I am a published author, which was a long-standing goal of mine. Now of course the goals simply escalate. I need to publish more books, build a readership, build a reputation, make more money. But what if the big break really happened? What if someone called and said my book was being made into a movie, or a new book had been offered a huge advance, or some other unlikely scenario? And what if, in addition to all that, I was required to get on a plane?
I don't know if I could do it. I've never been on a plane, aside from my babyhood. I've been told all of the rational reasons why this makes me a fool: car accidents are much more common, airplane technology is so advanced, most airlines have very few accidents on record, some have none. Blah blah blah.
My fear of planes isn't about anything rational, although it is about a need for control. Number one, I feel that if I'd prefer not to die in a fiery crash (and I do prefer that) then one way to guarantee it doesn't happen is not to leave the earth. Makes sense to me. Number two, I'm a Capricorn. The Goat. We goats were meant to keep our little hooves on solid ground--it's written in the stars. Number three, I see no logic in placing my trust in a pilot that I don't know. And number four, it only took one glimpse of wreckage floating on the ocean--way back in the seventies--to make me say, "No thanks" to planes. And that was long before September 11 gave me more horrible visuals.
The biggest plane crash that probably affected me in my childhood was Flight 191, which crashed leaving O'Hare. It had severed its main engine on take-off. The impact killed 258 passengers, 13 crew, and two people on the ground. It was May of 1979; I was fifteen years old.
My mother and I read about the crash with horror, especially the sidebar in the Chicago paper that said a writer named Judith Wax (I remember this clearly after thirty years) was killed in the crash, along with her husband Sheldon. That same year Wax had published a book called Starting in the Middle, in which she had written about her fear of flying. Added to that irony was that the passage was on page 191--the number of the ill-fated flight.
I think I may have inherited my fears from my mother. I literally think some fears are implanted in the DNA. My mother never told me to be afraid of water or of planes, but I'm afraid of both, and so is she. I really don't know how she made it here from Germany without having a major panic attack. When we were children and we would walk by some lake or river on a family vacation, my mother would become pale with fear, would nip at our clothing with her fingers, pulling us back from the sides of bridges that had huge safety gates. It didn't matter, and now I feel that same fear with my children. I fear that they have no fear of death, and therefore no built in protection. I also obsessively think of the worst case scenario. What if they fell in to the lake, the river, the deep end of the pool? I can't swim. I can't save them. I have become my mother, and now we worry about the children in tandem.
I can't swim. I took swimming lessons twice, once as a child and once as a young adult. I failed. In my defense, the teachers were terrible both times, but still, this is bad for my own children, who might enjoy water fun if I ever felt like indulging. They've been to the pool with neighbors and friends; they've been in hotel pools. But Mommy doesn't join them.
Naturally, if I were ever forced to get on a plane, I would have to fly over water. Then I'd be forced to confront two fears at once, and I'm not convinced this is a good thing. People who love flying should fly. People who don't, I think, should stay on the ground.