June 18th, 2011
It was 1994. My flying phobia filled every part of me, but it was Christmas and I wanted to go home for the holidays. A few weeks before I decided to fly to San Francisco from Chicago, a plane corkscrewed into a midwestern farm field with hundreds of people aboard and I couldn’t sleep for hours each night while I imagined how those passengers felt as they spiraled to their deaths. One phrase you don’t want to say to a fearful flier? “Corkscrew into the ground.”
I envisioned this doomed plane again and again and used it as a reason to put off making my own travel reservations, but soon enough the time came to make the phone call and buy my tickets. I came really close to booking my tickets with each call to the United customer service rep. I’d ask about the plane model, years in service, pilot, and propensity for crashing. As you can imagine, I was put on hold a lot. Then, I’d make my reservation and call an hour later to change it because I had a bad “feeling.” Still, given all that, I managed to book a flight and my tickets arrived in the mail. I didn’t look at them again until I was on my way to the airport to board my airplane.
When it came time to leave Chicago, my friend drove me to O’Hare in blinding snow. Another thing not to say to a fearful flier? “Blinding snow.” I obsessed the entire ride about de-icing and drunk pilots and slippery runways and very nearly did not get on that airplane, but I did, I did.
And it was the worst flight ever.
You know those flights? Bumpy, sudden altitude losses, the spooky turbulence over the Rockies? To normal people, all that might be par for the course, but for me, I cowered in my seat, raising my head only to ask the flight attendants if we were all going to die. I literally held on for dear life with clammy hands and a sweating brow pressed to the seat in front of me for four hours. I had to pee, I had to puke, I had to re-evaluate my whole life and promise God I would be good if he’d just let me live.
Finally, finaaalllly, it was time to land at the San Francisco airport, and guess what? Apparently a Nor’easter had blown into town because GOOD GOD the choppiness of that landing will forever haunt me. I exited the plane vowing to never fly again, and my dad picked me up at baggage claim a beaten and weary woman. Lord love that teasy man, he couldn’t help himself as he asked my green face devilishly, “How was your flight?” knowing full well he’d probably have to drive me back to Chicago when my vacation was over.
Little by little over the next 10 days, I released my flight terror in shaky recollections of possible corkscewy death. Still, my parents thought maybe, just maybe, they could coax me back on a plane for the return flight home if they just kept repeating to me, “Flying is safer than driving, flying is safer than driving, flying is safer than driving.” You know those things people tell other people who are scared to death of raising up in the air in a steel tube? They don’t work. All we see is fire and exploding brains.
But it couldn’t be avoided: I HAD to get back home to Chicago. So after much coaxing and prodding and convincing, my parents dropped me off at the Greyhound bus station. That’s right. I took a bus back to Chicago. From San Francisco. You know those crazy things scared people do to avoid confronting their phobias? They work. After a hellraising (corkscrewy) bus ride down the mountain to Reno in an ice storm, and a near miss with a serial killer at one of the several bus stations where we pit-stopped, I somehow made it back to Chicago FOUR DAYS later.
That’ll cure a fearful flier. Because one phrase to say someone afraid of getting on a plane? “Communal bus bathroom.”
This is in response to this week’s PROMPTuesday.