I was about to push faster than the speed of sound, something the human body was not designed to endure. Especially mine. Only twenty, I weighed 100 pounds and focused on staying skinny, breastless, and amenorrheic. They fit me with a G-suit which would inflate and squeeze my thighs and abdomen, pushing blood to my brain while in flight and pulling Gs, preventing me from passing out. I did this because I had been awarded an “incentive flight” on the F-111 while stationed with the US Air Force at RAF Upper Heyford.

They asked if I had any neck or head injuries. I lied. The military culture at the time was to remain unbroken. If you happened to be fragile in any capacity, you never showed it. They deemed me fit for departure once I signed pages of waivers stating that I was in perfect health, able in body and mind, and would not sue the Air Force if I died.

I tried not to think about the flight as I geared up because I didn’t want to chicken out. I climbed the ladder and strapped in, feeling both secure and trapped. Unlike most fighter aircraft, the F-111 crew sat side-by-side instead of front-to-back. Once I harnessed, the pilot boarded, placing a thermos of coffee in his cup holder.

“You have time for a beverage while driving this thing?” I asked, not considering how he could take a sip at the rate we’d be traveling. This jet could pull three, sometimes four, Gs and I began to question if this was a good idea. I knew that pilots died more in training than in combat.

Once cleared for take-off, I couldn’t turn back. We taxied and it felt like we were airborne in about three seconds. Then up. High and fast. The ground looked small, speckled. We flew to a training zone and the pilot asked if I wanted to have some fun. I gave a thumbs up, feeling brave. We dipped, maybe as low as 500 feet above the ground and I looked to the instruments to note our speed, 480 knots, about 550 miles per hour. We were in a valley and the periphery flashed and blurred into olive green mixed with gray.

I could feel the suit’s pressure as the jet sped. My face stretched across my skull and flattened onto the seat behind me, like a bad ride at the fairgrounds. I worried about early-onset wrinkles and bags swelling beneath my eyes. The compression of the suit and the rate of acceleration made me feel as if I weighed 400 pounds. My vision dimmed like a lens closing on a camera. And then I remembered.

I remembered how heaviness had haunted me the first time my stepfather laid on top of me, a big man, just over six feet and 230 pounds, all in the belly. I remembered how his skin felt slimy and his tongue, pushed into my mouth, felt like an eel, or at least what I imagined an eel would feel like. I remembered the stark pain as my skin and insides tore when he entered me and I thought to myself, only a small girl at the time, just beginning school, that the bleeding would most likely never stop. The tension tightened around my abdomen and my mouth filled with vomit. Tears streamed back, into my hairline instead of down my face.

“You doing all right?” the pilot asked.

“Couldn’t be better,” I said, swallowing puke. I breathed hard, realizing I hadn’t glanced out the windscreen for some time. We drifted over the white cliffs of Dover, no longer whizzing, more like sailing and I felt like God pulled me through the sky, pulling me through the haze. I felt jealous of the heavy British clouds that looked like they were always ready to weep. They didn’t mind feeling massive and they didn’t mind letting it all go.

I looked over at the pilot eating brownies.

“I didn’t bother with a full lunch since this is a short sortie,” he said.

I laughed. Contained and untouchable and as if, for once, I felt safe, held in this small space speeding through the sky.


Rebecca Evans has poems and essays published in fine journals like The Rumpus, Entropy, and War, Literature & the Arts. An Air Force veteran with eight years on active duty, she earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Sierra Nevada University. She lives in Idaho with her three sons.

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