Tuesday, April 07, 2009

airborne

Two tortured hours hurtling through a thunderstorm ended my air time in 1972. It was a Conoco jet, a 12 seater, and the only way I lived through that terrifying flight was to sit up front with the pilots. Commercial airlines frown on that. I quit flying.

I had not been a cheerful flyer before, but after two straight hours of thinking I was going to die, while lightning flashed and thunder boomed, as the plane tipped and tilted, I was a firmly earthbound and glad of it.

I tested it once more in 1987. Fifteen years after giving up flying, I headed to Houston with a rowdy band of drunks, all of us off to an AA conference.

The trip down was hideous, my only comfort coming from reassuring the anxious guy next to me everything was going to be okay. He had started in Montreal and was on his way to Chile. We white knuckled each other's arms for the 600 miles to Houston.

The AA conference was a wash. I could only think of the return trip. Once we lifted off, it did occur to me, as my heart pounded without ceasing, as my hands trembled and my palms perspired, that it was quite a miracle, this being in one place and then another far away, in just 90 minutes.

I don't know what made me agree to the trip to Mexico three years ago. It was April when I did it. It was a family thing. Everyone had to go. Mike had been so sick. Whatever it was, I agreed in April to fly to Mazatlan in November. Fool.

November rolled around and, desperate, I picked a fight with my husband Saturday afternoon, hoping we could get a divorce and I wouldn't have to fly Monday morning. Worst fight we ever had two days before takeoff. The end result? "I'm not going to Mexico. You just go without me."

Alas, I was too early. I should have waited until Sunday evening. By Sunday afternoon, we'd kissed and made up and the flight loomed, ever more frightful, 16 hours ahead.

I couldn't sleep. At 5:00 am, my legs were already trembling in the cab ride on the way to the airport. I popped 20 mg of valium, which lifted the anxiety a fraction, but the stark raving terror was still there, like a wild thing, threatening to turn me into a crazy screaming lunatic at any moment.

Deep breathing, a prayer or ten, my husband's smile and my iron grip on his knee allowed me to survive takeoff. I was airborne after 19 years. It was terrifying. Absolutely frightful.

And then we were leveled out and the cabin was full of cheerful folks drinking coffee, reading the paper. There was a tight, secure feeling in the way the plane cut through the air. The sun peeked over the horizon, making a golden ribbon there, and then a full blown glorious display of gold. I took a deep breath and consciously relaxed. It was going to be okay. It was.

It still is. I'm easily airborne now and grateful for the miracle of flight. I still can't get over the magic of standing on the beach in Florida at 10 a.m. and taking a nap in my very own bed that afternoon. I don't know where the fear went, it just vanished. I used valium for the flight back and then I was over it.

Have you ever had a fear you thought you couldn't get over, then you did? Tell, please.

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15 Comments:

Blogger Lily's Mommy said...

I don't know if this counts but I used to be terrified of bugs. I didn't want to touch them to get them out of the house. Then I went to live in Australia for a year. Cockroaches everywhere. At work one day, a roach scurried out from between some old sheets of paper. I screamed and leaped (leapt?) backwards. An older lady nearby said very calmly "all god's creatures" and then crushed it to goo.

That's my battle cry now. I'm not really sure why this works for me and you have to say it with an accent. :)

I still don't like heights, which I think is a good evolutionary strategy (not a phobia).

April 07, 2009 10:14 PM  
Blogger Dusty said...

Fear of heights, spiders, insects in general..I could write a whole book on irrational fears I have. ;)

April 07, 2009 10:16 PM  
Blogger jenX67 said...

i hope one day to claim no fear of mother in laws. one down, one to go.

April 07, 2009 10:31 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

We've already been through this...I'm not a good flyer either...not since 9/11 actually...someday, I'll have to suck it up to get back to Mexico!

April 08, 2009 12:00 AM  
Anonymous ewe said...

20mg. of Valium. I would have been out like a light. I had a heart attack in 1999 and all i kept saying to myself in the hospital bed was " Fuck.... I am not going to die of AIDS, i am going to fucking die of a fucking heart attack." I got over the fear of not living and of not planning. I am no longer on automatic pilot. It was enlightening.

April 08, 2009 12:07 AM  
Anonymous ewe said...

oh. In 1989 i jumped out of a plane to find out the meaning of life. I found no meaning. It was fun though.

April 08, 2009 12:11 AM  
Blogger evilganome said...

I'm still a white knuckle flyer. I'll get on the plane, but I never enjoy it.

I am actually trying to get over my fear of water and want to take swimming lessons. I don't imagine it will be a particularly enjoyable time, but I am hoping it will make one less thing to waste my time on being afraid of.

April 08, 2009 4:48 PM  
Blogger Other Mother said...

I used to fear my mother's disappointment. I don't know if anyone knows the kind of fiery red-head my mother is. She was also raised by a fiery red-head - chain-smoker, journalist-born-too-soon, member of John Birch Society who used to grill me from her position at the dining room table: [takes long drag of cigarette] "So, what are you gonna do when you grow up?" I was terrified, I was 8.
And so, my mother, raised by that woman who never wanted to become that woman, became a version of that woman, minus the cigs.
I kept my girlfriend a secret. For 3 years, she was my wonderful room-mate whom my mother LOVED. And then, she became my wife, and all hell broke loose.
It wasn't until we had kids that the fucking shit hit the fan - Prop. 8, her activism, my 3 year old's new questions. And I decided that I loved my children light years more than I wanted her respect. And that was that. I wasn't afraid anymore.

April 08, 2009 8:11 PM  
Blogger Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

As a child, I had what I suspect was an unusual fear of death. I think it was rooted in my conviction that I had some kind of assignment to complete on this planet, and that I had not even begun it. Maybe I didn't like death's lack of definition or my inability to control it. I'm still not sure what was at the root of the fear. A few years ago, I realized it was gone. Now I don't fear death, but I'd regret its overtaking me any time soon. Why did that fear evaporate? Finding my voice? Making a partnership work? Leaving the workplace? Shedding the need to collect things? Doing the "me" I was meant to be? Forgetting how to make small talk? Who knows. Like Kitty Carlyle said about getting old, "Every fifteen minutes, it's breakfast!" No one understands that line who is not yet there. I understand it perfectly, even though I can't quite explain it. Maybe next year.

April 08, 2009 10:27 PM  
Blogger David said...

I honestly can't say that any of my old fears have been defeated. Muted perhaps, but none have been conquered.

April 10, 2009 12:05 PM  
Blogger NewMe said...

Your question hit me suddenly. At first, I thought of my fear of dogs as a child, small fears like that, and then suddenly, I knew: I'm afraid to fail. I'm the woman who's generally admired, looked up to (despite my small stature), envied for her accomplishments, but actually, I'm often imagining myself failing.

Thanks for asking the question, Lynette, although my answer scares me...

April 10, 2009 4:34 PM  
Blogger more cowbell said...

Hmm, well, I'm still scared of heights, and I have a really big fear of not having a decent retirement and either having to work 'til i'm 90 or contracting some kind of illness/disability where I won't be able to work. Those fears are still there. I'd feel better in a socialist society, but shh, don't tell the RightWingers!

I used to have a strong fear of being a single mom, divorce scared the bejeezus out of me. But then, suddently, 14 years ago, I was. And it was hard and scary at first, but I was fine. Now? I have a fear of marriage. Ha!

April 11, 2009 9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a fear that Obama will win a second term.

April 11, 2009 11:07 PM  
Blogger Willym said...

Well as you know I share that fear of flying. I worked for an airline for 33 years - I traveled around the world for both pleasure and work - sometimes a short 30 minute hop other times 18 hours locked in a metal tube at 33,000 feet. I was never comfortable but when I was younger I controlled the desire to stand up and scream "We're all going to die!" when we hit rough weather. As I got older it became worse and for some reason on a perfectly calm flight from Amman to Montreal it reached its apex - I would not get on the short flight from Montreal to Ottawa, after 14 hours in the air I took the bus!

I do fly now but only after taking my little pink pill - its the only one I can take without water, hows that for mind over matter? I guess I'll never overcome that fear at this stage of my life so I'll just grip the arm of the seat and bear it.

April 24, 2009 2:11 AM  
Blogger Kevin Roddy said...

Spiders...not a fear so much as a dread.

I've always respected them - never killed them, just let them be...did you know that we all are never more than 3-5 feet from a spider...in airplanes they might have a web under the seat you are in...

For a reference class as a graduate student in Library School, I did a big research project on...spiders. Spider biology. Spider lore. Spider stories, spiders in anthropology all over the world. How other cultures perceive them.

From that moment on, had an unbinding love of them. Really.

I think I could even have a tarantula stand on my hand.

I think.

July 28, 2009 4:53 PM  

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