Thursday, May 26, 2005

Come to think of it, we'll take that Xanax after all...

Monday, May 16, 2:00pm
Steve's car

My phone rings. It's Steph.


"WU-HUUUU! I just finished my last final!"

"Nice! How'd you do?"

"I ACED it! I am SO psyched for Mai Tai's on the beach with you, honey!"

"Well, pace yourself. We've got ten hours before we set foot on sand."

"The limo's coming to my house, right?"

"Yep, I'm on my way now."

It's a bit cold outside, but I open my window anyway. The air feels different when I'm on vacation. My tie feels looser, the music sounds louder, and my car seems to go faster. It's strange driving at this time of day; I'm not used to seeing the sun so high, or the streets so filled with traffic. I feel a twinge of guilt for being away from the office, like a kid skipping school.

I pull up to Steph's house and do a double-take. She's standing outside her front door, two suitcases lined neatly up in front of her, a windbreaker tied around her waist, and sunglasses perched atop her head. She mouths the word "HI!", so exaggeratedly that I could have lip-read her from across the street. For a procrastinating, last-minute scrambler like her, this is extraordinary.

I get out of my car and lock it. She runs up and hugs me as if trying to crack a rib. "I cannot believe we're going to Hawaii!!"

"Thanks for switching your schedule around. So, was the exam-"

"NO talking about school. OR work. From now until we get back. Agreed?"

"Well, that all depends. When I'm hitting on those girls at the bar, they may want to know what I do for a living."

"HA-HA-HA!" she sneers. "Maybe I'LL get hit on," she says, batting her eyes.

"I'd bet on it."

She bumps up against me, so our stomachs are touching, and looks into my eyes, smiling warmly. She's twirling her hair, and it occurs to me I haven't seen her do that in a long time.

I stare at her. She's got a single, tiny wrinkle under each eyelid. I can't stop looking at them. I'm finally involved in a relationship with a woman, a true adult. I'm so lucky to have her, I think.

"So what is this crazy deal you made with Dan Johnson? Where are we staying?"

"Well, I'd tell you, but I'm fairly certain that would be discussing work, so..."

"You're not gonna tell me, are you?"

"You'll be happy. Trust me."


Flight 387, seats 13b and c

"So we have to try to stay awake as long as we can, because-" I turn to her. Her face has gone pale; her skin looks milky and artificial, like a porcelain doll.

"You ok?"

"Mm-mm" she says, wiggling her head left and right. She breathes in deeply through her nose and lets it out with a sigh.

"Are you afraid of flying?"

"Yep," she says, inhaling sharply. "I figured I just wouldn't think about it. And I thought I was FINE! Right up until we got close to the airport and I could see the planes taking off."

"You wanna borrow a Xanax?" we hear, suddenly.

Steph and I turn to the window seat on our right. Sitting in 13a is a small, round woman with her mouth turned downward into a permanent scowl. If she were carved out of stone, she could easily guard the entrance to a castle.

There had been no introduction, no preliminary conversation. This woman had no idea who the hell we were, and still she offered to let us... borrow a heavy-duty anxiety drug. And by the way, why do people insist on using the word "borrow" when it comes to drugs or food? What, is Steph going to give the pill back after she's done with it?

"I use them all the time when I fly. They're WON-daful!"

"Um, thanks anyway, but-" Steph begins.

"Are ya's goin' on yer honeymoon? Did ya's get married?"

"No, we're just going on vacation together, because we're gonna be apart most of the summer."

"Aww, that's nice," she says. She shakes a pill bottle a few times, as if it were a musical instrument. "Ya sure you don't want one? You seem very nervous."

Steph exhales through puckered lips. "I really can't accept that. I'm in law school. I'm gonna be a lawyer, and-"

"OOooooh, oh, oh, neva mind, neva mind," she says. "Boy, I'm liable to get myself in trouble!"

We hurtle down the runway; we're momentarily pinned to our seats. Then the plane's nose lifts off the ground, and the rear wheels follow, and the stark realization hits me that we are no longer touching the earth, that we have left the safety of solid ground, and we've reached an irreversible point at which, if, God forbid, something happens and gravity should have its way with us, the results won't be pretty.

Sure, plane crashes are rare. As everyone in the business reminds us constantly, you are much more likely to be involved in a car wreck than a plane wreck. What they don't mention is that people tend to walk away from car wrecks, but you can fit what's left of most plane crash victims into an airsickness bag, and still have room to puke in it.

Steph grabs my arm and squeezes hard, closing her eyes. "I hate taking off. And landing. Once we level off, I'll be fine."

"Come on, Steph. What's the worst that could happen? Oh. Sorry," I smile. She slaps my arm.

"I thought you went to Mexico on spring break when you were in college."

"I did. That's why I'm afraid of flying. It was the most terrible flight ever. We got caught in a storm. We'd be flying along, and bouncing all around, and then we'd drop 200 feet in 5 seconds. Or at least it felt that way."

"So where are ya's on your way to? Maui?"

Oh no! Of course not! Sure, the plane is LANDING in Maui, but I figured we'd get a couple of parachutes and jump ship somewhere over the Pacific to look for Gilligan's Island!


"I'm goin' to see my boyfriend."

"Oh really?" Steph says.

"I almost didn't make it. My knee is killing me. And my back, too. I got arthritis in my knee. And my finger," she says, holding up a stiff, crooked digit. "And then I got two vertebrae fused years ago. And then I got into a car accident and I broke my jaw..."

Oh really? Did they wire it shut? You didn't happen to save the wire, did you?

"Aww, that's too bad," Steph says. She's trying to be nice.

"Thank God for this OxyContin," she says, wagging another pill bottle at us. "I take this six times a day. It's WON-daful!"

I look at my watch. Only 9 hours and 57 minutes to go.