When the luggage compartment starts shaking, I know it with certainty: Our plane is going down. Water landings are safer, but we don’t get one because we’re flying in from Ohio. Midwestern flights are not only less chic than European ones — they’re far more likely to burn us to death.
The pilot says “we’re experiencing turbulence.” It’s abnormally bad turbulence, the kind of turbulence that reminds you of the futility of your seatbelt, but that’s not what assures me it’s over. What seals the deal is the flight attendant, whom I notice is actively avoiding eye contact with me. Strapped in like an adult on a carnival ride, she fidgets on her cushion and stares at her Clarks shoes. She doesn’t know I’m watching her chew her lip, sensing her heartbeat quicken I smile because I know I’m analyzing things correctly, but then I realize I won’t be able to brag to anyone about my observations. That’s kind of a bummer.
My experience with plane crashes thus far has only been as a spectator. I’ve never seen one in real life, but thanks to documentaries like Lost or Final Destination III, I know roughly how things will go. My body will be ripped into confetti, or, if I’m lucky, the engine will instantly grind me up like a VitaMix. Though I’m too lazy to Google exact statistics, I’m sure commercial plane crashes happen quite often. I’ve also always known, for a fact, that this is how I would die. I just didn’t know it would be today.
What’s ironic about this particular crash is that it’s happening during our “landing.” We’re doing this—“landing”—but we’re twisting side to side, bumping through the sky, and we’re not reaching the earth nearly fast enough. It doesn’t feel normal; the woman next to me is gripping her chair tightly. I ask myself the questions I always ask, even during lesser turbulence: What altitude would we have to be at for me to jump out and survive? At what point would the air pressure not tear me apart completely? What were my last words to my parents?
As we hurl toward the earth, I start making peace with my death, because what else am I going to do — read SkyMall? Yes, a monogrammed standing desk is the only thing that’ll save me; my mockingjay. If I order now, I get a free set of bookends! I’m going to regret missing this opportunity.
I glance around at the other passengers and size them up: these people who might have to pick my limbs out of the rubble, or eat me if we land in some remote part of Philadelphia. I mentally form alliances with the businessmen in the exit row. In the event that cannibalism is required, I note that the woman next to me is heavyset and she doesn’t have a wedding ring.
I think about the new boy in my life. He’s the reason I went to Ohio, the reason I’m on this plane in the first place. How would he feel? Guilty, sure, but you can’t blame yourself. Everyone would tell him that, so the guilt wouldn’t last long. The glow of what might have been would fade away, and I’d become a good, sad story for him and his eventual wife to tell at parties. It’s only been a few months; that’s all I can ask for.
Then I think about the old boy, the one I’m not supposed to think about. He wasn’t invited to these final moments of mine, but he showed up anyway — typical. This is the near death equivalent of a “u up?” text. I hope I’m only thinking about him because I’m trying not to think about him, and not because he actually matters.
I shake my head to shake my brain — get the asshole outta there.
I spend the next few minutes remembering that our blood is the color blue until it hits oxygen. While I’m wondering how quickly that transition happens (does air pressure speed it up or slow it?), we land. As we approach the gate, they tell us contents in the overhead bins may have shifted during flight.
“No shit,” I say under my breath, and the woman next to me laughs. She was just clutching her chair in fear, and now she’s laughing — what a world! I feel bad for deciding I would eat her first. I hope she’s unmarried by choice.
When I take my phone off airplane mode, a belated text from the new boy comes in.
“Safe flight!” he says.
I get off the plane and into a cab, glad that I’m far too tired to calculate the death statistics of driving in New York City. The front window is slightly down and even though it’s cold out, I don’t tell the driver to roll it up. It feels good, like someone is smacking me awake.
I could really go for a cigarette.