learning to fly

(Transcribed from my notebook, in which I wrote this while waiting to board a plane.)

I’m sitting here in a busy airport, waiting. Of everything I hate about flying, I hate the waiting the most. Waiting in line, waiting in security, waiting to board. All of which leads to the hardest waiting of all: waiting to land safely. Normally, I take the edge off of the waiting with Xanax or wine or possibly both, a balance of drugs and alcohol to keep the hyperventilation away. But this flight is only two hours long and I have to drive once I get there. Even the most careful mix doesn’t seem prudent.

So, I just wait. P. watched supportively as I shuffled through the security line. Every time I looked, wanting to turn back, he was there. (Probably ready to block me from fleeing.) And even once I got through the metal detectors and wands, and walked around the corner and down the hall, I looked out through the glass and he was still there. He smiled. It would be OK.

I’ve always had this fear of flying. I fly anyway, usually. Sometimes I’m OK; sometimes I cry the entire way, grasping the armrests as though holding on will make a difference, willing the plane to stay in the air with every bump.

My latest goal is to be more courageous. I don’t know how to do that other than by just doing it. Although sometimes I feel more fear than courage. I’m doing what I can about this flying fear.

P. and I went to the Museum of Flight not too long ago. I touched the planes. I sat in a cockpit. I flew a flight simulator. Well, mostly I let P. fly and begged him not to roll it. And I watched the planes take off and land while listening to air traffic control and watching the radar. It was comforting, and yet in some ways… not.

Same with the tour of the Boeing factory. Yes, they are very good as assembling planes, but when finished, the planes weight several thousand tons and are made of millions of parts. We talked to an old man who was signing copies of his book. He worked for Boeing for 45 years. I told him I was afraid to fly. He told me about how years ago, they spent a lot of time looking at parts from crashes, trying to learn from their mistakes. Now, they’ve got it down. Only weather or people can cause problems now. It didn’t really make me feel any better.

(And then I had to board the plane, and all writing ceased, replaced by utter terror for approximately two hours. Now I’m writing in real time.)

I can’t write on a plane. Too much of my brain is busy being terrified and cataloging each bump and imagining the plane falling out of the sky and looking around, wondering why no one else has realized the plane is about to crash in a fiery explosion. There’s no time for writing. The Xanax keeps the utter panic away, and I had no such protection this time.

As soon as the plane landed, the relief overwhelmed me. The night before the flight, I had a dream that I was flying and the plane crashed on landing: it hit the ground and rolled, wing over wing. As this plane was landing, the dream flashed through my head. I held my breath, expecting to feel the roll.

It’s crazy, isn’t it? I walked off the plane to a car and ended up on a California freeway. If you’re not familar with California freeways, you may not know that the only way to navigate them is to drive as fast as you possibly can, and at the same time try to stay out of the way of the other cars that pass you as though you are standing still. And yet, that wasn’t scary at all.

The Boeing engineer signed my book from one aviation enthusiast to another!

I hope one day I can make that be true.

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