(According to NASA, as it flies, a plane is in the center of four forces. Lift (upward force) and thrust (forward push, provided by a propeller) get a plane into the air. Gravity and drag (air resistance, which is friction) try to pull the plane down and slow its speed. A plane must be built so that lift and thrust are stronger than the pull of gravity and drag by just the right amount).
Safety feels like freedom to some little girls. Closet-time playtime: I’ve got Pacman on my Gameboy, wearing dad’s NY city marathon shirt, listening to Losing My Religion on my Discman. I crave the solidity of being closed in, sitting in my closet, happy as a cub in a tree hollow. I’m five years old, I’m nine years old, I’m fourteen years old, people talk about nuclear bombs in post-Cold War tension and I lay in bed awake thinking I hear their jolly whistle coming down/
loud world: mom’s yelling before the sun’s up; she’s moving from room to room like Pacman looking for the cherries: she’s going to make all those monsters, ghosts. She’s always losing stuff. Dyes her hair blonde and can’t find me when I’m sitting in the backseat of our car. Hyperventilating, needs a Xanax, and covers my mouth in the grocery store line, because the man in front of us coughs, stage whispers, “he might have AIDS-” I ask Mickey Mouse if I’m sick and need to go to the doctor, little girl imaginary friends, develop
a phobia of flying on March 22, 1992: “Ice on wings causes USAir Fokker 28 to crash into Flushing Bay, killing 27 people.” I was coming in for landing looking down at the strip of runway jutting out into the water when I saw some thing that didn’t belong. Looked like one of those smiling dolphins bobbing above the water for fish at the aquarium. And, then there was the live news coverage as we walked down the concourse, 27 people killed. I feel my life stacked like a deck of cards, think of the baby that had been sitting a few seats in front of me. Think of babies in the mouths of dolphins. I’m 9 years old, closed in
four lines wide and two lines high- that’s all there is to a closet. Could run a finger up the length of outer space and find the edge. I can imagine eternity here, and it feels like safety; or how in the many-worlds theory, no matter what you’ve chosen that day, somewhere you are living the perfect life. Little girl locks of brown hair curling down my cheeks don’t remind me that mom doesn’t like people like dad here. That grandpa told mom’s sister she looked like a black girl, would have to sit at the back of the movie theater when she was little. I don’t feel it yet, singing with daddy Doris Day’s, Que Sera Sera at the top of our lungs on sunny, Saturday mornings-
(The shape of an airplane is important in overcoming drag. For example, the nose of a plane is rounded so it can push through the air more easily. The front edge of each wing is rounded too. An airplane built like a railroad boxcar just wouldn’t fly very well.) I have
my mother’s propensity for panic. The first time back on a plane after USAir Fokker 28 is not so bad, but gradually and then suddenly I am overcome by the grip of fear in my chest every time I step onto one of these airborne sea creatures, a full-blown phobia by the time I’m eighteen. I take to the road on family holidays driving three days straight. Binge on cheesecake brownies and a Xanax when it can’t be avoided, convinced I’m at the end of my days. I am,
25 years old when my dad dies from esophageal cancer. Talks about being like his favorite superhero, Spiderman, when he hears the sounds of a fire truck. Checks in with me, “do I have to go save them?” again and again. Ammonia from his failing liver is flooding the brain. Tells me I am love. Looks at me, free from the gnawing pain for once and eyes lit from within, “You are love,” he whispers and won’t look away. Just keeps telling me, like he’s proclaiming me queen of something, “You are Love.” When I wasn’t
in the closet, I hid between the pages of a book. I open the door and leave that drab, suburban house in Orlando, Florida. Walk away from everything. I walk for hours sometimes, book tucked beneath my elbow, usually about elves or other universes. Or, I carry my dad’s old SLR camera and take a photo of my doll sitting on some industrial structure on the side of the road. Cold metal burning in the Florida sun. Put her in the dirt and take another photograph. Thrust and push, I am turning fifteen years old. Graduating from my closet, writing poetry on napkins in the car: she can’t hear me, she won’t see me. But, one day I’m going to grow up and be a pilot like dad.
I’m flying to the funeral alone, the fear trying to claw its way up through the heavy weight of grief. Loud world: sucking noise of air pressurizing, bouncing of wheels on the tarmac, the aching in my eyes from the reflection of sun on white clouds. The grief knifing my throat for a way out, scratching like a rabid cat. My father loved nothing in this world more
than he loved to fly, and rising like Maya said always starts out harder than ashes floating all gracefully into the air. No, more like those baby birds bouncing down cliffsides as they learn to fly. That’s how it was for me anyway. And, dad has wonder lighting the gold in his hazel eyes until my anger at his leaving turns into anger at this fear. I look at the curve of the wing of the plane directing gravity to get below. And, in the span of minutes, those clouds are beautiful instead of terrifying: my throat is aching for gravity to get beneath this plane and lift it higher and higher above everything until there is only the unobstructed line between here and where I want to go. Exhilaration, and
it is a seed. (A plane flies through the air by continually pushing and pulling the surrounding air downward). It seems like some children have to start first in a closet. Seems like children have to overcome all that drag and gravity, wait for the day they have enough experience in themselves to pilot their own plane. Waiting in their little ecosystem, a small miracle in itself, until that day they wake up flying. A closet, the dead-end streets of our youth, the way we use music and art and love like the curve of a plane’s wing to lift us above it all. Closed spaces and every places: there is so much freedom in here/
At the end he looked like a Buddha, big belly, and I think, of course he does, this man loved the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and maintained The Little Prince was a story to live by. You are responsible for that which you tame, he tells me. I think of how he loves my mother. I think of how he was responsible for me. We both tamed by him. I think of squishing ants in our driveway back in Miami when I’m six years old: television screen distant from reality and there is his face suddenly, open and concerned replacing the static of ignorance, and I know I’ve done something unkind. That sensitivity unfolds like the petals of night-blooming cactuses. He instructs me on empathy, carefully and slowly: he has consulted with several books and probably chatted with his priest beforehand. I am enchanted by this (the shape
of an airplane is important in overcoming drag).