My long, horrifying voyage took place in 2008. I’m fairly accustomed to travel at this point in my life but at the time I was still terrified of flying. So naturally I was due a series of nightmarish flights, one right after another.
This process began in the Middle East. I was deployed overseas, and was initially on a military flight. This was not similar at all to a normal commercial flight, as the seating consisted of a row on each side of a large open bay. I sat with two friends, who were more or less aware of my apprehension towards flying. But perhaps less.
Takeoff was average, and the flight wasn’t exceptional at first. People relaxed, unbuckled from their seats, and took to wandering or stretching out. I noticed at some point the flight crew had taken their seats and buckled up while smiling at us all. My ‘this isn’t good’ sense began tingling.
We then fell from the sky.
I’ve since read that some people pay for this experience. I don’t even like elevators. My friends are holding their hands in the air like they’re on a rollercoaster, laughing and screaming excitedly. I was having a complete meltdown. I experienced what a therapist later called a ‘grey out’ and ‘perhaps not the most useful coping mechanism,’ but am reliably told that during one of the three ascent-and-descent events our fun-loving pilots had undertaken I accomplished the following:
1. Managed in one way or another to make at least two people bleed with my fingernails;
2. Wrapped my body around one friends’ torso, sort of hugging him sideways like one of those neck pillows you buy at the airport, or perhaps a large, terrified cat;
3. Asked “Are we going to die?” at minimum twenty times, to which someone evidently eventually shouted, “Yes.”
Upon landing I’d fallen apart to the point where I wasn’t precisely verbal, but I saw someone with a similarly ghostly appearance and stood by him. He informed me he’d been having dreams all week about this flight crashing, so I guess it was technically worse for someone else.
Vegas itself was fairly eventful. I had gone largely to see my favorite band perform. I managed to ingratiate myself to their merchandise guy in the meantime, and met the band. They gave me a free jacket with their logo on it, we had a conversation, took some photos. At this point my extremely drunk sister belligerently begins asking random questions like “Who do you think you are anyway?” and explaining “I never heard of you. You’re not cool. I wouldn’t be here except my sister likes you.”
There isn’t really a way to move on positively from that so we left.
Leaving Vegas was something of a trial. On the first leg of the trip, I was seated in one seat beside an elderly gent, while my sister was behind me next to the man’s wife. I know what you’re thinking: that they both wanted either an aisle seat or a window seat. No. The gent was on the aisle next to me, his wife by the window next to my sister. They apparently just didn’t like each other. My sister and I both have flight anxiety, but at that point in time mine was worse. While able to contain myself enough not to get removed from the plane, my silent but visible sobs eventually lead to the gent sitting with his wife. An extremely understanding flight attendant silently brought me two miniature bottles of Jack Daniels and a ginger ale.
However it was the final flight to tiny backwoods West Virginia that took the cake. For the uninitiated, flying into Charleston, West Virginia is like being Tom Cruise, sliding across the floor in his socks to that old Bob Seger song, except imagine there’s a cliff on the far side of the doorway and if he goes beyond it he will die, and the old music playing is Dueling Banjos.
The plane we were taking home to our country roads made me think of a church van with wings that looks like something Tim Burton would drop into an animated musical. There were five of us flying and the exhausted looking flight attendant looked us over critically before sorting us according to how much we appeared to weigh to ‘balance us out.’ I tearfully asked if this flight was going to be terrible. Without a moment’s consideration she said “Yes.”