Let me begin by stating a disclaimer, perhaps two or three: 1. I love my husband. 2. I’m not prone to panic attacks in the least. C. I’m not afraid to board or fly on a jet.
Tom has had his private pilot’s license since well before we met. Over the past 16 years, he has asked me to go flying with him, and I’ve always managed to skillfully avoid doing so. Twice he has managed to convince me to ride with him at the local 4th of July fly-in, both of us as passengers in a cramped 4-seat aircraft. These adventures into the sky were nerve-wracking and I was grateful when they ended, but they were manageable.
Flying is costly, and having not yet achieved “independently wealthy” status, along with having a family to support, (side note: refer to “oxymoron” in Webster’s Dictionary to define preceding portion of sentence) Tom has not had opportunity to pursue his interest nearly as much as he would like. His dreams and goals require that he attains a minimum number of hours in flight, and he has been working toward that.
One of the many advantages to building flight time is that Tom can take passengers with him. The kids have flown with him, and loved it. Friends have flown with him, and loved it. I, as mentioned, have remained firmly planted on the ground, and loved it. I’ve heard, however, that all good things must come to an end.
Over the past few weeks, I had been pondering the idea of telling Tom that I would like to fly the friendly skies with him. Not so much because I had a burning desire to watch the buildings below me reach smaller and smaller proportions, but rather because I knew it would mean a lot to Tom if I showed more interest in his interests. I’ve been reading several books on making marriages stronger, and wouldn’t you know it, they all say that couples should spend more time together pursuing common recreational activities. (No, not THAT activity, although that's not a bad idea, either!) Figuring I probably wouldn’t be successful at convincing him that sewing, baking, or yakking on the phone are all wonderful ways to enrich our lives together, I swallowed my fears and rode to the airport with Tom and Savannah recently. It didn’t take too long for that fear to be regurgitated several times over.
Tom has told me many times that he is very cautious when flying, and exerts extra effort in performing pre-flight inspection, etc. I do not doubt that one bit. I watched him go through his routine with precision, both outside and in the cabin. He made sure the doors were secured, seat belts were in position, and all the equipment was in proper working order. He started the engine. I swallowed. He finished checking the panel, and began taxiing out to the runway. I readjusted my shirt, blew out a deep breath, and swallowed. He radioed his activity. (I’m sure there’s a technical name for that!) He got the plane in position on the runway, and we were off.
Lamaze class was in full operation at this point! It’s difficult to deep breathe, pray, squeeze your eyes tight shut...and swallow...all at the same time. I seem to recall during Lamaze class that we were taught to have a Focal Point. I seem to recall that requires keeping the eyes open. I was actually thinking all these things as I felt the plane lift off. “Oh my gosh. Oh geez. Oh my gosh.” I stopped short, by a mere millimeter, of an actual plea for help. I was cognizant of Savannah’s presence in the back seat, and didn’t want to seem like a complete idiot to someone who was flying for the second time! She was doing well, and I wished to avoid transplanting any portion of my current anxiety issues to her malleable mind.
We had been airborne for about a minute when I opened my eyes for the first time. I thought it would help me realize the difference in flying and roller coasters, which I absolutely hate! That long climb up the rickety, clanking track, knowing the inevitable lift-your-backside-off-the-seat force is waiting for you, not to mention fearing your heart is literally going to explode out your ears on the down drop....I hate roller coasters. Looking down at the fields, I reassured myself we weren’t at Cedar Point, and I could DO this!
Opening my eyes encouraged panic, and closing my eyes encouraged dizziness...and possibly other problems I didn’t care to deal with. I really wasn’t interested in exiting this plane covered in a second helping of my lunch - it wasn’t my favorite the first time around. At some point, I ceased the deep breathing exercises, as they weren't tremendously helpful. Besides, the last time I used the practice, I at least got to cuddle with the fruit of my labor after the last "hee hee hee ha"...I resorted to the last technique for maintaining my dignity...
“I want to go back, now.”
Tom immediately obliged and began the descent. I’m fairly certain I didn’t make this statement forcefully, so it must have been my current skin tone (green face, white knuckles) that convinced him that my flying career needed to be put on hold. The landing was uneventful (and unseen by writer). 6 minutes of flight time can now be added to my “I Think I Can, I Thought I Could” list.
I tried to avoid telling this story to anyone while my kids were in earshot, but alas, my boys overheard Tom tell someone that we were only 300 feet in the air when I requested re-entry. Suffice to say, it's a good thing I don't embarrass easily! I also found out that the reason it seemed to take so long to land is that Tom had to climb another 500 feet to be able to get into the landing pattern. Had I known that, I might have just taken my chances with the secured door, and prayed for a trampoline to miraculously appear!
I have flown on jets many times, and other than an initial adrenaline rush during take-off, it’s always been a pleasant experience. I can’t explain this by saying I’m afraid to fly. I am afraid of heights to a degree, but this phobia isn’t incapacitating in any way. I simply avoid ladders and edges of tall buildings! I’ve been riding with Tom on the ground for 16 years without incident. I know he’s more conscientious about his flying habits than he is about driving, and neither situation has ever been called into question. The problem lies with me. It’s an opportunity to hire a Flight Therapist! However, a temporary solution to this problem will have to be implemented.
I suggest that Tom help me bake brownies.