I’m sitting at a bar in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, having a glass of wine and trying to cobble my nerves together enough to get on the second leg of a flight to Sarasota to see my Aunt, and flying no longer means adventure and fun.
I don’t know when it changed, but I think it was when I had children. I remember flying to Chicago with my ex-husband at age 19, partying on the plane with his work buddies and not having a second thought about being at 30,000 feet. Enter Eden, same year, and that’s when my physical presence in this world gained new meaning. Suddenly, it was imperative to preserve myself.
I need to see my Aunt, whom I love very much, but I’ve been dreading this trip because I am traveling alone.
You know that crazy person on the plane who is shaking and hyperventilating and sweating like she’s just run a marathon? Well, that’s me. Nice to meet you. Remember that episode of Cheers where the whole gang goes somewhere and Carla freaks out? You know, prayers to saints and bargains with God? I’m Carla.
Here’s what happens in my head:
A couple of months out I start fearing the fear. I push it out of my head. When I think of it, I tell myself I will take the anti-anxiety pills I have, but I also know that I really won’t do that because I hate pills. I tell myself I will drink on the plane, but that doesn’t make me feel better because sometimes that doesn’t work. Drunk panic sucks.
A week out I start imagining all of the things that could go wrong. I start praying.
The day of, I’m all business because my obsession with punctuality dictates I can’t be late for anything, even if I hate it. I put on stones and charms and superstitious jewelry. I pray more.
During take-off I squeeze my eyes shut and pray. Same mantra over and over and over, sometimes until we reach 10,000 feet and they allow portable electronic devices. Which I don’t use. Because I have to watch and listen.
The rest of the flight may go smoothly. If there is turbulence then I will hyperventilate and cry, and if I’m with my husband I will bury my head in his arms and sometimes claw the shit out of him.
Without question the process of descent will knot my stomach and bring me to tight, white-knuckled attention. By the time we land, I am exhausted.
Mostly I travel with my family now. That makes things a little easier. Watching how calm they are calms me. Distracting a pre-schooler on a plane distracts me. But today I’m traveling alone.
This means that everything in the world that means anything to me is left behind. This means that if anything happens to me, I leave motherless children. The thought of it breaks me. Who knows all of Lucy’s words like I do? Who knows all of her supplements and dietary restrictions and the next step we need to take medically? I do. Who is her home base and great comfort and solid rock? Who will pack Eden for college? Who will help plan her wedding? Who will keep her grounded and teach her how to not take any bullshit? Who will make her laugh like I do? And Allen… how on earth would he handle all of that?
What if something happens at home? There is nothing I can do immediately to fix it. There will literally be a Gulf between me and my children. The thought of not being able to reach my kids immediately is debilitating.
On Saturday I had a massage. There was a knot on my shoulder blade that was pulling my neck out of place. It helped for a couple of days. By Thursday I was in so much pain I went to get a chair massage at Whole Foods. The poor woman must have felt like Sisyphus, pushing boulders around my shoulders only to have them roll right back into place.
I cried all the way home. I tried to call one of my moms, who happens to have very similar travel issues, but she was having a super busy time at work and didn’t get the call. When I pulled into the driveway I could see my kids in the house and I just watched them for a minute. They are so, so lovely. Then I wiped off my face, got out of the car, went inside and started momming. Because what else am I going to do?
I did have the bright idea of having an emergency phone session last night with my favorite spiritual counselor, and that helped. She’s trying to help me overcome abandonment issues and let go of attachments. I realize I reject most people and then have brutally intense attachments to the people I do love. She’s trying to help me release some of my need for control.
My mom called me back, too. And she thinks these feelings are the result of having suffered great losses early in life, (read about that here) and the resulting feelings of abandonment. It truly becomes a mother’s greatest fear… the fear that your child will lose you and feel the desolation of being without. I have to say, that IS my greatest fear. And actually, even more than that, the irrational fear that my child would ever think it was a choice I made. The leaving.
When you’re afraid to fly, people will give you all sorts of statistics and practical knowledge because they think that logic will miraculously allay your fears. If logic were the issue, that would certainly be helpful. For me, logic has nothing whatever to do with it.
I don’t know how long it will take to work through this old business. It’s been years so far, and it’s not done. In the meantime, there’s not much else to do except put on my big girl panties, get on the plane, and order a Coke.