Sunday, September 30, 2007
I fly in four days. Not like in those dreams I used to have of flapping my arms in a really big coat, or slinking up naked into the air when it was looking the other way (why is it, exactly, that I don't get to dream about flying anymore? Why is it only job hunting, or looking for lost library books?). No, I'm eticketed, de-liquified, ready for gate C-23.
Not to mention scared out of my mind.
It's not a rational fear, or a useful fear: it's not anything fear should be. It's not even a fear with history: growing up, I was never scared to fly. Sure, I experienced the occasional "oops I think we dropped the ground" twinge upon take-off, but I was always able to distract myself with the useful safety card in the seat pocket in front of you. I was comforted by the liturgy of flight: its epistles and psalms, its gingerale-and-pretzel communion.
But that was before the accident. No, not a plane crash. Though I was on my way to the airport when my colleague's roommate's Subaru hatchback left the road, spun around 180 degrees, and crashed into an embankment. As accidents go it was not a big deal. I hopped -unhurt- out of the car, had a quick hyperventilatory reverie, left the Subaru to be towed, and went about my business.
You'd think the accident would have left me with a healthy respect for driving (respect being fear's kissing cousin, its near but ever-so-slightly more approachable neighbor, the one with fewer Dubya 4eva signs in her yard). Only I've been driving blithely ever since. I've even gotten braver -and stupider-, clipping corners, rolling through stops, venturing onto the highway.
No, what my ever-so-helpful limbic system apparently saw fit to bequeath to me was an unholy terror of flying. Maybe because I boarded a plane just afterwards, shook myself silly over the Appalachians. Maybe because our senses are imperfect interpreters, struggling to translate the events of the world into the brain's dense, heavily-inflected tongue. Maybe...just because.
I know things now. I've flown once since the accident, and I know how a minute can expand into a miniature universe. I know how much it costs to hold up, with every fiber of your being, a Boeing 747 including three stewardesses, 120 in-flight entertainment systems, and the portly man in 27 F. I know how many times in the course of a flight you can let your thoughts streak downward in a white, stinking mess towards earth.
Maybe it is rational. Every day, every moment, a thousand possibilities push at us, nudge our flanks, jockey for position. Any second now something could metastasize, or strain, or snap. If it's rationality, though, it's the kind you should leave corked in its bottle: a substance so real it's djinn, it's magic, it blows us out of our minds.
I once read that whereas optimists are happier, pessimists are more accurate in their predictions. There's something you need, to fly, and I've lost it. Not fairy dust or REM sleep; not good engineering or a golden ticket. It's simpler: skin, bones, faith.