Bob: I vaguely remember this.
Deb: I got a flying phobia. Well, that and a snake phobia and for the life of me, I’ll never understand why I didn’t write ‘Snakes on a Plane’, first. Before I met Bob, I’d write the first chapter of a book every night instead of reading. I still have a three-foot-high stack of legal pads covered in my cursive which used to be so lovely till this typing everything wiped out two years of elementary school to the point where I can’t even write legibly on the grand babies birthday cards. Rather sad to have to cross out Nana and rewrite it cause it looks like Nomo.
But, I still remember a first chapter that I wrote because my protagonist (didn’t know that word then and thought of her as the chick this chapter is about) later became Hannah in Bodyguard of Lies. But the first Hannah was in a phobic flying group and waiting at a gate in a terminal with her group, the psychologist who led the group, and her husband who did indeed need to go to Chicago for business and wasn’t flying there and back for a ‘desensitize exercise’. Hannah wasn’t calm at all and freaking everyone out and her husband was getting a bit tired of her inability to rationalize away the magical thinking a phobia requires.
Plus, nothing like ten fearful flyers watching someone have a meltdown over their greatest fear. And why I love the part in that movie, Bridesmaids where Kristin Wiig the phobic flyer finds a seat next to another phobic flyer who says, “I had a dream last night that the plane crashed. You were in it”.
I never had a plan for these chapters cause they’d sorta fall out of my head so I was writing and reading at the same time. Everyone gets on the plane except Hannah who immediately feels two things as she watches the plane pull away from the gate: tremendous relief and total embarrassment because that’s what phobias are–giving in to them and then feeling oh, so foolish that you did. But, in the fiction the plane crashes on take-off as Hannah watches and then there’s a bunch of stuff about her messing with fate cause she was supposed to have been on that plane.
Years later when I saw Final Destination, I realized that I’d written the first chapter of that but ideas are just that: ideas and a lot of people have them but those who do something with them own them.
But, the magical thinking of flying had been there for a long time and has stuck with me. I could fly occasionally, but not with anyone whom I loved. I could fly if I wore all leather (for the fire) and only Delta (I’d read that they had a lot of military trained pilots) and a first-class ticket cause you could cancel those and I figured that if I paid more that the cabin crew would tolerate me more since fearful flyer was stamped by my name right on the manifest. Plus, if you only fly once a year it’s not that much.
I never acted all nuts unless you consider putting your leather coat over your head and silently weeping for a few hours to be nuts. Once the flight attendant asked my covered head if I was OK cause we were still at the gate and I said, “Right now, the only thing worse would be if you opened that cabinet above me and a snake fell on my lap”. See, can’t believe that I didn’t write that movie.
Then our son graduated from college and Bob had only a few days before a conference and so I willed myself to think logically for his sake and we flew from Savannah to Denver in coach cause Bob would poke out an eye before wasting money on first class for himself and he’d be with me to keep the coat from slipping. It’s very uncomfortable to wear leather pants, boots and coat in June unless you’re getting the breeze from a motorcycle.
The flight was as uneventful as they are for everyone who gets on a plane as if it were just a convenient way to get from A to Z, but I didn’t remember much except Bob saying, “just some turbulence, just the landing gear folding up,” and my thinking shut up cause I’m pretending to be in a hole. In the ground. Ground, I want ground.
The graduation was lovely and the whole family being there was nice, but in the back of my head I kept thinking about the flight back: magically thinking of the flight back. One night in the hotel I dreamt that the plane was going straight down and the cockpit door was open and I could see those Three Mile Island towers of the nuclear plant we were aiming for through the cockpit window. I thought that was a bit much for even my unconscious mind, but it stuck and when we got to the gate for the flight home I told Bob that I couldn’t do it and he should fly back and I’d rent a car and drive. I’m a very good long-distance driver cause I’ve had so much practice. He tried to talk me into it with all the logical reasons that flying is safer than driving, but you can’t reason with a phobic flyer fully immersed in the ridiculous notion that their thinking is part of the cause and effect of reality.
Bob said I’ll drive with you and if we alternate and don’t stop we can make it home in time.
I loved him so much at that moment that I knew for a fact that we both couldn’t get on that plane. We rented an SUV that had about twenty miles on it which to me was all the assurance that I needed that driving was the absolute right thing.
I was sound asleep in the back seat with no seat belt cause we were on the GROUND when my phone rang. It was a friend from Hilton Head asking when he should pick us up at the Savannah airport. We were in the middle of Kansas where most of the exits have a sign for the name of the astronaut from that little town cause nothing like flat Kansas to make you look toward the heavens for adventure. Bob was driving about ten or twelve miles over the speed limit of 70 while I tried to rationally explain why we were in an SUV in Kansas which it seems you can’t do. I put the phone into my purse and wide awake ask Bob to stop at the next exist cause a lot of coffee and now we could switch places.
It’s why we weren’t killed when the front passenger side tire blew about ten seconds later.
He’d slowed and had taken some defense driving courses, but it was still a whirl of gravel and spinning and almost a roll over, and one of those moments where everything seems to slow down because there is no more control and whatever will happen will.
Bob managed to get the thing stopped and safely to the side of the road and he put his head on the steering wheel and took a few deep breaths as I crawled back onto the rear seat and his phone buzzed. He said, “the plane just landed”.
And I haven’t flown since and Bob hasn’t driven with me since cause proof positive that flying is safer than driving didn’t cancel out that phobia at all. It added another layer of magical thinking: I can’t drive with Bob anymore.
Bob’s PS: It probably doesn’t help that I research disasters for my Stuff Doesn’t Just Happen books including the Kegworth plane crash where the pilots turned off the wrong engine and no one in the back told them and they crashed a quarter miles short of the runway. Just saying.
Originally published at bobmayer.com on January 18, 2019.