From time to time I come across an article about the likelihood of turbulence bringing down a plane, or what went wrong when a jet fell from the sky over the sea. I consider, but the thought of remembering it mid flight, when the barest jostle sends my heart into my throat, outweighs the small possible benefit of reassurance.
This all began on the second leg of a return trip from Mexico, on a commuter plane from Houston to Charlotte. From the time altitude was reached to the initial descent, the small plane shimmied and jolted. I had spent the last of my money on a beer in the airport in Mexico City, and begged the flight attendant for a whiskey against the turbulence. She promised one that never came, and for what didn’t seem like hours, because it was one moment that seemed to have become the only one I would continue to know, I stared out the window with my hands clinched in sweaty fists. Not a cloud in the sky.
Since, I have hated planes, and flying, but not airports, because fear of flying is an excellent excuse for getting drunk. Having checked bags and passed through security, the moment when I sit at the bar across from a bartender I will absolutely never see again is like a stay of execution from the walk down the jetway. There are very few moments that contain less obligation than: at the airport, through security, 2 hours to boarding.
So I sit, drinking double whiskeys until 20 minutes before departure, knowing I can ignore the first boarding call, or two, seeking a balance between too drunk to care and too drunk to board, which has at times proven difficult to strike.
Once aboard, anxiety crescendoes, naturally, with takeoff, and holds until altitude is reached, drink service is announced and the attendant’s cart reaches my row. Writing this, I suddenly realize my usual choice of seat over the wing, halfway between the fore and aft galleys, delays as long as possible the great comfort that being handed a cup of ice, an airplane bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a cocktail napkin provides.
Then begins the long moment, neither there nor there, resigned to clinging to the small gestures of agency the plane’s will allows – rising to go to the bathroom, finishing the half-done crossword in the inflight magazine, feverishly concentrated games of Tetris or vaguely watched movies, woozily re-reading paragraphs in a book chosen most of all for its length: Jonas in the whale, feeling superstitiously that with luck if I subject my will to that of the great sleek arrogant craft it will deign to me vomit me up ashore. Given time, turbulence can be just another acceptable condition.
Depending on the length of the flight, I contnue to drink, and begin to feel I’ve always been here. But after many hours without comment, the pilot announces the initial descent and, as though he were reining in the plane like a horse after giving it its head, I feel the gentle slowing, clouds come up to brush the wings and pass, the longed-for earth nears, and I am jarringly, happily there – somewhere else.