Sometimes it’s easier to think among the hustle and bustle than it is in a dark quiet room. Airports are one of my favorite places to be. I don’t go to the airport unless I’m traveling somewhere new. But when I’m there: I don’t want to be anywhere else. For most people it’s stressful and they just want to get to their destination. But me? I see it as a place to escape. It’s the portal from one destination to the other.
I arrived at the airport extra early so that the lines - though they were still long - didn’t make me stressed because I’m not in a hurry. My insides were jittery because I was excited to be somewhere else. After I got through security, I slowly found my way to my gate, looking at all the possible choices for food on my way. Once I found my gate, I retraced my steps and got in line at a Starbucks to buy myself some coffee and breakfast. I made my way slowly back to my gate and sat down in one of the end chairs. Once I got settled, I pulled out my computer and started writing. New places bring new ideas.
And every time I travel, I go through that same exact routine.
I love the airport. But the airplane itself, not so much. I’ve been scared of planes all my life. So many people have died as the result of a plane crash, that I’m afraid I’ll be one of them. I always try to stay away from planes. I haven’t been on one for three years.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of my phone ringing. I quickly pulled it out of my pocket and read, “Dad would like to FaceTime…” I quickly answered and when my dad came into view I said, “Hold on a sec, Dad!”
I plugged my headphones into my phone and said, “Hey! How are you? How’s Mom doing?”
“Hey, Pumpkin! I’m trying to hold it all together. Your mom’s not doing too good. When will you be here?”
I looked up at the screen by my gate, squinting to read the times. After a minute I looked back at my phone, “We should be boarding in the next couple minutes.”
“Good. She’s trying to hold on so she can see you again. I’m glad you’re coming out. I know it’s hard for you.”
“I know, Dad, but I have to be there for you guys. I want to see her one last time.”
“Well, she’s sleeping right now and she needs as much rest as she can get. But she’s been talking about you nonstop for the last two days. She misses you.”
“Tell her I miss her too. Oh, and I love her.”
“Will do, Darling.”
“We are now boarding for flight 187 to Los Angeles, California.”
I looked over to the desk by the door to the plane and saw a woman speaking into a microphone. She continued to call all those who needed assistance and first class, as I started getting my things packed up.
“Hey, I have to go now, Dad, we’re boarding. I love you so much and I’ll see you all soon.”
“Have a safe flight, Pumpkin. See you soon, love you.”
I hung up and put my phone away, then closed my computer and stored it in my bag. By the time I stood up, it was my turn to board. I grabbed the handle of my bag and held it in front of me, unzipping the front pocket. I started digging around for my ticket. Once I found it, I pulled it out just in time for them to scan it. Once I passed through the door into the cold passageway, I put my ticket back into my bag and zipped it up, carelessly swinging it over my shoulder.
As I entered the plane, I adjusted the strap of my bag on my shoulder, pulling it impossibly closer to myself. It wasn’t very large - somewhere between a backpack and a purse - but it had everything I needed for the weekend. I walked down the small aisle with my eyes up, looking for my number. Mid-way through the small plane I got to it. 12ABC. An elderly lady and a man around my age were already sitting down in the first two seats.
“Mind if I scoot in?” I asked politely.
Both of them looked up at me and nodded before starting to get out of their seats. Once we got settled in, I put my bag beneath the seat in front of me and buckled my seat belt.
“Where is it you’re going with such little luggage, dear?” The elderly woman next to me asked. I looked down at my bag and back up at her before answering.
“Just home to my parents for the weekend. It’s been three years since I last went home. I left right after college graduation.”
“What’s kept you away, if you don't mind me asking?” I smiled to myself, and rolled my eyes a bit. People were always very nosey on planes.
“They visited me, but I couldn’t visit them. I’m deathly afraid of flying. But my mom has grown ill so she can’t travel, and this is the fastest way to get home to her.”
“Ah, well best of luck to you, dear.”
I nodded to her and turned my head so I was looking straight ahead. The plane started backing up, and soon enough we were ready to take off. We started building up speed and I closed my eyes.
“Mommy, I’m scared.”
“It’s okay, baby. Just hold on tight now,” my mom said in a thick southern accent. I remembered the times I had flown with her as a little girl. Always there to comfort me. I felt the front wheels of the plane leave the ground. Then the back. We were off the ground.
“Are you chewing your gum?” Keeping my eyes closed, I reached into my pocket for the packet of gum I kept there every time I flew. I grabbed a piece out and quickly unwrapped it and put it in my mouth.
I grabbed my mom’s hand and she said, “What do we do first?” I raised my right hand and touched my middle finger to my forehead. Then to my chest. Then my left shoulder. And lastly my right. “Good girl.” I folded my hands in front of me and squeezed them as tight as I could.
I opened my eyes only to check my watch. Two hours to go. I closed them once more and tried to take deep breaths in and out. Without warning, I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach of falling. My eyes flung open as a weird siren sound started going off in the plane. People were looking around frantically for answers. Oxygen masks popped out of the ceiling and I jumped. My breathing started getting faster and heavier. I frantically looked around. I tried to stand up. To get out. But my seatbelt pulled me back down into my seat. I jerked my head towards the window and pressed my face against it. We were hurtling towards the ground faster, faster, faster.
I could hear people continued to yell. A little girl had started crying and I could see her mom trying to comfort her. I wish my mom were here, I thought. No one reached for the oxygen masks. Had everyone given up? Some people in front of me were trying to figure out what was happening. My heart continued to race faster and my vision blured. I could already see the ground outside my window as we hurtled down through the clouds. I heard ringing in my ears and the sounds around me became a big blur. This is where it ends.
“Oh baby, I know you’re scared. We’ll be okay. Hum a little song to yourself,” my mom said to calm me down. She started singing a song from one of our favorite musicals. “Finding Neverland,” I whispered out loud.
“When your feet don’t touch the ground,
And your voice won’t make a sound
Here it’s safe, in this place
Above the clouds”
I quietly began humming, trying to ignore how close we were getting to the ground below us and how fast we were going. I was slowly rocking my body back and forth. I had my eyes closed as tight as they could be. My hands were clutched in front of me. I was holding them together so tight that I could feel my nails puncturing the flesh on my palms. I tried as hard as I could to imagine my mom’s hands in mine. I felt a steady stream of tears running down my cheeks and falling onto my hands.
“When your feet don’t touch the Earth
You can’t feel the things that hurt
And you’re free
There’s no need to come down.”
I thought about my mom. About how much I have always needed her. About how safe she always made me feel. We did everything together. Everything.
"When your feet don’t touch the ground.
When your feet don’t touch the ground.
When your feet don’t -”