The fear doesn’t start until the engines are fired up in preparation for take-off.
In this moment, I always sort of have a disgruntled monologue in my head as rumbling and gasping noises grow louder from the belly of the beast I find myself sitting in. And it goes something to the effect of:
Really? MUST we show off? Are you telling me that in the rampant age of technology there is no special gizmo available to silence the thundering resounds of impending doom?
Let’s face it - it’s all up in the air until the captain comes onto loudspeaker. I wait in anticipation for a delivery of weather stats and flight altitudes, listening carefully to every pitch and intonation of the voice that will get me from soaring threats to stable ground. Is it going to be a chipper 20-something year old chap who’s had about as much experience flying air-metal-death-taxi’s as a 14 year old boy has with undoing bra straps, single handily (some things just take time to perfect, am I wrong?). Or is it going to be a guy with jokes? Cos let me tell you… I’m not looking for jokes. What I am looking for is a chirpy but firm pilot, well into his late 50’s announcing in a gruff voice that reeks of experience, that we are all to expect a smooth and swift flight. If we’re going to go all out, he could also add that there is a vegetarian meal option and that it isn’t egg with raw chunks of potato floating in it… (Sigh, am I reaching for the stars?).
I unwrap the first of 4 glossy mags that I’ve shoved in the pocket in front of me, next to the catalogue of faceless people calmly illustrating how to jump out of an aeroplane that has caught alight, into the OCEAN. I need to gawk at a rainbow of clothes I can’t afford. The ostentatious garments invite me into a wardrobe that takes my mind off the journey ahead… I even spend a good 15 minutes invested in finding out the best way to cope with a break up in the complex world of social media.
It’s only a matter of time before I begin soaring through atmospheric layers of delicious denial. I tell myself, that in fact, I’m not a zillion feet above a vast expanse of tar black water. No, no. I’m really on the underground in London making my morning transit to work as Features Editor at some disgustingly fabulous publication where I am over paid. Bob Marley is a compulsory playlist for these sorts of trips, particularly the comforting coos of “3 Little Birds” that are now serenading me peacefully on my invisible iPod.
Caught up in my elaborate safety fantasy, I look to the right of me in utter envy at My Guy who is as happy as a peach, engulfed in a game of stick cricket that you’d swear the continuation of humanity depended on him winning. I could not get a handle on how calm he could be when I was a mess. How turbulence hardly affected his aura, in all aspects of life. Almost to the point where I had begun to wonder if he had a worry at all. Maybe it was a loss of cabin pressure, but I couldn’t understand why it suddenly bothered me so much.
The plane began to swivel on its back side and I could tell we were headed for a few bumps. With a giant gush my heart instantly displaced itself and sat like a coward between my two tonsils. I squeezed my eyes so tight I couldn’t even see the back of my eyelids and then felt a warm hand on my arm reaching out like a small creeping flower trying desperately to penetrate through the defensive wall I had surrounded myself with.
I always knew there would be bumps. There always are, and I suppose it’s not their presence that terrifies me but the lack of control that I have over them that makes me want to shrink as tiny as a pebble and roll away.
For every little knock my instinct tells me to assume the left wing is in flames when in reality everything is going exactly as it should, floating seamlessly in and over small pockets of hot and cold air. I can’t help thinking:
What if this doesn’t work out? What if it all falls apart? What if it gets broken… and so do I?
I turn to him with pleading eyes that want to scream:
Just say it! You’re scared too right? You’re freaking out that things may not go according to plan?! There’s a million things that could bring on a disaster – I can name them right now!!
I’m about to tear my hair out, punch him in the face and then have a sneaky I’m-crying-as-if-I-don’t-want-you-to-see-but-I-secretly-hope-you-do moment when he turns to me from looking out the window with the excitement of a kid who’s just discovered Lego. He ruffles my hair, squeezes my cheek and lets me know in his own silly way that everything is going to be ok. Even if it’s not ok at this very second. We’re going to land and we’re going to be fine.
On the decent, instead of spiralling into a shit storm of anxiety and what if’s… I had a thought about fear and how easy it is to irrationalize the normal flight of things. Turbulence is going to happen at some point… if not on this stretch, then surely the next. Because we don’t live in a one dimensional time or space. We don’t all look at the road or path ahead with the same lense, even if our eyes are fixed on the same far point of safety. Sometimes, travelling along the best of boulevards we’re going to have to face cloudy skies or a rouge air pocket that can slingshot you into a dangerous zone. You might even lose faith that you are never going to reach your desired destination.
And that, my friends, is why you need a supremely kick-ass co-pilot who knows how to be your calm through the storm and shake you up when you get stuck in the brace position. Someone who says “when” instead of “what if” and “can’t wait” instead of “cant”. A believer who can top you up when your cup starts looking half empty or your flight gets delayed.
The wheels angrily pound the ground and the mass of metal gives in. We’re on the earth again. Safe and sound.
“Ready to go my love?” he says
“With you? No doubt, no diggity!” I reply.