I have never been a champion at goodbyes. Saying farewell to a friend often makes my eyes turn into glassy pools, and when it’s family that I’m leaving, forget it. In the words of Kit De Luca, “Goodbyes make me crazy.” Then as if the emotion of the departure alone isn’t bad enough, add to it the fact that in order to get home from wherever it is I’ve gone, I have to fly…in the hands of a stranger, inside a metal bird, 30,000 feet in the air.
When it comes to flying, my typically sunny disposition turns dark and my mind wanders to disaster scenarios straight from television. And though I may appear calm, cool and collected, I have a serious (and yes, most likely irrational) fear of flying. But because there’s no practical way around it, considering the mileage I typically fly, I deal. And with a few prayers and couple drinks, I usually end up just fine.
But of course every now and then, you get a flight from hell that comes around to remind you just how small and helpless you really are. The most recent case in point—a few days ago when I was coming back to New York from a long weekend in Florida. It was a crack of dawn flight, and outside the sky was a clear, pale blue– what looked like the beginning of a perfect day. Take off was flawless, and over the course of the two-and-a-half hour flight, there was little, if any turbulence. Smooth sailing, just the way I like it. But then came time for us to land.
The crew had announced our initial descent, did their bit about our seats and tray tables, so in preparation, I put my book away, tied my shoes and straightened up. I said my prayer for a safe landing, took a deep breath and sat back to make my mental to-do list for the day ahead. But then we didn’t land. Instead, for the next twenty minutes (which felt like twenty years) the plane looped LaGuardia at 10,000 feet, in a holding pattern. This in itself wasn’t so bad; it was the sound of the engines buzzing then going dead-silent, then buzzing again and then going silent. And this buzz, though loud, instead of being a strong, healthy buzz, sounded to me like the buzz of a dying engine and all I could imagine was that the next stretch of silence would be…engine failure.
As I sat staring out the window, gnawing at the inside of my mouth, I remembered that the weather report for New York had mentioned winds. And so of course (because winds are never mild; always whipping and violent, right?) I’m convinced that at any minute, the plane is going to start breaking apart in the sky. (Thank you Dateline! Thank you.) And the flight attendants? They were no help. Tell me there’s nothing to worry about and I’ll be fine. Assure me that the stop-and-go buzzing sound is a normal one [when in a hundred-year-long holding pattern]. Communicate that to me and I will stay calm. Keep silent and I’m a disaster, my imagination at work crafting stories of impending doom. I know—no news usually means good news, but as I mentioned, my fear is an irrational one. With every commencement of the ‘dying’ engine’s buzzing, I was another inch closer to screaming from the top of my lungs, “What the *@#$” are we doing?” My hands grew clammy, my heart began to race, and my normal stomach-of-steel turned upside down and inside out. I shivered in terror, thinking how after my four days spent soaking up sunshine and love, what a cruel joke it would be.
And then somehow without having realized we’d left 10,000 feet, I felt the wheels touch down and I was safe at last…on the ground, in one piece, and I could breathe again.