When the friendly skies aren't so friendly 

Tis the season for summer vacations, which means that it's time once again for me to face up to my fear of flying. It's a fear I know I share with many of you, and I'm not at all embarrassed that I have it.

I'm just a little ashamed of how I got it.

There was a time when I flew without a care in the world, a time when I laughed with flight attendants and mindlessly munched on packets of peanuts — a time that ended the day I realized I could listen on the Internet to the black box recordings of doomed flights.

I know, I know — I'm sick. At least, I was at the time, although I much preferred the term "curious." To be honest, now that I have children, I have absolutely no desire to listen in on the last moments of random strangers. My "curiosity" is at an all-time low.

But back to the recordings. If you're thinking about Googling that kind of thing — don't. There's something about hearing the final words of a pilot hurtling toward the ground that will make you feel a wee bit uncomfortable as you board your flight to Cincinnati and note the tired expression of the captain seated in the cockpit. That something might also make you grip your armrests and sit as still as an Old Navy mannequin when the plane takes to the skies, simply because you don't want any movement on your part to contribute to turbulence.

And that something will be made infinitely worse by those who think they're trying to help.

"Lind-say!" I heard my name in the Charlotte airport several years ago as I waited to board a plane back home to South Carolina. "Girlfriend!"

I turned and saw my hairdresser, Adam, waving at me from across the waiting area. He was waiting in line to check in for my flight. I breathed a sigh of relief and headed over to him. Adam was the best hairdresser in Columbia, which meant he styled the heads of both the town's strippers and the state senators' wives. He was always good for some gossip.

"I hope you're ready to fly in the tiniest plane you've ever seen," Adam said after we'd air kissed. My grip on his arm tightened and he laughed. "Oh, don't you worry," he said. "Just sit next to me. I take this plane back from my boyfriend's every weekend."

Relieved, I boarded the plane by Adam's side and let him take my mind off the flight with the story of a cocaine-addicted television executive who had two different lovers. Before I knew it, it was time for takeoff.

"You know, these small planes are the worst," Adam confided as we left the ground. "Sometimes my mother flies with me, and it seems like the bad things always happen when she's along."

"Bad things?" I croaked. "Like turbulence?"

"Oh honey," he laughed. "Turbulence is a given! Hope you have your barf bag ready! No, I'm talking about losing altitude."

"Descending," I said.

"Well, yeah," he paused. "If you mean falling out of the sky!"

"What?" I gasped.

"There was this one time," he continued undeterred, "when the engine shut down and we just dropped."

"Dropped?!"

"Dropped."

"For how long?"

"Ten seconds. Easily."

"What did everybody do?"

"Well everybody went WAAAAAAAHHHHHH, of course!" He made an exaggerated grimace and waved his hands in the air. "But then the pilot got the engine restarted and we leveled out. Worst flight of my life, though," he said, smoothing his hair.

I tried to speak, but couldn't.

"And then another time one of these planes dropped when I was on it," he continued. "My mother was with me, of course, and she was holding a glass of wine when the plane went out of control, and the glass flew out of her hand right into the face of the man behind her!" Adam chortled.

"My stomach hurts," I said.

"Oh don't worry, doll," he said, squeezing my hand. "Planes this small can just coast to the ground if the engine quits."

Somehow, I didn't believe him.

Since that time, I've thought of Adam's stories quite often as I've bounced through the skies on various airplanes. The engines have never failed, but several times the turbulence has been bad enough that I've let out a preparatory "WAAAAHHHHH!" complete with flailing arms, much to the dismay of my fellow passengers.

Whatever. I'm very competitive and insist on being the first to WAAAAAAAHHH! in the face of impending disaster. Otherwise, it would just look like I was copying.

Fear of flying. I guess you could say it keeps me grounded.

Read more Suburban Turmoil at www.suburbanturmoil.com

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