As passengers stand in line to board the plane (after they’ve all scurried like scared squirrels to have tickets checked, hurrying through the tunnel just to stand and wait), I stay behind.
I do not want to enter that metal tube until absolutely necessary.
I’m not afraid of the actual flying part. I understand the physics of how the plane’s engine boosts us up into the sky, the dynamics of keeping us up there, the mechanism of getting us, and the plane, down in one piece.
That’s the easy part. The difficulty, for me, is being squished in that flying tube with 200 other people, with nowhere to go. What if I decide, mid-flight, that I really don’t want to be up there? That in fact, I want to touch earth, now, and walk a mile or so to stretch my legs, or maybe find a burger joint and eat real food, or, even more possibly, go pee someplace more private than a 3 inch by 3 inch box with a suspiciously sticky floor and tiny sink full of used water and strands of hair.
What do I do then?
I hyperventilate. Sweat pours off my forehead and down my back. My skin gets itchy, my lungs get smaller, and my heart starts racing faster than the jet. My mouth opens so I can scream, “let me out!” but my brain takes over and demands, “shut up, Pam.”
Most times, my brain wins over. I grab my paperback and delve into the story, urging my thoughts to go there, into the characters’ setting, into their dilemmas and fears, so I can ignore mine.
But sometimes, my desire for freedom (read: my claustrophobia), wins.
Like the time my man and I meander off one large plane knowing we have a 3-hour wait for the next smaller one to reach our vacation destination, but are told we can rush to the gate and make an earlier flight instead. We’re elated – we can get to the beach, and a drink, even sooner!
But we’re the last ones on the plane, and the flight attendant points us to our seats – in the last row. Gamely, I follow my guy down the aisle, talking to myself all the way “you’ll be fine, just 30 minutes, suck it up.”
Until we sit down, the flight attendant starts her safety spiel, and I pop up like a broken jack-in-the-box (in this case, Pam-in-a-box) and literally run back up the aisle to freedom. I dimly hear my dear seatmate shout, “where are you going?” and the attendant yell, “but the door’s already closed.” I don’t care. I Am Getting Out of There.
As I pass Row 5, a passenger on the aisle grabs my arm softly and whispers, “it’s okay,” treating me like a wild horse, and she the horse whisperer. “I’ll switch,” she continues, urging me to take her seat while she trudges down down down the narrow aisle to sit next to my bemused mate.
Thus, not only do I make it to our vacation island, still married (to an understanding man), but my love for all humanity has tripled.
Nonetheless, every time my guy and I travel together, he holds my hand a bit too firmly as we enter the plane and sit in our (as-close-to-the-front-as-possible) seats. But there’s no need for him to hold tight.
I realize that my biggest fear now is not flying, and thus missing out on visiting enchanting people, like grandchildren, and exotic places, like New Jersey.
Currently my mantra as I enter a plane is:
“it’s the destination, not the journey!” (Apologies to Siddhartha)