So, I wrote the following piece a couple of years ago. I'm trying to get back to writing something that started me down the road to healing from a difficult year. The beginning of the piece I write about my first plane ride. I remember fragments of the whole day, however, I filled in the rest that I can from the writer in me. So, if my parents read it, I'm sorry if I don't have every detail correct and my creative brain took over for a moment. Anyway, I'm going to try over the next few weeks to post the pieces I've worked on. Thank you for taking time to read what I've written and supporting me in my writing. This was the first thing I wrote. The more I write about that part of my life the more I come to terms with how things went. So, yes, this was an incredibly emotional thing to write, but I'm well beyond it and that's why I know I can share it here.
From about the time I was little, I was always a little bit scared of planes. The very first time I flew, I was four. I remember getting on and thinking it was so cool that I was getting to travel by this crazy mechanical thing that flew like a bird. I was, like every four year old child, enamored with the idea of flying, because I also liked Superman comics. Not a typical thing for a gay adult to admit, but I was pretty into comics as a kid. Now, I didn’t follow them like the other kids and know everything about them, I just liked the pictures and all of the superhero comics, because they had powers, and Superman could fly. So, I was naturally very excited about my first flying experience. However, it didn’t go that smoothly.
My poor mother, was only thirty years old, it was the mid eighties and she was carting along three kids. My sisters ended up sitting on one side of the aisle, and since I was younger, I sat with my mom on the other side. Keep in mind that in the eighties, people still dressed up for traveling. And since this was a “dress up” occasion, the behavior ante was upped as well. This was to be treated as a church-like type of dress and behavior code, and my mom meant business. I was not raised by the type of mom who exists now, that has to be your friend one hundred percent of the time, oh hell no. My mom was my mom, and her word was final. So Sunday best? Check. Behavior top notch? Semi check. See, as excited as I was that we were going to be flying to see my grandparents, I was equally unprepared for the physical transformation that was about to onslaught my body.
The plane engines rumbled to a start and immediately scared the shit out of me. I yelped very loudly and grasped my mother’s hand in a death grip because I was certain we were going to blow up. My mom gently told me about what was happening with the plane and started to explain what was happening with the engines and how we were going to sail smoothly to my grandparents house and that all would be well. Then, cleverly, she started pointing out things outside the window, like the men loading up our luggage, or the men directing the planes who had bright orange colored cones. Anything to distract me from what was really happening. Then the world exploded. The plane started moving. I clutched my seat and tightly as I could and felt my stomach flailing inside my tiny little body. The game no longer distracted me. This was real and some shit was about to go down.
Our mechanical bird suddenly didn’t seem so magical and awesome as it did before I’d gotten on and and I wondered if there was time for me to get off the plane. Obviously there wasn’t. We paused briefly before jolting forward, to fly to our deaths, I was certain, making our way to the take off area of the airport. In reality, this probably lasted a mean four minutes at best. In the reality in my head, an eternity. The flight attendants were standing in the aisle talking about seat belts and safety features and pointing at manuals that I was too young to be able to read, and I didn’t know what to do. I began squirming in my seat, uncomfortable and unable to hold much in any longer. I knew that my mom had told me to be on my best behavior, and I desperately didn’t want to disappoint her, but I knew I was about to.
The flight attendants disappeared and the plane began moving faster. I looked out the window. Huge mistake, as I saw the horizon start to tilt, I began to panic even more fiercely. I closed my eyelids tight and clutched the arm rests on either side of me and pushed as hard as I could into the seat as I could. The plane accelerated even more and I felt the arm of God start lifting us into the air. I held my breath. I couldn’t take it. I was either about to scream or vomit, and I couldn’t decide which was worse. The rumbling in my stomach was so strong it wouldn’t take long to find out which was going to happen. And then I let it go.
I opened my mouth wide and screamed at the top of my lungs, “We’re going belly up! We’re going belly up!” Suddenly everyone around me was uncomfortable, nervous and anxiously awaiting me to shut the hell up. My mom was beside herself trying to calm me down, mortified, I’m certain. However, there were a few people around me laughing, though I wouldn’t know why until later in my life and to listen to my mom tell the story, perhaps she, too, was enjoying my meltdown a little bit more than I thought she would. I was certain I would be in trouble for making a scene, but my mom has a bigger sense of humor that I like to credit her for.
The morning I boarded my flight to attend my grandmother’s funeral, almost thirty years after my astoundingly triumphant first trip, my mood was similarly excited and nerve-wracking as that first flight so many years ago. My heart was torn to pieces over the loss of both a lover and a loved one and getting on this plane at this moment, I couldn’t wait to feel the acceleration and sounds of the nautical beast force out the pain of my heart and drown out the voices in my head. I was a shell of a human. Desolate, isolated, frustrated, and angry. Why in the world was this happening to me? But, I refused to let anyone see it. I smiled at the flight attendant on my way in, and even shook her outstretched hand. I pretended with the family three rows in front of my to be interested in what some toddler was showing off on his iPad to the passengers walking by, and gave a knowing nod to his mother that he was, in fact, the cutest child in the world. It seemed as if the world was turning around me, as all I could think about was getting to my seat, putting on some slit your wrist music, and wallowing in my heartache. And hopefully falling asleep.
Luckily, I was the only occupant in my row. It’s always a blessing to be sitting alone. No one next to me to make small talk with, or a child to annoy me with the crying or the shrieking, or worse, their stupid electronic babysitters. No, I was grateful to be alone in that moment. I thought of the first time I flew, and almost each time after that. I calculated, roughly, fifteen flights to Indiana over the years. Usually to see my grandfather, who had been ill my whole life, and eventually passed seventeen years ago, and now, making what seemed like my final trip to say good bye to my Mammaw. She was the glue that held my extended family together, and most likely, would be the last reason anyone who had moved away would have to come back.
I could see the overly eager flight attendants begin their safety demonstrations. I could hear the voice of a very friendly man begin his schpeel about listening and following safety features. I started to zone out. All I could think about was flying and my Mammaw. How when I was a kid, she’d come every year to Wyoming to visit us and my sisters and I would anxiously await her trip. Then the day would come, and we’d almost wet ourselves from excitement at the airport seeing her plane land, and racing to the gate to greet her. In my youth, we were allowed to go all the way to the gate, and somehow, it seemed so tragic how much the world has changed in the last twenty five years, and even more sad that I’m around to see it. My mortality began to sink in. My mind had succumbed to the darkness that’s always lurked, but never surfaced. From then on it was a downward spiral into the grim, bleak world of what am I doing with my life?
“Sir?” A voice was beckoning me out of it. “Sir?” I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but I heard it again. “Sir?” This time I felt it. A hand on my shoulder and I was startled and jumped in my seat, ready to attack. I jolted my head to the left to see one of the flight crew looking at me. “Sir, I need you to buckle your seat belt please. We’re about to take off.”
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.” I buckled it quickly, and couldn’t believe that I’d forgotten to do it. It was my flight ritual of always buckling myself in the moment I sit down. I realized the attendant was still looking at me. I looked back at her blankly.
“Sir, are you ok?”
“I’m fine, thanks.” I replied coldly. “Why wouldn’t I be ok, you stupid bitch?” I thought cruelly. “Don’t I look like someone who’s flown before? Oh my god, Steve, get a fucking grip on yourself.” My mind clearly had a mind of it’s own, and I was happy for once that my mean thoughts were trapped in the construct of my head.
“Well, if there is anything you need, please don’t hesitate to ask.” I didn’t notice until she squeezed, that her hand had been on my shoulder the entire time. She meant well, but I was still confused at why she was so concerned. And then I felt a drop on my hand. I had been crying and didn’t even know. Somehow in my deep despair for myself, the waterworks began and there was no way of stopping it. I could only hope in that moment that no one else had seen me, and I wiped away the tears and put my headphones back in. At least, if I couldn’t listen to music during take off, I would deter anyone from thinking I was ready to pay attention to the world around me.
I tried to bunch up the hood of my hoodie so I could cover my face and also use it as a pillow, but it wasn’t working. I settled on just covering my face. I didn’t want anyone else to see me break out into a violent sobbing mess if it happened. Outside the window, I could see the wing and the engine fire up as we started moving forward. I felt the usual pull of the place as we began to speed up. I lay my head back on my seat and stared out the window. As the ground began to move away from us, I looked up at the engine, then the sky and whispered, “please let us crash.” I waited a moment and when nothing happened, I stared at the engine and commanded in my head, “break, motherfucker, break.” Over and over again. I wanted so desperately to just not be, anymore. I longed for the release from life. This was too much for me to bear. And it hit me, I was begging for a plane to go down. Never mind all of the people on board who had families they were excited to see or were with them at that moment. Or how many people would mourn the loss of each life on this plane. I was a man consumed with the idea of an easy way out. I no longer wanted to face the struggles of my life, or my shortcomings. I wanted to just start over.
For whatever reason, I felt that I would like to die and come back as a famous person’s child. Hopefully, I’d still grow up to be a gay man, because let’s be honest, it’s a lot of fun. But, I wanted someone else to have figured out all the hard stuff, and maybe having a charmed life would be better than the life I had lived. And maybe by having the fame and fortune would somehow ease the struggle and pain of life. And there would be no problems for anyone. And somewhere in staring at the engine and pleading that it fail, I fell asleep.
I woke up to the same woman from earlier asking if I wanted anything from the cart. Apparently, I’d passed out for almost two hours. I looked at her and asked for a ginger ale. As she poured it lovingly into a cup of ice for me, I asked, “Can I have some vodka as well, please?”
She looked at me and nodded. Then pushed the cart slightly past my row and moved in and sat next to me.
“Do you think a drink right now is what you need?” At first I couldn’t believe she was asking me. It’s my life and I will drink if I want. As my head said before, what a bitch. But she grabbed my hand and I knew deep in my heart she was just trying to be nice. I’m sure when I got on the plane my eyes were filled with tears as it’s been uncontrollable lately,she noticed. I looked at her, directly into her eyes and saw her kindness. And saw her for the first time. Her eyes were a remarkable shade of blue, lighter than the sky, but not icy. Her graying brownish hair was pulled back neatly into a ponytail, and she had a lot of accents on her uniform. A highly detailed small brooch on her left side, an elegant scarf tied perfectly around her neck, bracelets, and a ring the size of Texas on her finger. Clearly this woman was loved and had style.
“I probably don’t need it right now,” and of course I didn’t, it was eight in the morning. I felt like I did need it, though. And I was somewhat mad that she was asking. She wasn’t my mom.
“Are you ok, honey?” Just the meer question made my eyes sting. I could feel it coming on and couldn’t stop it. She slid her arm around to my opposite shoulder and pulled me in for a hug. I couldn’t believe this woman who I’d just been so cruel to, granted, in my head, was being so kind to me.
“Maddie?” I heard to voice, but couldn’t tell where it came from, but looked up to see Maddie, the woman hugging me, shoo away her colleague with the soda cart, as if to tell her, ‘get away from me, I’m busy.’ And she continued to hold my shoulders until I stopped convulsing. I was mortified that I’d let a complete stranger see me in that state, and even more humiliated that I’d made such a scene on the plane. Once my eyes were clear, I could see everyone looking at me and could feel the burning questions of, “what is going on over there?” Maddie knew I could see everyone staring.
“Pay them no mind, sometimes, you just need to cry it out.” And it all began again. She was so nice to just sit with me and talk. I told her about my Mammaw, and my ex and losing my dog, and she listened patiently. She gave such knowing nods and caressed my hand at just the right moment. And finally she looked at me and sad, “I am so sorry for your loss. It’s a tough road to bear. I have to go back to work, but you need to know this. You are a beautiful soul. I can tell. And sometimes in this world we are given obstacles and challenges that make us stronger. And never forget, the good Lord only gives us that which he thinks we can handle. So, he thinks you are a tough as nails badass.” She hugged me once more and got up to walk away.
I sat in complete and utter shock. I could not believe that someone just gave up their time to sit with me and listen and just let me share my own problems. No one has even been so blatantly kind to me in my life. I looked out the window and gone were the feelings of wanting the plane to crash. I wasn’t feeling one hundred percent better, but I was definitely over the hump of wishing death upon me and a hundred other people that I didn’t know.
A moment later, Maddie returned to my row with cookies, pretzels and a second ginger ale in her hands. She set them down in front of me and said, “Here, honey, these will make you feel better.” I sat back and enjoyed every bit of those treats, and she was right, I did feel better, but it wasn’t the food.