The first thing I remember is that I’m sitting on an airplane. I have a window seat, and I’m looking out at the runway. The plane hasn’t taken off yet and is just sitting there, as planes often do, the aviation equivalent to being stuck in traffic. Fang Deng is next to me, although we’re not talking or anything, and I’m looking out the window not paying any attention to her. No, I’m thinking about the plane. I’m thinking about flying.
Because, the thing is, I’m really scared of flying. In real life and apparently in my dream world, it makes no difference. The plane starts to move and suddenly I start thinking things so unlike me. Normally I would be going into a slight panic at this moment, sure that something will go wrong, that the plane will ascend slightly and then droop to one side, fly sideways for a short spell before slamming into a building. That’s what I typically envision during take off. But this time, looking out the window at the huge wing of the plane, I’m totally confident. Comfortable, even. I think, “This plane is enormous. It’s a beast. A beast of the air. A pterodactyl. And it’s totally, completely safe.”
The plane takes off and my heart doesn’t race, my hands don’t shake, I don’t grab Fang Deng’s arm and force her to soothe me by petting me like a puppy (it really is soothing). Instead, I sit and look out at the body of the plane and think that everything, every minute of this flight, is going to be all right.
But then something happens. Another plane zips by at tremendous speed, very close to our plane. The near miss rattles me. “What the hell?” I think. “That plane almost hit us.”
Then the pilot comes on. “Folks,” he says, “there are an unusually high number of flights today. It might be for the best if you just closed your window shades and go to sleep. We don’t want the number of planes in the sky to alarm anyone.”
I immediately look back out the window. What I see, Jesus Horatio Christ, it’s unbelievable. There have to be at least thirty or forty other planes out there, in the sky, all flying packed in together like birds in a formation. Now I’m trembling. Before I had thought so foolishly that this strong and mighty plane made of steel was indestructible. Before I had thought that I would live. What hubris! The sky is crowded and I’m going to die in a nine plane pile up.
This is the last thing I remember of the dream. I wake up fine. Not screaming or covered in sweat or anything. Not the way people wake up in movies, sitting upright and looking wide-eyed into the camera. Nah, I’m pretty chill. I’ve dreamt about dying in a plane crash like nine hundred times before, so I’m used to it. The people in movies wake up terrified because they’re in disbelief; I wake up calmly from a plane crash dream because I’m resigned to my fate.
Next week I’ll be taking a thirteen-hour flight to South Africa. I’m equal parts excited and nervous. Really, flying is the only thing I do on a semi-regular basis that makes me think, every single time, that I am certainly going to die. And since I generally fly during breaks from school, I’ve got this nice routine. I feel miserable and bitter about life through the final few months of school, and then I go and get on a plane and think about my mortality until the stupid thing lands, and then afterwards I have a renewed will to live.
The cycle is most notable during the landing, when I feel a sense of overwhelming peace. I say to myself, “I’ve lived a good life. I’m ready to go.”
Catharsis. Nothing provides it like being on a plane. Picturing yourself dying in a hell of fire and broken plastic. And then living. And then going and getting breakfast and totally forgetting about the stranger sitting next to you, the one you just pictured charred and badly maimed.
I can barely wait.