Monday, January 21, 2013

A Story Worth Telling

"We're here! We're here!" we shout to Ashley as we sprint to the gate, out of breath and frazzled. "You know this one likes to be fashionably late," I whisper loudly enough for Jess to hear, smirking.

Polite but anxious, Ashley smiles at us and quickly hands the attendant her ticket. "6:00 a.m. Right on time."

We scramble onto the plane and fling our bags into the only remaining overhead bins. I sink lower in my chair and close my eyes. Okay. Seatbelt fastened, seat pulled forward, iPad turned off. Let's go. The faster we get to New Orleans, the sooner we'll be away from New York. No work. No school. No rain and cold. Just sun and jazz and friends.

"KRIS. How long has it been?" I open my eyes. Jess's head peaks out at me from the seat in front of me, her lime green "baussy" eye mask resting on her forehead. "Why are we still sitting here?"

I look at my watch, which hasn't moved in 8 years. I check my phone instead. "7:15. We're delayed. Has the pilot said anything?" Jess begins to speak as we hear the static of the PA kick in.

***Ladies and gentlemen, we do have an update for you now. They're still checking on one of the engines underneath. Looks like this plane isn't flying any time soon. We're going to have you deboard while we change planes. We'll be sure to get you going just as soon as we can.***

We join the line of sleepy passengers slowly filing off of the plane like ants to sit at the mercy of the airline.  Hit by the cold as we re-enter the airport, we stand side by side when we reach the gate and gaze out at the prospect - Jess with her sunglasses on, Ashley with her Nicholas Sparks novel in hand, and me with my leather jacket slung over one shoulder.

"Over there." I motion to an alcove in the far corner of the gate. "Some room on the floor. Take my bag. I'll get us coffee."

I bypass the Juice King and Famiglia Pizza and head for Horizon Bakery. I'm second in line behind an older man with a Mets cap and trench coat. "I'll have a latte with skim milk and 3 Splenda."

"We only have sugar and Sweet and Low," the barista replies disinterestedly.
"No, I said Splenda."
"We don't have Splenda."
"I always drink my coffee with Splenda."
"Do you want the coffee or not?"
"Can you believe this guy? What kind of coffee place doesn't have Splenda?"

I've been gazing down the other end of the terminal, watching passengers wheel their suitcases, wondering where they're going. I'm aroused from my daydream when I don't hear a reply. Is grumpy guy talking to me? I freeze. Gingerly, I raise my eyes to his, still facing away from him.

"The pizza place might have coffee," I offer, holding eye contact. He looks at me for a minute, apparently trying to determine whose side I'm on. Then a quick look back at the barista and he storms off in a huff.

30 minutes and 3 lukewarm coffees later, we're assigned a gate at the other end of the terminal. Jess and Ashley take turns sending their suitcases rolling in front of them down the ramp and quickening their pace to catch them.  There's something about childhood friends together. Some feeling of youth and goodness that never goes away. Somehow it's impossible to remember why your big problems are so big… they seem only as important as  deciding what color to paint the treehouse or choosing bowling teams.

We sit and watch the clock. Jess is texting, sprawled across two chairs. Ashley's consumed by her romance novel. I'm scrolling for news that's actually new. I glance up at the board every few minutes, half expecting to see the flight disappear altogether. Destination: New Orleans. Departure time: 10:00 a.m. Boarding time: 9:15 a.m.

It's 9:30. I delve into Time magazine. The Emancipation Proclamation Turns 150 Years Old. It's 10:15. I look at my friends, both dozing off. Ashley looks up lazily. I smile and shake my head. "Dude, what are the odds they get us outta here today?"

***Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to begin boarding. We always board from the back of the plane. If your ticket says rows 21 − 25, we'll board you now.***

Take 2. This is like Argo. I won't believe it until I'm in the air. 40 minutes later and we're finally accelerating.  My heart races. I gaze out the window as we pick up speed. Bright sunshine. Faster. I feel the plane leave the ground. I hold my breath for a split second, waiting to see if it worked. Did we really lift this hunk of metal into the air? Amazes me every time. I sink down and close my eyes.

***The pilot has again turned the seatbelt sign on, ladies and gentlemen. At this time we ask that you return to your seats and fasten your seatbelt. We'll be able to deliver drinks when the seatbelt sign has been turned off.*** 

The plane shoots upward, then down. Left, right. Up again. Turbulence more extreme than I've ever encountered. My seatbelt digs into me with every jerk of the plane. Ashley and I exchange nervous glances. Jess is suddenly fully awake, adrenaline kicking in. She sits upright and fastens her seatbelt. I look around me. A woman across the aisle begins to pray. Others laugh nervously. A baby cries. I tighten my seatbelt.

More turbulence. The plane jerking every which way unrelentlessly. I hear a thud behind me as my body lurches forward. Seconds later a flight attendant rushes over with ice for the passenger's head.

***Good morning, ladies and gentlmen. This is your captain speaking. Because the flight was delayed, a pretty severe tropical storm has by this time started to brew near New Orleans and we're unfortunately heading for it. We're experiencing some turbulence now as we get closer. We'll see how it goes as we're flying through the heart of the storm, but unfortunately you'll have to remain in your seats throughout the duration of the flight. Thanks for flying with us. We hope to get you to New Orleans just as soon as we can.***

I turn on the flight map and watch us inch closer. Will it really get worse? Why were we allowed to take off?

Minutes pass as we sit, alert and upright, approaching the storm. No one speaks as we wait. The turbulence intensifies. Up. Down. Left. Right. Down. Left. Up. Right. Heads smack windows and chairs. Flight attendants sit quietly at the back of the plane. An indistinct noise emanates from several parts of the plane, followed by a stench.

***Ladies and gentlmen, we realize you're getting sick, but unfortunately we cannot help you at this time. We, too, are not allowed out of our seats. Motion sickness bags are in the seat pockets in front of you.***

Jess wraps her arm around the back of the seat and I squeeze her hand. "At least we'll go down together, Jessie," I say with a smile. Nervous laughter. I look back at Ashley and wink, as though that can assuage her fears.

The stench of sickness continues to permeate the air as passengers continue to ice their heads.

Up. Down. Right. Down. Left. Up. Down. Up.

***Ladies and gentlmen, this is your captain again. Unfortunately we won't be allowed to land until the storm has passed. We expect it shouldn't be longer than an hour and we're in no danger of running out of fuel yet. I'll come back on when we begin our descent.***

… yet? If I get out of here alive, I'm going to write this pilot some talking points. I sit, still holding Jess's hand, pretending to be calm. I'm nauseous... not because of the turbulence of the plane, but because I've willingly handed over control of my life to someone else. Why did I do that without a second thought, leaving myself no opportunity to flee? The vulnerability is eating away at me. Taking a flight is not like driving a car. When I stepped onto the plane, I put my life into someone else's hands and now look at what has happened.

Up. Down. Thud. Right. Left. Lurch. Still holding hands. Tapping my foot. Staring at the rain pounding the window glass.

***We've been given permission to land, folks, so we'll get you outta here in just a little bit. You'll still need to stay in your seats for the rest of the flight. The flight attendants won't come around to check that your seat backs are up, but we trust that you'll help us out and will also collect your garbage as you leave the plane so we can quickly turn it around for the next flight. Thanks for your patience.***

Jess releases my hand. I begin reading just to feel like I'm in control of something. We wait. Left. Right. Up. Down.

Eventually we land. Thud. People clap. I've always hated when people clap. Did you think we wouldn't make it? Cynical idiots.

I clap.

We get our bags and quietly file off of the plane. The three of us walk silently through the airport, desperate to leave this terrible memory behind and start our vacation. I smile like a kid as we see stroll past the statue of Louis Armstrong and his trumpet. We approach the exit and hear the rain from the tropical storm pouring down outside. Somehow I hadn't made the connection between the storm we flew through and the weather on the ground. We pause as we realize, then continue on through the exit, still without speaking. We stand in the pouring rain with our suitcases and look around for a taxi. We all see the sign at the same time and silently stare, too drained to have any reaction.

"Taxi stand closed. Welcome to New Orleans."

1 comment:

mjr615 said...

Wow, I would have paid to read that. Amazing post, SPOY.