Even if I didn't have my nacrolepsy under control by that point, I thought I knew what I was doing—I thought I could manage the flight and two plane changes. It was 1979, and I was on my way from Madrid to Los Angeles. I'd always wanted to go to California and I'd saved up money for a year.
The trip began fine. I made the flight from Madrid to New York City and I made it through customs. It wasn't like I was carrying anything illegal, but I did feel badly that I'd not told anyone on the flight—passengers or an attendant—that I had been prone to falling asleep unwillingly and at random parts of the day. But I'd been self-medicating with a variety of homeopathic herbs I'd gotten from an ex-boyfriend, and things had been going okay for months.
I don't know if it was flying itself, some kind of ear imbalance, or just stress (the good kind of stress, mind you) that brought it on, but somewhere between New York City and Chicago, I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I was still on the plane. I assumed we would be landing in Chicago soon. I looked at my watch, however, and it was an hour after we should have landed. Outside the window it was all gray. I thought maybe we had been delayed.
"Did they say when we'll arrive in Chicago?" I asked my seatmate, a large man I'd not recalled sitting there.
"Chicago?" he said, "we'd better not be going to Chicago, I've got a meeting in Houston tonight."
After that, I'm pretty sure he called me "little lady" or "honey bunch"—he did have a charming Texan accent—but I was in shock...until I realized what had probably happened: the plane had landed in Chicago and then re-departed for Houston.
Luckily, the ticket agent in Houston was half-Mexican and spoke Spanish. I told her about my narcolepsy and she tried to help. There was nothing left to Los Angeles, but she was able to book me on a flight to San Francisco on stand-by. It was still California, so I said yes.
I made it to San Francisco thanks to four cups of coffee in-flight. My luggage, though, never made it. Or rather it must have flew on to Los Angeles, but the airline never sent it to me and I never went to pick it up.
It was no matter. When I reached a hotel in Golden Gate Park, I decided I didn't need whatever it was I had packed. I decided that my inadvertent sleep on the plane had been a sign. The next morning I walked into the Haight-Ashbury area and bought new clothes, hippie clothes. Counterculture in the U.S. may have been on the wane, but I'd come from Spain where our dictator Generalissimo Franco had kept everything "in order" until he'd died only a few years earlier.
My nacrolepsy continued, despite the new "homeopathic" herbs I began taking with a new boyfriend, on and off for years. But I learned to live with it and was even a bit sad some years ago when I had my last episode. That narcoleptic sleep somewhere over the middle of the U.S. is the reason I'm still in Northern California.
Rita de Costa lives and works in Berkeley, California.