If there was a frequent flyer program for crying on airplanes, I would always fly first class. I can’t remember when I first decided that these steel birds were the perfect environment for heart-wrenching tears, but they have been the primary setting for some of my deepest (and loudest) sobs in life.
Perhaps it’s because I hate airports that the airplane has become a welcome home of emotions. I hate how sterile airports feel and how one drink needs to be paid for in blood. I hate how the news is always on and how often I have witnessed world horrors alone standing underneath the harsh lighting amidst the speakers blaring updates of delayed flights and lost passengers. People are always stuck in a constant state of in between. It’s the type of space that triggers my anxieties — about life, the world, and my most current pressing issues.
Because of this I have mastered the art of arriving at the airport at the precise time that it takes to get through security and get to my gate at the preferred less than twenty minutes until boarding. Now this flirtation with boarding times absolutely terrifies most of my friends, but my relationship with airports and airplanes and crying has long been a solo endeavor. I rarely fly with others, leaving me with ample power to make my risky calculations on BART schedules and Uber/Lyft prices and traffic.
I’ve never missed a flight.
But it can’t just be my hatred of airports. Because as much as I despise airports, I have a (not so) healthy amount of flight anxiety. People are always surprised to hear about my flight anxiety since I fly often. It doesn’t matter how many successful touchdowns I have had, I am filled with varying levels of anxious dread whenever my plane begins to taxi, we lift off, and I pray fervently to God for the safety of the flight. If I’m lucky, my anxiety will be a dull ache in my chest for the duration of the journey. If I am not so lucky, I may find myself accidentally grabbing the arm of the stranger next to me. On the rare occasion that I fly with a friend, I am somewhat anchored by a comforting hand holding mine. I long for more of those flights, and a more permanent flight companion.
My flight anxiety is often made worse by my crying, but it isn’t the cause of my membership in the mile high club of sorrows. The airplane is simply the perfect vessel for my brand of sadness. No one will try to provide advice that I am not ready to hear. No one will lean over and tell me that things will be okay when all I want in that moment is to feel the full depth of despair. No one to tell me to smile through the tears. Just a stranger having her moment staring out her tiny oval window.
Sometimes I want to feel all of it. Sometimes the steady rhythm of my chest heaving is enough to remind me that I am only human. The ugly sound of my sobs enough to remind me of the high cost of attempting to be perfect.
The tears dry up by the time the pilot says to prepare for landing. I am jolted back by bright cabin lights and garbage gathering. I prepare to leave my sacred crying vessel for the rushes and demands of the world.