The story that got away
December 20, 2013
I believe the definition of fizzle is “to fail pitifully, drizzled in embarrassment.” For what it’s worth, I’d rather fail spectacularly because, really, if you’re going to fail it might as well be epic.
In the case of a public speaking fail, flop sweats should actually gush from your pores like from a sprinkler system. Extravagant gesturing should wipe out a table-full of wine bottles. That Tourette-like thing where I start swearing to make a dock-worker proud, like I did in fourth grade, should crop up. Even a spontaneous nose bleed would be acceptable.
But last weekend at a little dinner, after temporary insanity prompted me to agree to speak in public (which I and 84 percent of all people rightfully fear worse than death), I fizzled miserably. Painfully. A little reminder from the Universe that I’m a public writer, not a public speaker. Thanks, Universe.
If my brain hadn’t short-circuited or aneurysm-ed or flash-frozen, or whatever, I would’ve told this story:
My husband, John, and I had gotten married and he had started a two-place-airplane building project before we had answered one important question: Would I like flying in small airplanes.
Would I be a-feared? Would I vomit? Would I fly a second time?
It was a few years before we found that the answer was: No problem. Fun times. Let's do it again; this time with aerobatics.
That said, I did learn to sympathize with those spouses who are terrified of flying after one summer-time flight to Chester in a little, 1940s-era, aluminum, high-wing two-seater called a Luscombe that John had bought and fixed up.
Because of weather we didn’t get off the tarmac in Havre until late-morning, and that put us into Chester at noon — high noon, that is. That time of day in summer when the thermals and heat waves are slam-dancing around the runway pavement.
John brought our plane in for a landing, descending with quiet assurance. Situation normal ... until we got to about 75 feet off the ground. The airplane started bucking and sliding through the air like we needed to perform an exorcism before touchdown.
I clamped my hands together and my lips shut to keep from distracting the pilot in command with any desperate grasping or fearful outbursts. It was like the two of us were in a calming bubble of elevator music, inanely staring forward at the runway while that airplane did everything but cartwheels.
Despite the elevator music-effect keeping our bodies sedated, inside my head my brain was distinctly yelling, “Pull up! Pull up! For The Love OF GOD, PULLLL! UUUUP!” as we lurched and yawed ever closer to that hard place called Earth.
Ten feet from the pavement, the airplane lined out. We landed with nary a baby bump on the pavement and rolled to a stop.
I honestly don’t remember if I said anything to John about the landing. I do, however, remember him saying something that sounded remarkably like, “I had no control over the airplane there. I just had faith that the air just above the pavement would be good.”
I know that’s not exactly what he said, but it’s what I heard, and my brain-things were not happy with this information — not at all.
Faith-smaith, my brain said. Flying is a science. A science! Not an act of faith. I wanted to hear about physics, chemistry, laws of gravity and aerodynamics, maybe some math or basic thermodynamics. But, faith? Faith is for guessers and do-no-research slouches!
While he conducted business at the airport, I rabidly imagined ways to get home that did not involve flying — safer modes of transportation like hitchhiking with strangers, hopping a moving train, or grand theft auto. I did NOT want to get back on the plane. And I was not. Ever.
Then John asked: “Ready to go, hon?”
“Sure,” I said.
Turning up the soothing elevator music in my head, I dragged my faith aboard the plane of death-filled possibilities and uneventfully flew home.
That’s the dubious, faith-based science of becoming a seasoned small-plane passenger.
(*Spoiler alert* We lived, at firstname.lastname@example.org.)