The plane pulled away from the gate, me sitting in seat 8A, sober and not anxious for the first time in probably a year. My heart beat softly and uninterrupted, I did not dwell on improbable worst-case scenarios, I kept my eyes open. I was, in a word, calm. I’m not sure what had shifted in me, but it seemed as though recently I had more to think about than dying in a plane crash. I felt a new episode of my life approaching somewhere on a distant horizon and that made me seem indestructible, at least for the next six hours, however foolhardy that thought might have been. I would land, because I had to land.
We waited on the tarmac, JFK’s operations paralyzed as of late by the lack of available runways. “We’re about…errr…eighth in line,” came the pilot’s voice over the loudspeaker. The extra time gave my latent nervousness opportunity to pique, but I did my best to ignore it. I watched a plane take off to my right, its glowing silver belly reflecting the lights below. I imagined the planes to be flying fish and us its unexpected occupants, taking to squid-inked waters, a great unknown.
As our turn for takeoff drew near, the engine next to my window purring more aggressively, the prayers of the Hassidic Jewish man sitting next to me became equally more fevered. I took comfort in his faith, though it was in no way my own. But we were similar in that respect: me with my faith in this plane and he in his God, his beliefs.
The plane straightened itself and began its sprint off the concrete, everything passing by in a more rapid succession. The wheels left the ground and that was that: six hours of my life I had absolutely no control over, but the reality was, I didn’t have control over any aspect of my life. The most I could ever do was keep my apartment clean and wash my sheets on Saturdays; the rest had always been up to forces greater than myself. The next six hours will be no different than the previous thousands I have lived before. Just more uncertainty, more risk, more resigning myself to facts that are impervious to my anxiety, my concern. And then I breathed.
Below, the landscape looked like a preschool class mess of glitter and water spilled in indecipherable shapes. Nighttime paint. Yellows and whites and reds, condensed and dispersing, focused and wayward.
Manhattan arose in the north, pockets of light forming into recognizable shapes. I watched it disappear and I was sad, like saying goodbye to a friend you were just getting to know but had been immediately and madly charmed by – someone you didn’t want to leave despite your lack of history together, bound by some inexplicable connection that made you feel silly. The bridges, the lights, the positioning of obscure parts of boroughs. I knew what they were; I knew their names.