Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Fear of Flying

I'm afraid of flying. Yes, I've flown in the past, even to Europe, but when I moved back here to Chicago the fear intensified and I haven't left the ground since. It's been a point of friction with Erika, who would like to go to Mexico, Italy and other points across the country and globe. I want to give her, and our children, these experiences more than anything in the world. And yet my fear has vexed me.

I've tried things to combat it, from CBT to drugs. This afternoon I'm going to pick up the next pill prescribed by my doctor to deaden my thoughts and senses so I can, hopefully, make an aerial passage. We'll see. We're heading to Southwest Michigan this afternoon for a long weekend vacation, and I'm planning at some point to indulge in a little mild controlled substance transgression by taking a wonder pill, drinking some wine and staring at the fireflies while Erika reads her book.

I hope this new drug will work, but I know that whatever "works" for me now can never completely erase my anxiety. It was never completely gone anyway when I flew before, as a kid or as a young adult. (Well, it actually was on one particular drug, but I won't touch that stuff ever again.) Ultimately, I must feel some kind of psychological discomfort. This is known as facing your fears.

I've had to face my fears all my life. Everyone has. Sometimes I feel like I've had more than the average person. All I can do is live and manage them as best I can. I'm at least heartened that my kids don't appear to be afraid of anything. I bet they'd love the plane.

The stop-gap solution has long been road trips. Erika and I have always enjoyed them, as a couple and before we knew each other. I took the Greyhound bus a great deal in college, doing the eight-hour ride up the 71 from Cincinnati to Buffalo. I also took it from Atlanta, Tampa and Gainesville. And when I moved to Syracuse, the bus was my way of getting to New York City. I never owned a car till we moved in together in 2004.

I can still tell you what the stops in Columbus, Rochester, Cortland, Scranton, Knoxville, Orlando and Cleveland (always my favorite) look like. And of course the mighty Port Authority terminal on Eighth Avenue — the country's biggest bus station. I would be practically jumping out of my seat in excitement when we pulled into one of its many docks there under the yellow lights, all of us dumped out into New York, scrambling like ants from a broken hive.

The great zine explosion of the '90s really fueled the romance of the bus thing. Seems like a third of everything written in every little pamphlet back then had to do with being on the Greyhound and meeting bizarre characters. For whatever reason, I was never moved to record my experience, partly because I recognized a glut in the market and also because nothing noteworthy had ever happened to me in transit. I mean, I saw a lot of the country and different kinds of people, from ex-cons to Mennonites. But I was never harassed, hassled or hit on once in eight years.  

It was a very solitary experience for me, with just a few exceptions. I enjoyed the company in those rarer moments, but it did more to highlight the fact I was usually alone on my journeys, as wondrous as they could be. Like so many moments in my life, it seemed, I spent them solo, silent and in thought. A part of me wished someone could always ride along on every trip.

I did eventually find that companion and left the bus behind. Erika and I have taken so many wonderful road trips over the last nine-plus years, all the way back to that first quick jaunt to Milwaukee in August 2003. Sure, it wasn't Rome, but we had fun staying in a hotel for the first time together. It's kind of become our thing —hotels in exurbs, vacation rentals, Midwest resorts — and it now includes our kids. We've been going to Michigan for more than five years. It's a sacred place for us.

But after awhile one does want to see more than farm fields and rest stops from a moving car or bus. And that brings me back to my psychological roadblock.

We pass O'Hare airport every time we visit my in-laws. With flying on the brain lately, I've found myself watching the planes as they take off — always my least favorite part of the experience. Sometimes I have to avert my eyes as a jet shoots upward at a steep angle. Other times, I marvel at a big, slow-moving 747 taking to the sky, much like the one I was on from JFK to Paris. Almost like a giant bus. Maybe it could be like that again. Maybe this drug would make it be like that even if it really wasn't.

I know inside of me there's an air traveller trying to get out. He's done it before, and I truly believe he can do it again. I don't just owe it to my wife and kids. I owe it to myself: to see the world and experience more of life. I want to die with as few regrets as possible.

And no, I don't think it will happen in a plane crash.

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