No, I am not talking about Erica Jong’s iconic book, but “Fear of Turbulence” makes a lousy title and “Fear of crashing into the Earth after a 37,000 foot free fall” is too long. I actually haven’t reached cruising altitude yet, so the panic in my voice, figuratively speaking, is genuine and raw. I am hoping that the Bonine Raspberry Flavored Chewable Meclinzine, which “works four hours longer” kicks in soon. Four hours longer than what, I’m not sure? It doesn’t really matter how long it lasts, because it arrived late and I was fully conscious for take off. So I am scared, pissed, and unfortunately conscious. I am weighing the cost of a Scotch induced coma vs. the inevitable migraine I get if I have more than one drink. I think the only thing keeping me from ordering a drink is that it is a 6:00 a.m. flight and the passenger two seats away from me has the distinct look of a social worker fresh out of school. I really don’t want amateur counseling right now (that’s my job!). The truth is, if I talked about the genesis of my fear the young woman two rows down thumbing through the DSM-V (the social workers bible) might just start pouring us both a few shots if Glenn Fidditch.
I was flying out of Naples, Florida about 16 years ago, on my way back to New York. We had barely gotten over the Everglades when the plane dropped vertically for about three seconds. My head hit the ceiling, hard. Even the stewardess screamed. To this day I don’t know what happened because the pilot never came on to explain things or acknowledge that we had just plummeted out of the sky. After the sudden loss of altitude, we hit some hard air and somehow started moving forward rather than downward. Ten minutes after the fall we flew into clouds that seemed to stay with this all the way to LaGaurdia. It was rough going all the way back to New York, big shifts in every direction as we flew through industrial strength turbulence. I think the worst part of it was the limbo of flying threw clouds, with no frame of reference. I’m not sure when I decided I was going to die, but I think it was somewhere over Georgia. In my mind I started saying good-bye. I heard other people crying around me. As I was mentally saying good-bye to the people I loved, my mind wondered to my cat. My mind fastened on to her. She was purring to me and, in cat talk, telling me that it was all okay. That death was not the end. Lady, my cat, could be very convincing when she wanted to be, even in my fear induced fantasies. I found that when I thought of her, I became calm.
When we landed at LaGaurdia the young woman who had been sitting behind me said a very tearful and sincere “thank you” to me. I wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about, it took me a few minutes to put it all together. I had been sitting on an aisle seat and at some point during the flight she had gripped my bicep. She held my arm the entire flight. Back in the early 1990’s it was fashionable among urban Afro-Americans women to wear very ornate fake fingernails. The young woman who sat behind me had drawn blood with her gold leaf and fake diamond studded nails. I never felt a thing, I was deep in my own fear. I hadn’t even realized she had gripped my arm until she let go as the plane pulled up to the gate. It took more than a week for the bruises on my right arm to fade.