“Here’s some gum. Be sure to chew this so your ears pop.”
I remembered my father’s words as I sat with my back pressed against the seat during take-off. I chewed my gum relentlessly, but it didn’t help. I figured out a formula which was to yawn every five minutes, or whenever I felt an increase in pressure. By the end of the trip my mouth was so dry not only from the yawning, but also from the refusal to drink anything the flight attendant offered. Ten years later, and I still do them both. The only way I could peer out of the window was through my peripherals. I refused to turn my head, but I felt other passengers’ eyes glaring past my face through the small porthole, and watched the city become smaller and smaller. Seattle was just as beautiful up close as it was thousands of miles in the air. We were still ascending. I was motionless until the plane leveled out. The clouds encompassed the 747.
“Fog is just low-hanging clouds.”
I remembered his words again as we ripped through the clouds; they were completely unfazed. I hated the way the plane smelled. It was a stagnant odor that stuck to everything I wore. It smelled like the cheap pack of cheese crackers they passed out 30 minutes into the flight. The flight attendant pushed her cart down the aisle offering this small sustenance, which is rather ridiculous considering how much you pay for a flight, I accepted. The sound of wrappers crinkling filled the plane. Chewing with headphones in makes one extremely self-conscious. It was like surround sound within my head. Every chomp would drown out a lyric. I couldn’t help but wonder if I sounded like this to everyone else. I took dainty bites out of each cracker from then on, which made them less enjoyable than they already were.
The passenger whom I shared my window with was an attractive older man. I say older, because at the time I was 13. In retrospect, he was most likely in his late 20’s. It was nerve wracking to share my window with this person. His ginger stubble would light up with the breaks in the clouds. I could feel him looking past me through the window and my palms would begin to sweat. Eventually it all subsided, and he spoke to me. We introduced ourselves and shook hands — he, with a catcher’s mitt, and I with a slimy clam for a hand.
“Where are you from?”
“Georgia,” I replied meekly.
“Me too. Why are you in Washington?”
I hated this question; I still hate this question. I wanted to respond with, “well my parents are basically fucking gypsies.” Now was not the time for teenage angst. It’s difficult to explain without making my parents seem irrationally psychotic. I love them both, but hate what they’ve put me through. I am now 23 years old and I have lived in four different states, seven different cities and towns, some more than once, and 17 different houses. My parents should be reading tarot cards in the back of a travel trailer. I explained my complicated and nomadic life as he shook his head and responded with “mhm’s” every so often. I’m exhausted with this story because it’s not my story — it’s my parents. My ginger-bearded neighbor told me he was in Seattle on a business trip and was heading back to Atlanta. I told him I was flying back home to surprise my brother. I could see the confusion flutter across his face. Our conversation eventually faded out with him telling me if I needed anything to let him know. To this day, I feel lucky to have sat next to someone with the same geography.
I looked back through the tiny porthole containing views to the world as I knew it. I felt a pit develop in my stomach. Maybe it was those cheap crackers, or maybe it was the sudden development of affection for my neighbor. I clicked the next button on my iPod repeatedly until I finally landed on a song. It was by a band I had recently just been introduced to — The Killers. Washington opened my eyes to bands, to style, to behavior.
“When is your birthday?” a person asked on my first day of eighth grade.
“Hahahaha no way!”
“What…?” I asked.
“Your birthday’s on 4/20!” he said.
“Yeah… I don’t get it,” my eyebrows furrowed.
“That’s national weed smoking day. That’s awesome,” he reached for a high five.
I reluctantly threw my hand up for a high five. I was absolutely ignorant to this world I had just been thrown into. I wasn’t sheltered anymore. If my parents only knew then maybe they would’ve over-nighted me back to Georgia. During my eighth grade year I became depressed. I was a recluse, only leaving the four walls of my room to attend school. I watched reruns of Dukes of Hazzard because it reminded me so much of home. I wanted my parents to walk into my room and see me drooling over a lifestyle I no longer had. I had gym on Thursdays where we were required to spend 12 minutes running nonstop. I struggled, never completing the full 12 minutes, and I would fail. No one warns you how thin the air is when you’re no longer at sea-level. I cried to my parents, begging them to let me stay home every Thursday. In retrospect, running probably would’ve helped my mood — something about endorphins. There were a few seconds remaining on the song, “Mr. Brightside.” I stared into the flavorless cotton candy that floated outside of the plane’s window. I couldn’t shake this feeling in my gut. I was 13 and naïve of this emotion churning inside me — it was resentment. I resented my parents.
I decided to pick a happier genre of music, something that would put me in the mood for Georgia, something that would allow Washington to leave my mind. My selection was a compilation of George Jones, George Strait and Merle Haggard. All of the excitement had happened within the first hour of the flight, now what, three more hours of silence? An on-board movie was selected for our four hour journey — Lemony Snickett’s. Ever since I was a child, Jim Carrey has been my celebrity crush. Being that I hadn’t seen this movie, I decided to partake by plugging my headphones into the arm rest.
“Is this movie any good?” my neighbor nudged me.
I didn’t hear a word he said.
This guilt still haunts me today. The flight attendant offered headphones to the ill-prepared passengers. He grabbed a pair and plugged in. We both sat there for two hours, watching the screen at the very front of the plane — I say very front, but I mean the very front of coach. The movie was terrible — such a disappointing performance for Jim Carrey, and also for myself. Great, now this guy thinks I have terrible taste in movies.
One hour of the trip left, which seems like a blur being I don’t remember anything too eventful happening. I didn’t have a great grasp of time outside of distance. Alright, there’s an hour left, so that’s about how much time it takes to get from Reidsville to Savannah. I still hadn’t gone to the bathroom yet, and was questioning just how miserable I could remain for another hour. My friendly neighbor asked me several times if I had to go. I suppose my constant readjusting in my seat gave it away. I had heard stories and seen movies of people getting sucked down the airplane toilet and spit out into God knows where, either that or, the blue toilet water would stain everything it touched and I would be marked for days. For the ten years I’ve been flying, I’ve only gone to the bathroom once and it was nothing like these portrayals.
The pilot’s voice came over the intercom, “Well folks, we’re about 20 minutes outside of Atlanta. The seatbelt light will be on for the remainder of the flight. I would like to thank you on behalf of Delta airlines for choosing us.”
Yet again, I had unrealistic expectations of this experience. Pilots are supposed to be sharp and handsome, and flight attendants are supposed to beautiful with red lipstick and perfectly coiffed hair. Wrong. Damn you Hollywood. By the time we were descending into Atlanta, it was already dark on the East coast. Light sprinkled the darkness. Atlanta was beautiful, more beautiful than Seattle because it wasn’t in Washington. The landing is my favorite part of every flight. I don’t care how it felt to have my heart slam into my stomach the minute the wheels hit the earth, I was so glad to be on solid ground. I felt woozy, like I had just had an out of body experience thousands of feet in the air. Anxiously, I wiggled in my seat. My patience was gone, especially after watching rows of passengers inch their way towards the exit. It was finally mine and my neighbor’s turn to escape. My legs felt like limp noodles.
“Do you know where baggage claim is?”
“Not at all…” I replied.
He pointed in the direction where I needed to go since this would be our final goodbye. The Atlanta airport was hot, I mean, extremely hot. Smack dab in the middle of summer time and there were crowds of people made for a swampy sort of feel throughout the airport. Plus, I hadn’t experienced humidity in over a year. I had a fairly good sense of direction thanks to my neighbor, and also my intuition told me to follow all of the people I recognized from my flight. It took forever until we all dispersed into the giant space where we would wait a lifetime for our luggage. To this day, I feel a sinking feeling when waiting for my luggage. My luck it will have been lost. The second best feeling after the landing is putting your hands on your luggage. It signifies the end. I watched my teal duffle bag, the bag my brother bought me for my birthday a year ago, slide on to the conveyor belt. It was glorious, and then I realized a week later I would be doing this very same thing all over again.