My heart hammered and I felt faint as the plane took off, white knuckling the arm rest in terror. I’ve been in three airplanes and three crashes. The first I chalked up to bad weather. The second bravely, to bad luck. But the third was like a bad omen. Some told me how lucky I was to live through it. I never quite saw it that way. I wondered all these years why everything in my life had to turn in to a drama. Why couldn’t anything just be easy?
For twenty years I never met the grim reaper again. Ironically now I had nothing left to lose, but a little time. I had just been informed I had less than six months to live. While life was precious to me, it was even more important to take what time was left, gamble against the odds and live as fully as possible these remaining moments.
In that moment, eye clenched, lips going numb from hyperventilating, a hand on each side of me took my hands in their warm ones. Two strangers with the same thought consoled me, offering their strength. I was so shocked by the human contact having been alone for so long that I could only gasp in surprise. My right hand was being cradled delicately between long slender fingers, freckled by age spots, but perfectly manicured and ultra feminine. Faded blue orbs smiled kindly as she patted my arm maternally.
“I used to feel that way when I first started flying. But now I fly all over the world to see my family and I enjoy being closer to heaven. Everything will be alright. You’ll see.”
My fingers trembled with fear despite her reassurance and she didn’t appear to be in a hurry to let go. I squeezed her hand gratefully. Her eyes drifted, peering out the window daydreaming the way old folks do, lost in deep thoughts.
The other hand swallowed mine and I felt like a small child, protected by a strong grip. Its owner had a totally relaxed expression on his handsome face. Blue green eyes sparkled with mischief as he grinned knowingly. His voice took what little breath I had left, it was so deep and the accent was like something out of a romance novel. My hand instantly felt hot in his. He must have notice the sudden heat too. His smile grew wider with interest.
“She is right you know. I cross the ocean many times. Sleeping for a whole day. Is boring unless you have someone to chat with while you travel. Talk with me. Soon we be there.”
His charming smile made me forget my own fear and as soon as the stewardess informed us that we could undo our seatbelts both of my comforters had let go of my hands and were chatting at me as if we were old friends.
I learned what a “cumulous” cloud was observing it from below, a miraculous vantage point for someone who has spent most of her life grounded. I had never seen a laptop theater but I was handed a pair of headphones and laughed and cried my way through “Ever After” which Tomas informed he had bought for his daughter to watch. This his first time viewing it too, which made it even more special.
Lunch wasn’t as unappetizing as I had been lead to believe. It was quite tasty in fact. I don’t drink normally but I did indulge in a wine cooler. However I didn’t feel any different and Zetty told me that was normal while you were in the air. But not to drink too much because it would triple per drink the moment we landed.
Obediently I sipped it slowly, feeling free and even a bit naughty. You have to set the example for your children. Walk your own talk. So I had never smoked, used drugs or imbibed in spirits since they were born. But now that they were all grown and my own life cycle was depleting rapidly I could afford the luxury of a little fun.
Landing was barely noticeable, as my new friends again took my hands and held on to me. I hadn’t felt this happy in a long time. Like I was real. Important. Not just a ghost in a sea of faces. Burying the father of my children, their other half, and mine, six years before, was about the emptiest feeling in the world. I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed or even smiled.
I knew that even though it was only a short time we shared that as long as I lived I would never forget either of them. I was misty eyed as we went through customs and waved goodbye knowing we’d never meet again.
But later when I was in the hotel, having somehow managed to communicate with an Italian who spoke stilted English, while taking my coat off, something fell from my left hand pocket.
It was a note from Tomas. Written with a bold flourish that suited his personality. It asked simply.
There was a phone number. I had no idea how I would call it but I knew after I had a chance to freshen up I was going to embark on the last great adventure of my life. Or was it the first?
In that moment I realized that life can still be beautiful, right up until the moment you take your last breath. And no one, not even doctors could tell me when that would be. It would be when God chose. Not man. I’m very willful when I choose to do something too.
With that thought in mind I decided I was no longer afraid of flying. Italy had seemed like a far away dream. Now it was my reality. I wondered how many other dreams I could live.
Copyright © 1983 Darlene Purcell All rights reserved.