Fear Of Flying
by Elizabeth Black
Gina Hartlove gripped the armrests so hard her knuckles blanched. This plane is going to crash, and I'm going to be tossed in dozens of pieces all over the Rocky Mountains. I'm not going to make it. She was glad she had lowered the shade on the window so she couldn't see outside. Why couldn't the plane go down over one of the plain states that were so flat entire counties could act as a runway? At least over Ohio she'd have a chance to survive. The plane lurched as it maneuvered a pocket of turbulence, and Gina tasted bile and her three cups of coffee jump in the back of her throat.
Matt's touch on her hand felt warm against her clammy skin. "Here, Sweetie, drink this. It'll help you feel better." Her hand shook so much when she wrapped her fingers around the paper cup he had to steady her grip. "It's ginger tea. It'll settle your stomach."
"I don't need tea to settle my stomach." She whined. "I need the plane's wheels firmly on the ground."
"We won't be up here much longer. I promise. Another hour and we'll be taxiing the runway on our way to the arrival gate."
"That's an hour too long." She squeezed her eyes shut and swallowed hard as she sipped the tea. Tangy ginger warmed her throat and settled in her stomach.
"Breathe." Matt whispered in her ear. "Take in a few deep breaths. That'll help." He patted her hand and rose. "You're doing better than you think you are. In fact, you're doing so well I have a surprise for you."
She opened her eyes and stared at him, pleading with him to not leave her alone in this sheet metal flying coffin. "Where are you going? I don't want you to leave."
"The flight attendant has more Dramamine. I'll get some for you. And you need to eat. The only things you have in your stomach are coffee, ginger tea, and stomach acid." He squeezed her arm and kissed her on her sweating forehead. "I'm not going far. I'll take care of you. Just keep breathing. I'll be right back."
Guys said "I'll be right back" all the time in horror movies and they never returned. Gina didn't want to be left alone even if Matt were gone for only thirty seconds. That was thirty seconds too long. "Be quick," she whimpered. "I don't want to be alone here. And what surprise are you talking about?"
"If I tell you, it won't be a surprise." He grinned. "You'll like it. It'll make all the agony of this trip worthwhile. You're doing great, by the way. Much better than our last flight."
She knew he was right. He always took good care of her. They'd been dating steadily for three years, and they were so close they finished each other's sentences. Matt was her soul mate. She couldn't imagine living without him. Other men had little patience for her fear of flying. The two men she dated prior to Matt refused to understand her sheer terror at being in a tin box at 35,000 feet. After several flights where she all but saw a gremlin on the plane's wing they abandoned her like lost luggage at the ground level carousel.
Matt was different. He patiently worked with her fear, even sometimes going on driving trips rather than flying. They had flown four times already, all short trips. This time, the trip was five hours from Boston Logan to LAX so they could vacation at Disneyland. She'd always wanted to see Disneyland, and they took time off from work to go. One year ago she never would have even considered the trip. Now, she wondered if she had bitten off more than she could chew, but she trusted Matt would take good care of her. She didn't know what she would do without Matt. She trusted him with her life.
She leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. Taking deep, heaping breaths, she willed her body to relax. First, her feet. She uncurled her toes and wiggled them until the cramps in her arches subsided. Then, she stretched her legs until the kinks unraveled. Her stomach was a lost cause so she concentrated on her arms. She flexed her hands and fingers until the color returned to them. By the time Matt returned with the flight attendant, she felt less frantic than she had for the past four hours.
"Ma'am, here's something that will help settle your motion sickness." The flight attendant's nametag read "Julie", just like on that old TV show "The Love Boat". Gina popped the pill into her mouth and swallowed it with the cup of ginger ale on ice Julie handed her. Matt grabbed her hand and placed a small bag of Smokehouse almonds in it. She wasn't hungry but maybe the nuts would settle her stomach. She chose to eat them later, after she drank more of the ginger ale. As she slipped the bag into her jeans pocket, Matt gently took her by the wrist and pulled her hand out.
"Please eat them. It's important."
"But I'm not hungry. I don't think I'll eat again for the rest of my life."
"Please, Gina, just eat them. Open the bag. Please?" He pleaded with her, puppy dog eyes gazing at her so eagerly she acquiesced and tore open the bag. Matt stared at her with a very strange smile on his face. What's he up to? He said he had a surprise for me...
She dipped two fingers into the bag and expected to touch nuts but something round confused her. Not sure what exactly was in the bag, she gripped the object, removed it, and held it up. Light shined against facets, breaking up into a myriad rainbow points. The ring's silver band held the carat diamond, and the sight of it took her breath away so quickly she forgot her motion sickness. People in adjacent seats gazed upon the display with interest and delight. A blue-haired old woman raised her eyebrows and let loose a faint squeal of joy as her lips rounded in an "O" the same size as the ring. A young married couple in the seats to the right one aisle ahead of them giggled as if they were in on the surprise.
"Matt? I ... oh, my ... this ... wow ..." She couldn't muster more words than those, poor expressions of the joy and disbelief she felt.
Matt knelt before her on one knee and took her by the hand. He slipped the ring onto her left ring finger and gave her hand a squeeze. "Do you like the ring?"
"I love it!"
"Will you marry me?"
"Of course I will!" The moment she accepted the passengers erupted in whoops of congratulations. The blue-haired old woman slapped Matt so hard on the back he tipped forward onto his knees. Overcome with laughter and tears of joy, Gina held her hand in front of her face and admired her new station in life, symbolized by the endless circle of her new engagement ring.
Matt shook the nuts onto his palm and fed them to her, one at a time. "Now that that's settled, let's get your stomach settled. Eat these almonds and drink your ginger ale. That's an order."
"Yes, sir!" So delighted was Gina that she momentarily forgot her ailments. It wasn't until Matt reminded her that her stomach flip-flopped, but nearly as harshly as it had earlier. Somehow the promise of a wonderful future with him eased her suffering. She knew now that regardless of the turbulence in her life, whether 35,000 feet in the air or with her feet planted firmly on the ground, she'd always have Matt by her side. A little motion sickness wouldn't hurt her. With joy in her heart, she turned to the window, lifted the shade, and gazed outside. The Rockies loomed below, their sheer majesty overpowering her vertigo. What a beautiful view! And what a beautiful future!