“Elyse, do something.”
Lana was annoyed with me. She was leaning back in her seat, relaxed and reading War and Peace for the fiftieth time. My knuckles were white from clutching the arm rests. I was sitting straight up in my seat, tense. I had been staring at the side of her face since we took off. I was looking for any sort of sign that our airplane was in fact going to crash.
Lana is fearless. The idea of dying doesn’t scare her, and she has a sense for adventure that I don’t. She has been all over the world, once going to Shanghai to shop for the weekend. Her independence and fearlessness are merely two of the many things I admire about her. We often go on trips together and make good travel partners. She once told me my strengths while traveling are my easy going nature, no need for a schedule and my willingness to get drunk at any time*. However, my fear of flying is a giant weakness.
I have always been a nervous flyer. I also suffer from occasional anxiety, which is not so occasional when it comes to flying. It comes out in full force. The butterflies start a few days in anticipation of the flight and then as I step into the airport, the irrational thoughts start. And unlike Lana, dying scares the crap out of me. I have a great life, and it makes me sad that one day it will all come to an end. So when it does happen, I want it to be fast. Unfortunately, on a plane, I imagine there is at least thirty seconds to think about the inevitable as the plane plummets and twirls to the ground – or worse, the seat comes loose and I free-fall buckled in, wind in my face, praying I have a heart attack prior to peeing myself.
“Did you hear that?”
She looked at me with a frown on her face. “Hear what? The plane engine adjusting as we get to 10,000 feet – yes. Nothing is going to happen. Now please do something besides staring at me.”
“I didn’t bring anything to do.”
“What do you mean?” she asked with increased annoyance.
“My iPod is dead and I didn’t bring a book. Besides, I can’t relax. I’m scared.”
“Elyse, there is nothing to worry about – we’re going to be fine. The stewardess is almost to us, order a glass of wine. You’ll feel better.” I knew she was right.
I settled back in my seat pretending to relax a little. I stared ahead attempting to distract my thoughts. I created lists of the things we were going to do once we landed in Quebec City. We were going to the Winter Carnaval for five days. We had a list of things we wanted to do – dogsledding, dinners at nice restaurants, see the ice hotel, sit in hot tubs outside and more. I couldn’t wait to be there.
I shifted my focus to the stewardess. She looked so happy. I couldn’t imagine being a flight attendant for a living. I would be a wreck at all times. I focused on her smile to lessen the nervous knots in my stomach. I couldn’t wait to have a few sips of wine. I could feel the flush of my face as my nerves continued to pulse through my body. I looked over at Lana again; she was absorbed in her book. She is always at peace on planes.
“Lana? Will you promise me something?”
“Sure, what is it?”
“Will you promise to hold my hand if the plane goes down?” She smiled at the ridiculousness of my question.
“Of course, Elyse, I’ll hold your hand if we start to crash. You’re my little sister, and I love you. But until then, please don’t touch me.” I unconsciously moved my arm from the rest between us turning to look out the window letting my mind wander.
I thought of the Wright brothers and what crazy sons of bitches they must have been. It seems so unnatural to fly around in something heavy, giant and steel. Yet, their intuition was right. Not only was it possible, it turned out to be the safest mode of transportation. Even so, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to relax on a plane on my own.
Thank God for wine.
*Lana and I went to New York City in 2006. It was my first time so I had a lot of things I wanted to see. It was a cold, snowy weekend. After a few hours of walking around Times Square, we wandered a few blocks to a bar for a late lunch and drinks. It turned into a five hour break of debauchery hanging out with locals. Lana’s college friends that lived there had planned a surprise dinner for the two of us. I had drank so much at that point, I didn’t even order my own food. I picked at the green beans on Lana’s plate before announcing I was going home – twenty minutes into dinner. I don’t know what time Lana arrived back at the hotel but neither does she. The next morning we lay in bed giggling, recounting the night and looking for Lana’s phone, which she had lost. We still talk about that trip, and it’s not Times Square or the dinners or even seeing Wicked that we talk about the most; it’s the lunch break that turned into a true New York adventure.