Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Landing in crash position

I didn't start shaking until the plane was on the ground and I had walked away.
That is what I found odd about the whole experience.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
It started Sunday with already enough emotion.
It seemed to fill my throat and make me have an unpleasant choking feeling.
I had to say goodbye to my kids.
I had to leave my baby at college.
Having done it many times before I thought it would have been easier.
Maybe a little
But not enough to make a real difference.
Now standing in the newsstand at the airport I prepared to salve my hurt with a new book and a decadent snack.
After all I deserved it.
"38 people dead and more trapped in a bus in Guatemala"
The television which I had not even noticed reported.
As a mother I can tune out all unnecessary noise but the word Guatemala even whispered makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
(Let it go, I tell myself. There are hundreds of thousands of people in Guatemala. It doesn't mean that he is in a mudslide. Go get on the plane.)
I fought the urge to call someone and try and find out the details. I just paid for my stuff and headed for my gate. If there was bad news I reasoned I would need to hear it in Houston anyway. I would need to be with Todd.
(stop thinking...he is fine)
I found my seat and juggled all of my heavy carry-ons and put them in the over head bin. My seat mate looked up for a second and then looked away quickly, obviously not in the mood to be friends or engage in any conversational niceties.
(Good I don't feel like talking to her either)
The doors of the plane closed and I was instructed to turn off my cell phone. I didn't mind. If it at all interferes with the pilots instruments far be it from me to be a part of any trouble.
I settled in with my book in hand.
(Dang it! reading glasses!)
I unwedge my heavy bag from under the seat in front of me. My seat mate turned even further away towards the window. 
My bag was like a dark black hole of the miscellaneous things I could not fit in my suitcase and I continued to rummage around feeling for the smooth hard case that held my glasses. I thought I heard my seatmate make a disgusted sound.
I pulled up something soft and square.
(Dang it! Lauren's wallet....with everything that she would need to survive...her drivers license, her money, her keys and most importantly her college ID that was also her meal ticket. How would she eat? Would she be searching frantically for it while I was in the air?)
We hadn't left the ground yet and so I took out my cell phone and turned it back on. I kept it hidden under the bottom of my shirt and flinched every time the flight attendant passed by making her final rounds. I worried that my seatmate would finally turn my way and catch me violating the safety rules and yell for the flight attendant.
(Yeah..she looks like the type)
I felt a little better but still wonder how it would all work out.
I notice the couple in front of me are sitting across from each other in the two aisle seats. I notice them mostly because he is a tall man and his seat tilts back farther than everyone else. I am wondering if his seat has been put in the upright and locked position like it is suppose to be and not almost in my lap. I am also annoyed that he has a gray mullet hairdo. The top is a traditional mens cu,t and is quite pretty, all silver and curly, but in the back it is long and in a ponytail that curls like a big gray slinky. It looks greasy and I am not excited at the prospects of staring at it for an hour.
(just mind your own business and stop worrying about peoples hair for Pete's sake)
I began to read my book.
The hour flight went pretty slowly with an occasional announcement from our friendly pilot. Something about the things we could see outside our windows and the beautiful clear skies and blah blah blah. His voice was mellow and comforting.
(Not that I want to lean any closer to seatmate to see any of the sights anyway)
His voice floats through the air again telling us that we would soon begin to make our descent into Denver in 15 minutes. I have taken a Dramamine and the effects are making me feel dream like. I close my eyes.
I realize that the plane is banking a lot.
I know this because this is the motion that makes me feel sick. The pilot seems to be circling Denver.
At the third time I am beginning to be angry and queasy.
The pilot speaks again.
"I need everyone to listen closely to what I am about to say"
His voice is no longer smooth and mellow. It has a slight edge. It reminds me of a parents voice when they are worried but don't want you to worry with them.
What he said becomes blurry because every time I would try to concentrate and understand a sentence he would be on to the next one.
"There are two sets of brakes on a plane and one of the sets is engaged"
"Now there are a few things that could happen. When we land the tires will probably pop and if they do there might be a fire"
(does he mean explode and not "pop")
"If there is a fire then you need to stay in your seat. The fire trucks are already on the runway prepared to put out the fires and you need to wait until the fire is out."
(does he want us to stay in a burning plane?)
"After the fire is out then we will most likely be using the emergency chute and you need to be prepared to know how to slide down them."
Everyone take out your emergency instruction card from the seat pocket in front of you."
(how can these cartoon drawings really prepare us for that? Do the flight attendants look scared? Does anyone else around me look scared?)
"You may not take anything with you. You need to leave everything behind."
 (Lauren's wallet!...I need to get it out. She needs that wallet.)
I realize that trying to unwedge my bag and get her wallet out will be noticed and I will be in trouble with the flight attendants. You don't want to tick off the people that will be helping you through an emergency.

The pilot continues to talk as I study my emergency materials and continue to scan the plane for anyone who looks scared.
We are given two choices of crash positions.
One where our heads are on our laps and our arms are tucked under our legs.
No way.
Even if I could get my head down that far I am not going to risk the chance that mullet man in the seat in front of me will not fly backwards and snap my neck in two.
(Oh my goodness we are going to be in an impact situation and I am trying to figure out how not to be paralyzed)
I chose the seemingly safer option of crossing my arms over my wrists and tucking my chin down on my chest.
I notice that the mullet man and his wife are holding hands across the aisle of the plane.
(This is like one of those bad made for TV movies about a fiery plane crash.)
My seatmate for the first time looks at me and finally speaks. I realize that it is the first time I have seen her face and that it could be the last face I see.
She says, "What do you think is going to happen?"
"I don't know", I reply.
The flight attendants are holding up the cockpit phone between their heads to hear what last instructions from the pilot are. I continue to look for the expressions on their faces to determine how bad this could be.
They direct two burly guys in the front to the emergency doors to go over how to operate them.
They check each passengers seat belt to make sure that it is securely and properly fastened.
They go to the two women who have small babies on board to instruct them on how to hold their babies in crash position to try and best protect them.
Protect them.
(Babies....my kids......not babies, but they still need me. Lauren in her first week of college....Megan starting out her career as a teacher after a year and a half of searching...Jack finishing his mission in Guatemala in just three short weeks.....then Todd...my partner...my best friend waiting in Houston for me to try and adjust to the new chapter in our lives....our empty nest. Everyone of them making a major transition in their life.  No this can't happen. This is not the time for this to happen.......
Don't panic)
We are instructed to get in crash position. We are not near the ground and it looks like it will be awhile, but we are all are compliant. The plane is strangely quiet and I keep waiting for someone to panic.
I turn my head to my seatmate and ask her to please tell me when she can see that we are almost on the ground.
She smiles and says she will
I pray.
But as I start asking for help and speaking about each of my family members, the tears start to well up in my eyes.
(I need to stop. He knows what I need. I feel a prompting that I have already received an assurance that all will be well. There has already been a calming presence in that plane. Just focus on what you are told.)
My seatmate says in a most gentle whisper.
"I see the ground. We are almost on the ground."
I brace my body against the seat in front of me.
The pilot tilts the wings to the side and I can tell that one side of the plane is on the ground.
I close my eyes waiting for the pop.
Both sets of wheels land on the runway and
the plane comes to a stop.
We are safe.
No crash
No explosion
Just applause
Grateful happy applause.

We all smile as the firetrucks escort the plane to a safe place to deboard. There are official looking employees waiting at the bottom of the stairs, looking both nervous and relieved. I take out my phone and look back to snap a picture.
That is when I noticed my hands are shaking.


Kerry B said...

I was thinking about you this week. Not because of the plane "incident" but because it is September.

I am glad that you are safe. I hope that your next flight is uneventful--except for a certain reunion.


Cynthia said...

Holy cow! I am freaking out FOR you! You described it so well I felt like *I* was on that plane. How scary! So glad you are safe.

Suzy Q said...

Oh my word! I hate to fly, I get so sick. I can't even imagine having to deal with this too. I am so glad you made it safely, and in that little plane. Wow! The Lord was deffinately looking out for you. Must be because you're such an amazing Missionary Mom.

Heidi said...

When does your first novel come out. I'd like to read it! I'm sorry you had to deal with that...you didn't mention that a certain sister would be devasted without you too! :(

Twins Squared said...

Shelley I felt like I was going to have a heart attack reading this. I am so glad all was okay! And of course, love your thoughts about the mullet man - I would have been thinking all the same things.

Meegan said...

Oh. My. Goodness. What an experience!! You wrote so well. I felt like I was sitting right next to you.
Shelley, we are so grateful you are safe and able to begin your empty nest :) Really, it is alot of fun!
I love you MM!

Just ME the MOM said...

You are amazing, I can't even stand to read this post . . . how do we get through these situations! Faith, that's the only answer. So glad you're still with us all safe and sound - tons of hugs!