I come from a family of worriers. My husband comes from a family of relaxers.
One time we were flying to Hawaii. Mark, as usual, fell asleep the minute he sat down. I woke him up for safety instructions.
“I’ve heard them a hundred times,” he said. “Besides, there’s nothing to worry about.”
“There’s always something to worry about.”
“Fine,” he said. “You pay attention, and if something happens, tell me what to do. You’re good at that.”
Mark closed his eyes, and I listened to the flight attendant’s speech, judiciously tightening my seatbelt and identifying my nearest emergency exit.
It’s exhausting to be me. When my anxiety mixes with my vivid imagination, strange thoughts happen. I fantasize the most unlikely events: What if I found a baby, fell into quicksand, discovered a snake in a toilet, burned off all my hair with the flatiron… Ridiculous, I know, but my brain has a mind of its own.
As we flew over the ocean, I played Sudoku and tried to relax. Which I did, until I smelled smoke.
I nudged Mark. “Wake up. Something’s burning.”
He opened one eye. “They’re toasting sandwiches.”
Really? Not only did it not smell like grilled cheese, airlines hadn’t served hot food since I was a kid—at least not in coach.
I looked back and saw flight attendants pouring drinks. That made me feel better. But then I noticed a haziness in the air. Another passenger caught my eye. She saw it, too. The smoke thickened. More passengers noticed. A flight attendant sprinted toward the cockpit.
That worried me. A panicked flight attendant was not a good sign.
Seconds later, the Captain announced: “Due to an unknown source of smoke in the cabin, we are returning to LAX. Please remain calm.”
Finally, Mark was awake.
I glared at him. “Toasting sandwiches?”
He was about to respond when the oxygen masks dropped and danced above our heads. “Hmm,” he said. “Maybe something is wrong.”
“If they tell us to put on life vests, I’ll for sure have a heart attack.”
“Don’t worry,” Mark said, reaching for his mask. “It’ll be fine.”
At that moment, I was grateful for my husband’s composure. His ability to stay calm, as insane as that was, reassured me. Never-the-less, I still spent the next forty-five minutes wondering if I could out-swim a shark.
Thankfully, we did not explode or crash into the water. And due to my diligent concern for safety, I knew exactly what to do when we were ordered to evacuate. Most passengers were in a tizzy, but I remained calm. After all, I knew my closest emergency exit; I knew to leave everything behind; I knew to follow instructions.
At the emergency exit door, a giant slide loomed in front of me. As instructed by the crew, I jumped with my legs extended. My bottom bounced on the slide, and down I went. It was exhilarating and terrifying and the ride of my life! As a bonus, three strong (and handsome!) firemen caught me at the end. Suffice it to say, Mark did not enjoy the process nearly as much as I did.
Despite our experience, little has changed. I still fly. I still worry. I still listen to safety instructions. And Mark still falls asleep. After all, what are the chances of an inflight crisis happening to one person twice? Miniscule, to be sure.
But you know me. There’s always something to worry about.
PS: It’s the ten year anniversary of this true event! American Airlines flight 31 LAX to Honolulu August 5, 2008.