I don’t exactly know what I was thinking. I am flying across the ocean, over thousands and thousands of miles of salty, brackish waters of untold depths that are winging away beneath a metal body that seems to only follow the bumblebee version of physics – working out of belief rather than reason. I am going to meet a friend whom I have never spoken to outside of the contents of our keyboards in Italy. This is, I suppose now, having bought the tickets and boarded this flight, perhaps a bit naive. A little bit crazy.
My hands tremble a bit as I accept the water cup from the flight attendant. She is Irish, or at least speaks with a brogue that may be required for all of the attendants on Aer Lingus, and I don’t know why I find that calming. Her hair is neat as a pin, swirled and secured behind her in a retro-style bouffant. Her makeup is just on the verge of cakeyness, but she has a cool, self-assured demeanor. For some reason, in my mind, the anxious thought dances around on stilts: if all of our bodies and all of our luggage and all of this machinery can ride in a suit of metal through the sky, there must be some sort of magic to it, some sort of belief. And maybe, since I’m thinking of it, that belief is mine. So I can’t stop believing in the power of modern aerodynamics and aeronautics and karma and cha arrows and mana and my own fragile will because the moment I do, the half-moment I do, we could all fall out of the sky.
Maybe more than a little bit crazy. It is only my second flight of the day, or the two days, as time blurs together at such heights and speeds. I have flown before maybe twenty times and almost always by myself. But I think there’s some comfort in believing you’re safe if only you’re just paying attention. That you won’t be caught off-guard if the worst does come to pass.
It doesn’t, though, and eventually, I watch Three Coins in the Fountain on the airplane TV that is mounted into the seat in front of me. It features Rome in the sixties, women with odd collars, and everything in the glory of technicolor all while my compatriots on this flight yawn and find themselves capable of dreaming while their bodies are moving from point to point at five hundred miles an hour. Most are roused, though, when the flight attendants push the carts through with trays of microwaved Irish stew and some other forgettable option. I loosen my grip on the armrest and tuck in. It’s good. Or at least, if this was to be my last meal on this mortal coil, it was bearable. Between this and the coffee and tea, time passes, the airplane chooses not to fall out of the air and we land in Dublin. It’s two a.m. here or that’s what my ticket tells me because no clock looks the same. I log in to Facebook and announce my arrival. To me, I think, as I sit in the waiting area for the final flight that will take me to Rome and to meet the friend who has arranged to pick me up and take me to her house, that there’s something miraculous that has just occurred. However, security agents and bleary-eyed passengers, some who flew with me and some who did not, don’t appear to be in the mood to discuss the fact that humanity has devised a way for all of us to transport ourselves over the very clouds, over oceans where for thousands of years men died in the effort of crossing the waters, and we’re able to do it and shop at the SkyMall at the same time.
The fact that I have to do it again in a matter of an hour and a half seems like I might be pushing my luck.
But curiosity and propriety get me on that last plane and as the sunrises multiply across the time zones, I look out the window to see the mythical Italian landscape slowly come into focus. It is beautiful, and surreal, what you expect and yet, strangely unlike the cities that have welcomed me before. We arrive into Leonardo da Vinci Airport – Fiumicino and and de-plane. Immediately, fear dissipates and re-formulates as all the safety warnings I was given before I left come to mind. Don’t let anyone touch your purse, don’t let the gypsies get you, and don’t get lost. All this and a hot, October day brings beads of sweat to my brow as the whole plane struggles into a bus to take us into the actual airport. Once inside, and through the checkpoints, my suitcase doesn’t come up on the carousel and I realize, I can’t speak Italian. I can’t tell anyone I can’t find my suitcase. If I was to fall apart in tears, nobody would…and of course, just at the moment of regret, I saw the black suitcase swing around to meet me. I lug it out and start heading to the exit, not sure what exactly Italy was going to mean.
But my friend was standing there at the entrance waving her hands, just as we’d talked about when we dreamed up this trip. And the journey, as I was to discover, was just starting.