Enrichment at Oxford had its moments, including falling madly in love (a twenty part saga of its own which I don’t think either of us has the patience for right now). I returned home at the end of the summer and resolved to return. I worked and saved money and was back the following summer. I stayed for over a year, flying home for a visit around Christmas. Each flight was enthralling. You step on a plane, you feel the rush of lift-off, there’s seven hours of purgatory and then you’re somewhere different and far away. I LOVED everything about flying.
Fast-forward to the present: I was thrilled about the prospect of not only retuning to the UK but of flying. Sure, a lot had changed in the intervening years: security was more strict, you were more likely to sit on the tarmac for extended periods, and people moaned that the airlines were cramming more seats into the existing space. Still, there was going to be that powerful rumbling, the crazy speed, and then the odd stillness and quiet of leaving the ground. It would be worth it.
This time was more complicated. My mother was getting around okay despite her fall but we were separated at the airport and I left one of our many pieces of baggage with a very nice and trustworthy looking Austrian woman so I could go and find her in a confrontation with one of those kiosks for boarding passes. It was stressful because I was worried about her.
And speaking of worry, I had some concerns about security. I’d heard how strict it was and had read the restrictions about how to pack liquids and all of that. Yet in the event, they didn’t ask us to take off our shoes, they didn’t look in our purses, and the metal detector did not pick up the more than three dollars in change my mother forgot to take out of her pocket.
But whatever. We didn’t have to take our shoes off when I’d flown before and that had all been fine. There was just one other thing: the show Mayday hadn’t been televised when I’d flown before and I now knew a lot more about what could go wrong. Popping rivets, insulation fires, volcanic ash interrupting engine flow, a broken line to the ailerons.
Once ensconced in my seat, I decided it was time to relax. We’d gotten to the airport on time, I couldn’t re-pack my bags yet again, my mother had gotten her special seat with the extra leg room, and it was really happening. Once that rumble got going and the shuddering started, there’d be no turning back: up and off over the ocean.
My seat-mate was Glaswegian. An “Aye” man. Charming. The plane’s engines started to whine. “Ooh!” I thought, “I love flying!” But even as the thought was forming in my head there was another thought crowding it out. This new thought was “What the fuck? Why am I suddenly terrified? This isn’t fun. This is horrible.” So I rationalized. Once we were off the ground it would be okay. That amazing lift-off feeling would make everything all right. But. “Oh no. This is still terrible. Why are we listing at such a crazy angle. Is this normal?” I looked around nervously to see who else on board was as sure as I was that we were all going to die. Everyone was putting on a brave front. It’s what we do, isn’t it? I wasn’t going to freak out or start crying: just sit quietly in my seat in horror, muscles convulsing in panic. And that’s exactly what I did. For Seven. Fucking. Hours. There was not an entire minute free from crippling anxiety.
It. Was. AGONY.