About five years ago I read a short story called 'Jetlag' by Etgar Keret that then became my favourite. The story was about a guy getting on a plane and the plane crashing, him falling in love with the girl next to him and her then falling asleep on his shoulder in the life raft.
I read this story over and over again, I even used the title in a poem I used to perform about choosing who I thought might be heroes if my own Ryanair flight had to suddenly land in the sea. No one really liked this poem that much – I think it made everyone uncomfortable - I liked it however, it made me want to think about living on desert islands with strangers, it made me think about how I feel when I’m in the sky, very small but not alone. I’ve never been able to think of a good metaphor for this feeling, but I know it’s the exact opposite of the way I feel when I see couples watching firework displays with their arms around each other.
Really I like airplanes, I like to be awake at odd hours, I like that I can drink in the morning. The young me – a fight club fan, likes hearing the soft buzz of the seat belt sign and little wrapped single serving everything. She also writes love letters on the inside of vomit bags, high up watching the world shrink beneath and turn into dots, and she's also superstitious, more so than she'd probably like to let on.
These moments, in some bright morning light or glowing city outline would be where I have felt at most calm, getting thoughts not unlike those great epiphanies you might have while intoxicated, only I remember to write them down - something about accession, something about chaos, something about American women, something about sex. Some of these zen moments stick out clearly, like when I was flying over Dubai on my way to India, I was pretty nervous and the lights in the desert looked like neon flowers in some sort of ocean, and there I was, giggling at how it was all starting to make sense again. I like this memory.
I don't know if a lot of people have epiphanies in the sky, at least in the same way I’m always hearing about people coming up with genius ideas of business plans in the toilet. I'm sure people do, and it's not likely that this is a coincidence; a lot of people take planes, a lot of people have ideas.
I think the extraction of choice has something to do with it (at least for me), I'm upset by choice, most people probably are, that's why all the other kids’ parents would channel hop on their sky boxes all angry, I can still hear their voices, 'if we had just the four channels I'd have found something by now.' They'd like it up high. In the the sky I have it all - dietary requirements, a list, earphones and a magazine I'm not supposed to take but probably will. Lets mention a short spurt of restlessness, but then one Bloody Mary, a samosa, a sky high sunrise and weird little movie, Shah Rukh Khan is in love again and I am perfectly alone, so nicely quiet and I plug out, the air hostess is so pretty and it’s not even weird that she’s seen me sleeping. Does that man like me? Do any men who take health and safety that seriously and/or have a beauty routine like me? I imagine the answer is no, and somehow I'm drifting back out the window, my mouth tangy with nap and my lips starting to chap.
My cabin math says that my sky life is about two parts wondering where I put your lip balm, one part wondering what food they will bring me and the smallest of small parts trying to decide when the best time to go to the bathroom would be. But it passes, and I’m never quite as comfortable when I get back from the toilet but that passes too.
They make an announcement and I go and miss the bit where he tells her he loves her, and I'm sad because lord knows I won't be watching the Bollywood remake of 'One Day' ever again, and I am really enjoying it, like it’s a snow day. I get emotionally invested in all of it, the accents, the landscapes, those other bits with interference and I've watched five movies and listened to all of Ravi Shankar’s early works. Two more bloody marys and it hits me that we're all breathing the same air, us lot on the plane and I don't once consider what happens outside of the metal bird. Not even for a second, except when we start to land and fly over a school and I imagine the kids waving at us like I once did and I give a little wave back.
I was recently told that there can be up to two million people occupying the sky at any one time. That’s two million bloody marys, two million bags of Bombay mix, two million people debating whether to give the ass or the crotch, two million with their ears in limbo, quietly chanting to themselves, ‘hold your nose, blow hard and think of Des Lynam.’ - just like the TV told me.