A Long-Winded Journey

There are, in my opinion, two types of people in this world: those who enjoy flying in planes, and those who would rather embark on a long and arduous 27-hour train ride than strap oneself into the narrow passenger seats of a Boeing 747.  Time and time again, I find myself grouped with the latter.  I am not ashamed of my fear for flying; my younger brother consistently tells me that I have more of a chance dying in a car accident than a plane crash, but as he hopes to jump out of planes for a living (the mere thought of skydiving is enough to make me break out into a sweat), he happens to be a little biased.

I wasn't always so petrified at the thought of flying—or pathetic—but as is often the case with many life-altering events, my special day came to be on April 16, 2007, and my fear found the soil it needed to take root.

My mother, best friend and I departed from Boston's Logan International Airport early in the morning; we were headed for Washington, D.C. to check out a few of the universities.  Thick, heavy rainclouds hung in the sky, blotting out the sun.  From my window seat (row 12), I watched as sheets of rain poured onto the plane's wing, cascading over the edge like a waterfall.  I propped open The Canterbury Tales, intent on beginning my memorization of the first 50 lines for my English class.  As it was, I barely listened to the pilot as he greeted us over the loudspeakers.  My friend, Keri, took out a notebook, which she began writing in, and from across the narrow aisle, I heard my mom talking with the woman beside her.  Something about gardens and the foul weather.

There was no lead up to that first bout of turbulence.  One minute I was attempting to sound out the words of Chaucer in my butchered version of Middle English, and the next moment the plane dropped.  The drop could have easily been two hundred feet as ten, but my stomach knew no differently.  It roiled, it heaved, and my book fell to my feet when I gripped the armrests.

"It's fine," Keri said, but she, too, had her right hand on the seat in front of her and the left wrapped tightly around her armrest.  

I risked a quick look out the small oval window: we were eclipsed by the rolling gray clouds.  The plane jerked to the right, dipped down and then, five brutal seconds later, straightened out again.  A baby bellowed out an ear-splitting cry a few rows back.  Wordlessly I glanced at my mother; she was fiddling with the black beads of her prayer bracelet, eyes squeezed shut. 

Before I had the chance to say anything, the ding of the seat-belt sign went off and the pilot's voice came through.  "It seems that we are experiencing a bit of"—the plane swayed, bouncing up and down like our own personal roller coaster—"turbulence."  There was a slight pause, a hesitance that seemed overwhelmingly loud.  I closed my eyes, counted to ten, and tried to calm my breathing.  I wasn't scared of flying, not really.

"Fuck!" someone behind me swore.  

I agreed wholeheartedly.  I wasn't made for this.  I wasn't prepared . . . I slammed the window shut next to me, returned my hand to its death grip around the armrest.  I wouldn't be surprised if it snapped in half, my hold on it was so tight.

The pilot's voice came again, more frantic than previously.  "Please," he began, "would all flight attendants return to their seats at this time."  Not a moment passed before a flight attendant scurried by; her pace was hindered by the rocking of the plane, and she was forced to stumble from row to row, seat to seat, grasping each individual headrest so that she didn't lose her footing.  I burrowed further into my own seat, sliding down so far that my knees brushed the seat in front of me.  I pressed the heels of my hands against my closed eyes and prayed.  I alternately prayed for life and death, at once wishing that I would survive, while at the same time wishing that it all would just end.  I prayed for someone to miss me after I met my maker, and at some point, even prayed for the opportunity to eat crab ragoons just one more time.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I am very"—another jerk of the plane—"sorry about this.  If you would please . . . ."  

"Is he crying?" Keri hissed.

I slid further down in my seat.  "Oh, my God."

"We should be arriving shortly, but I would suggest that you make any phone calls at this time."

In actuality, we arrived twenty minutes later at Reagan International Airport with all the sort of hoopla and excitement any real celebration required.  Everyone burst into applause, crying, laughing, all in all too relieved that the plane had landed to take much notice of anything else.  Cell phones were whipped out of pockets, backpacks, purses, and while the pilot wearily welcomed us to Washington, D.C, and all I could hear were the joyous sounds of people talking to loved ones.

For five years, I have replayed the entire flight from Boston to D.C over and over again in my head.  I have repeated the story to such an extent that, while I don't remember the precise feeling of helplessness that inhabited my body, I now allow the miserable memory to dodge my step every time I even think about boarding a plane.  

As my brother once lovingly reminded me, statistics prove that plane is safer than a car.  I think it's safe to say that I'll take a car any day.


Maria Pinheiro is a recent graduate of Loyola University New Orleans. She has been published in Loyola's Student Historical Journal, NOLAfreepress.com, and Teen Ink Magazine. She is currently working on a fiction manuscript, and can be found on mialkmini.blogspot.com.

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