My mother was terrified of flying. But every year she would white-knuckle it all the way down to Florida to visit her sister. She would bring me along. And I learned to white-knuckle it with her. We would make the two and a half hour flight once a year and it never got easier.
These were the days when meals were served on trays covered with white cloth napkins. My mother would shake her head and wave away the flight attendant who stood poised with her tray of food. She was too nervous to eat and besides, the food was awful she would tell me.
My mother would sit with her eyes glued to Harper's Bazaar. That was the magazine she always chose to distract herself from what she was sure was her untimely demise. She would close the shade on the window. Her hands gripped the arm rests at every bump and thump. I watched her face as she never lifted her eyes from the page. I learned to be afraid too. I would politely wave away the tray of food. But I thought it looked lovely. Neat and compartmentalized. A good choice for a child with OCD in her blood.
As an adult I still find flying frightening. Yet I also find it strangely exhilarating. I have a battle going on in my brain as I'm looking out the window at 30,000 feet. Part of me is marveling at the sights below and part of me is thinking, "This is lunacy. We are in the sky in a tin can." As much as I feel the fear I also feel the thrill.
Recently my flight was delayed due to bad weather. We sat on the tarmac for what seemed an eternity, but was actually only about twenty minutes. The pilot's reassuring voice came on telling us "We're just waiting for the storm to blow over Virginia, folks. Should only be a few more minutes." He had that southern drawl every pilot I've ever flown with has had. Deep, comforting and southern.
I put on my "Sea Bands" wrist bands. I'm expecting some heavy turbulence. I take out my magazine and try to focus. I buy the magazines I would never buy ordinarily. I will read about Jessica Simpson's weight gain and Charlie Sheen in rehab at 30,000 feet but not on dry land. I am like my mother with my eyes focused on the magazine but without my mother's sophistication. I need trash and gossip to distract me from impending doom. There is no food tray to wave away. This is not the seventies. My daughter however has a huge submarine sandwich waiting to be unwrapped.
The pilot tells us we are cleared for take-off. I am saying a prayer and hoping we have given enough time for the storms in Virginia to move off to the east. My daughter takes one ear bud out to say, "What's taking so long?" She looks at me with impatience.
I look at her in amazement. Does she not hear the drumbeats in the distance? She has her I-pod in her ears. She is unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. "There are storms in Virginia didn't you hear the pilot?" I am saying it with more drama than it deserves. But her indifference is maddening. She shrugs and put her music back in her ear.
Blissfully unconcerned. My daughter and the other two hundred passengers on the flight: Blissfully unconcerned.
We take off. The seat belt sign stays on which worries me. As if reading my thoughts, my southern savior in the cockpit makes an announcement. "Folks, I'm going to try to make this as smooth as I can for you. But leave your seat belts fastened because it may get a little choppy." He goes on to tell us if we look down to our left we can see Cleveland. This guy is all right.
The flight is definitely "choppy." But I have my wrist bands on. Bright yellow bands that scream,"I get sick on airplanes!" The thing is I actually don't get sick. They are just another talisman in my arsenal to avert plane disasters.
The pilot's honey coated voice tells us we are ready to land. Another disaster averted! Another safe landing! I wish it would get easier, this flying thing.
We collect our things. My daughter glances over at me. She has not inherited this fear of flying. This fear of life in general. I try to look normal.
We walk past the cockpit. "Thank you so much," I gush as I walk past the man who got us down from the sky. I have this sudden urge to hug him. I see my daughter squinting suspiciously at my yellow wrist bands. I resist the urge. She's seen enough for one day.