Another Ativan, because at this point we know one, two, even three – even 5mg though they be – were not going to help. Forgotten were the doctor’s dosing directions and warnings; my rational mind had long since fled. Waiting to take off, my two new friends had settled in for the long flight, foolishly thinking they could read and listen to their iPods undisturbed. They had no idea the pre-flight panic movie that’s always available in my head had started, and I grabbed the armrests as I prepared to spiral into all-consuming fear. It’s the same Lifetime Made-for-TV movie that runs on a continuous loop anytime I fly:
Mysterious bumps and thumps as the plane’s engines begin to malfunction; then terror on the faces of the cabin crew as they realize what’s about to happen; the plane careening towards the ground at lightning speed, no time to do anything but scream and pray for my children. The fiery crash in which no one survives. The charred remains as investigators and coroners with solemn faces identify the bodies. My children, motherless and alone in this big, scary world. Their mother, played by the great Sandra Bullock, gone forever.
Sometimes, having a vast imagination is crippling. This was one of those times. The tiny anti-anxiety pills were no match for my limitless flights of what-if’s and Sandra’s Oscar-worthy performance.
The silent torture of being in the plane, strapped in and waiting for take-off – and inevitable death – was too much to bear. As the engines roared to life and we rolled towards doom, I tried to calm down. I really did try hard, but it was seemingly impossible to stop the unending torrent of tragic thoughts. The only way through it was sleep, or, more specifically, the deep, dark sleep of unconsciousness. Though it had hardly been a half an hour since the last one, I swallowed another tablet as we took off and the truth smacked me in the face – it’s too late now, we’re in the air. We’ll never survive. Panic, pain, death. It’s all imminent. I clutched a mass of stress-relieving putty John had given me to help with panic attacks (surprisingly, I get nervous about things on the ground, too). Since Bryan’s arm was not available for clinging, I squished the sparkly blue goo between my fingers, frantically rolling it into a ball then flattening it again, over and over. I find, when you’re about to die a painful death, rolling putty in your hands is nice.
Since converting to Catholicism seemed to work on the flight to Seattle, I quickly crossed myself and prayed my mashed up version of the Hail Mary and the Our Father, the names of which I only know from movies and hearing the priest assign them as punishment during a confessional. Still, they had worked for the first flight, along with a few half-hearted promises thrown it, so I went for it with all the zeal of a Born Again Christian. Or someone who’s just recently given up smoking. I assumed God was ok with the remix, since I whispered it fiercely with eyes screwed shut and with intense sincerity. The gentlemen on either side of me noticed my silent histrionics and very sweetly asked if I was ok. Almost immediately, they regretted it. Both tried to tell me flying is safer than driving. So thankful was I for their ministrations, that I spit out, “Fuck that, driving keeps me on the ground. Flying takes me 35,000 feet up in the air. That’s completely unnecessary. And now, if something happens, I can’t just open a door and tuck and roll to safety. If something happens – we fucking die!” They didn’t share my view or enjoy my savory language.
The one on my right was young, probably about 25 with his whole life ahead of him. I allowed myself a moment to mourn his family’s loss as I ruminated over our imminent deaths. They probably had high hopes for him. Maybe he was the first kid to go to college. Maybe he’s going home after securing investors for his new business, the one that will change the world. His mother will be devastated, obviously, but his dad will keep it inside. He’ll only clutch his son’s Little League baseball cap while he cries silently in secret, alone in his dead son’s dark bedroom at night. The young man, who’s parents are planning a big congratulatory party for him in my head, tried to talk to me, but I could only see his mother’s face as she hears the news. Not surprisingly, he found my sobbing and mono-syllabic conversation uninteresting and quickly returned to his somewhat startling array of iProducts. I didn’t blame him; I wouldn’t talk to me.
The man to my left was about my age, early forties, with a wife waiting for him at home, bless her heart. He smiled a little when he briefly mentioned her, before asking if I was married. Ignoring my sniffling and halting speech, he, unlike the young man to my right, pressed on and attempted conversation. While he speculated on my situation, my thoughts strayed to his wife, the Little Woman snug in their re-financed split-level, perhaps wearing that unusual apron/nightgown combo known as a “housecoat” while unbeknownst to her, her husband plunges to his death. She might have been making meatloaf or paying bills with HGTV in the background when the plane went down in flames. She has no idea she’ll never be able to open up their space and have the sight lines they so desperately need. Not with him, anyway. I had to drag myself away from thinking about her tragedy, and how pretty she’d look at his funeral, and tried to concentrate on him as he brought the conversation back to himself, seeing as how I was not forthcoming with details of my own life. He traveled often for business, he said. What that business was, I could not say. I only hoped it offered life insurance or a pension his widow could live comfortably on until she remarries his boss, who owns a mid-century modern ranch with white kitchen cabinets and granite countertops. We live in hope.
My new friend is a Christian, and tried to explain that fear and faith cannot co-exist. If I have faith, he posits, then I know God has a plan and I should rejoice in that. Simple. “Don’t worry, just Give it to God!” he shouted almost gleefully at me, and for a split second I wondered if their home is big enough for the Wednesday evening prayer meetings, and if there is a framed print in the living room, commanding “Give it to God!” in hand-stenciled lettering.
“Okay,” I argued, my words slurred, my breath reeking of death and overdose, “let’s say God does have a plan for me, and He has put me on this plane. I don’t particularly like this plan, as He obviously means to kill me off, in a death-by-fiery crash scenario.”
Thus began a mostly one-sided discussion of faith, how God works, etc, as the Ativan finally took hold, and images of baseball caps, split-levels and housecoats and pilots with long white robes and beards began swimming through the muck in my head. I had unknowingly commenced my rapid descent into oblivion, much to my eventual relief and my companion’s dismay.
Just as I started to feel the slightest twinges of blessed overdose and knew sleep was on the horizon, the beautiful, bewitching flight attendant came around to take our drink orders. She was lovely, a vision in navy and grey. I’d never seen a more beautiful creature. Pretty sure she was a blonde. She looked like an angel, clutching her huge, industrial-molded plastic trolley, asking again and again if I wanted anything as I just stared at her and tried to blink. I shook my head when I realized she was talking to me. She may have appeared impatient to casual onlookers, but to me, she was raising her voice simply to help me understand her better. She was not annoyed, she was enunciating. “Yes, wine! Bring us wine!” came a thick voice from somewhere in my brain. Transfixed by this vision in a poly-blend uniform that couldn’t possibly look good on anyone else, I wholeheartedly subscribed to the theory that NOTHING goes better with Ativan than alcohol, despite the FDA warnings and much evidence to the contrary. I marveled at the dexterity with which this charming – and dare I say it, glowing – flight attendant poured our drinks. I wanted to be her. Not like her, but actually her, enveloped and enclosed in her ethereal body. She flowed like mercury and I felt certain she would pour through my fingers if I tried to touch her. She handed the wine to me, and I just knew it was a magic elixir. My new best friend was all smiles as he helped me hold my plastic cup of red grapey goodness. Like the angelic air hostess, my Brother in Christ began to assume a beatific glow, and I was mesmerized by him, too. “Why,” I mused, as I stared slack-jawed at him, “they were sent to help me. Aw, bless.” And darkness descended. – excerpted from the essay “Vegetable Lasagne” by Heather Idell, copyright 2017