it.
Sometimes I forget my Xanax. Which happened to me yesterday. Flying out of New Orleans, which was swaddled in thick, gray taffy-like clouds, promised to be a nightmare. There were storms in Atlanta. And no Big Lebowski. I was not looking forward to it.
But here’s what happened: I ended up being seated next to a skinny, hipster Frenchman who turned to me right after I buckled in and said (in his delightful French accent), “I do not fly well.” Boy, was he right. He was truly TERRIFIED of flying. So scared, in fact, that he held the seat in front of him for almost the entire flight. Which I gotta say kind of broke my heart. I was glad he was sitting next to a fellow sufferer. I felt his pain. I proceeded to talk to him almost the whole time–showed him pictures of my kids and patted his arm and recited all the French words I knew. I asked him about his wife and kids and his music and computer programming. Right before we began our descent, he said (in his delightful French accent), “Isn’t it funny how on a plane they will tell you how many ways you can die?” Naturally, Mommy had to shut down that line of conversation right away. I think I said, “Look out the window!” Not terribly creative, but it worked.
Anyway, we landed safely and the two of us did a little cheer and went our separate ways. And I realized…I had survived. And not only had I survived, I had helped someone else survive.
I was human Xanax.