Pilots call them “aborted take offs.”
Things just don’t line up right; breaks are hastily applied bringing a huge mass to an abrupt halt, just before nosing skyward. Just in case.
This happened to me today. I just couldn’t line up myself up and make it all work.
I tried. I tried very hard. I analyzed all of the data and made every preparation that I could. I believed that I was going somewhere. I sat in the darkness, alone at my own helm, touching upon every resource that I had and they weren’t enough. I just couldn’t make it happen. I could not make myself move.
People depended on me and I just came to a stop.
I have had quite a touch of flight phobia these past few years. I have missed a wedding because of it, driven from the asshole to the nose of the east coast just to escape the banking and bumping of winged uncertainty.
It wasn’t always this way. I used to have a drink; put on my headset and wonder how much longer it would be before I could do it all over again. At one time my airline of choice (Pakistani International Airways –best veggie meals ever-) was staffed by pilots that came on board smoking and wearing keffiyehs. I sat in the tail section and smoked and watched the planes shadow sweep across the decks of unknown ships and chalky sweeps of ice. I watched the rocky coastline of the British Isles smack against the most stunning green land I have ever seen, and then fall into the frothing mouth of The North Atlantic. The pilot would occasionally say, "We will be landing in Frankfurt in 20 minutes -if God wills it- thank you, and please enjoy whats left of your flight."
Not even two weeks ago I found myself clutching the armrests on the way to and from New Orleans, thinking that I had mastered it again. That I would fill up my orange suitcase and take my family everywhere.
And here I am today, lonelier than I have ever been in my life because my family had to leave without me. Ok, I left them. I left them standing there in a pile of shattered would-be vacation memories and shards of misplaced trust. I left them at the gate, vomit on my breath and my heart pounding against my eyeballs.
I stepped outside of my family, outside of the pressurized hull that keeps us all safe and together, gasping in the grip of a huge hand that just kept squeezing me and squeezing me. The two valiums, darvocet and mint tea I encased myself in this morning snapped worthlessly against my phobia’s first strike.
Siegfried had his linden leaf and I have my flight info.
My wife’s words and my daughter’s confused look swirled outside of the bloodied eye slit of my crushed helmet like flies as I lay on the ground waiting for the last breath to bubble out of my lungs.
I took part of them with me as I descinded into the tight coils of panic. I took moments that none of us will ever retrieve. Dreams that will rot in the peatbog of my self inflicted disability.
Like any coward, I tearfully hugged my family. I told them that I loved them and then I floated away into myself and walked quickly through the fishbone white throat of Terminal C towards the stairs that would lead me out of my self made hell, out into the light, into that certain smell of the world that all cowards cling to.
Like a rat claws at a piece of garbage floating in the wake of a ship that never sinks, I pounced on the smell of airport shuttles and the echoes of brave souls going places. I wanted to tear myself in half and vanish from the world like a curl of smoke.
I wanted to feed my worthless heart into my families luggage, into the the long, hungry 737 that would momentarily tear it's way into the sky with my wife and my daughter in it's bowels, so that some part of me wouldn't fail them.
Instead I stood and watched cars come and go, ingesting people, spewing them out. I listened to cell phones ring, to canned announcments, to engines sucking air and life from the runway. I stood there and wished that I was as good of a husband and a father as my girls wanted me to be.
The smell of being human sometimes smells like love, like warm oil from the heart of life’s engine, pushing us hard into a climb and and a certain tragectory to deliver us safely to our beds and into each other’s dreams.
And sometimes, it smells like emptiness, like desertion. And the smell of my family’s life lingering in this cold, quiet house tonight exaggerates the aroma my flight today, of my arrival to the totality of my weakness.
And it is weakness that I loathe in myself above all things.