Harder Than It Looks

I’ve done it. I’ve come out to the world. I’ve said it in public and can’t take it back now.

I can fly.

I’ve been able to do it for ages. It’s hard to describe how it works, really. You just sort of jump and then keep going. Steering is all about using your core. You have to have a strong core if you want to fly gracefully. Pilates helps. Fear of falling a very long way helps even more.

When I first told everyone, we’d been hiking all day and had made it to a spot on South Mountain from which you could see the southernmost reaches of Phoenix on the opposite side from downtown. You could actually see where the line of the city ends and the reservation begins. A stark line with slightly down-at-heel suburban stucco housing developments on one side and bare earth on the other.

We were taking turns taking each other’s picture on top of a rock overlooking the view and I said “Hey, guys! I can fly!”  Of course everyone laughed, but Trudy did the stupidest thing. She pushed me.

It took me by surprise, and I fell a good 50 feet before I turned over and surged upward, describing a graceful arc back to where everyone else stood transfixed.

When I landed, everyone was stunned, but I was fuming.

“Trudy, what was that? If I had just been joking, you would have killed me. I would have gone tumbling off the cliff and died. Why did you push me?”

“Lighten up!” Dave said. “You weren’t hurt! You can fly! She didn’t do anything to you!”

“Hey, take me up! I’ll just climb on your back,” Perdy said, and came scrambling up the rock. I hopped down.

“I can’t carry anyone. You’re too heavy,” I said.

“I’m too heavy?” Perdy said, looking hurt. “Look who’s calling me too heavy! You’d think that if you can pull that carcass through the air, you could take little me.”

The rest of the hike back down was really uncomfortable. Trudy acted all hurt because I’d yelled at her, and everyone petted and coddled her as though she were the one who’d been wronged. They immediately treated me as though, by flying, I had done something mean and distasteful, like pulling a crude practical joke.

Lesson #1: People won’t be glad for you.

Flying feels wonderful. Having the wind rushing through my hair, being able to see for miles. That’s really nice. Then again, the higher I go, the colder it is. And when I’m really zipping along, the wind cuts right through my clothes. It’s also tough to find good flying clothes. If they’re too baggy, they flap uncomfortably against my skin. If they’re too tight, they restrict my movement. If they’re too heavy, flying becomes more chore than joy. I’ve settled on that high-tech long underwear that’s made out of plasticky miracle fabrics, and I only put it on when I want to fly.

I look ridiculous. I mean, there’s no disguising my big butt. And there’s especially no disguising it in something that looks like a Superman costume (minus the cape – what the hell was the cape for?). I already knew I looked like an idiot, but Trudy, Dave, Perdy and Karen were all happy to remind me.

I’d pretty much stopped hanging around them. They acted like I’d started flying just to have one up on them, and stopped inviting me out to do regular stuff. I was out flying around because I didn’t have anyone to go to the movies with when they spotted me. I was cruising close to the ground and I heard the familiar sound of their raucous laughter. I landed near where they were picnicking at El Dorado Park, and they immediately started making fun of my outfit.

“You look like 10 pounds of sausage stuffed into a 5 pound casing,” Perdy said.

“You’d think flying would be more aerobic, you know? I would think it would make you lose some weight,” Trudy said, taking a huge bite of sandwich.

I hadn’t said a word, and before the tears could spring to my eyes, I flew off as Dave was saying something I didn’t hear.

Lesson #2: Real people should not dress like superheroes.

It started with getting kittens out of trees. I did it for a while, too, until it was the same kitten for about the sixth time, and I was on my way to a hair appointment and the woman got really nasty.

“But she’s been up there for hours,” she whined.

“Then another hour and a half won’t hurt.”

“It won’t take you five minutes!”

“You’re ten minutes in the opposite direction from my hair appointment. Look, I can’t do it. And you know what? If you just leave her alone, she’ll get out of the tree all by herself.”

“Well, you’re the shittiest superhero I ever heard of,” the woman said before hanging up on me.

I stopped answering my phone after that. Who said I was a superhero? I certainly didn’t. I can’t carry anything heavy when I fly, so it’s not like I can fly up into the mountains and rescue stranded hikers or save airplanes from falling out of the sky. I’m not impervious to injury, as I find out practically every time I’m in the kitchen. And yet, because I can fly, people assume that I have a whole host of other unusual powers.

The chief of police asked me to infiltrate a drug ring. He wanted me to fly around the desert until I found where their big distribution point was, then tell the cops. I told him that I was scared of being seen as I flew around, and that the drug dealers would shoot me, if not right then, after I got home, since there’s nobody else I could be mistaken for. He told me I should turn invisible. When I asked him how I should do that, he acted like I was just being difficult.

The authorities have stopped trying to make use of my particular strength and have taken to just harassing me. I got in trouble for flying without filing a flight plan, but I beat that because I pointed out that the FAA regulates aircraft, and I don’t possess any kind of aircraft. Now they just hang around me when I’m doing normal stuff and ticket me all the time for things like parking too far away from the curb and going 36 in a 35 zone.

Lesson #3: If people can’t use you, they have no use for you.

I’m waiting for that part of my movie where the other people with superpowers show up and take me into the fold. I need someone to tell me how this works. How do I make friends with normal people again? How do I live a normal life? How can I make it through another day without feeling so lonely I just want to fly off the Earth entirely and die? Super my ass.

In the Air

There’s the group of people you see at the baggage check-in. You scan the crowd, wondering how many of them will be on your flight. How many flights can one airline have leaving one airport at the same time, after all? There’s the young couple with a baby and far too much luggage, the rich older couple with no baby and far too much luggage, the gaggle of scruffy students, a whole herd of businessmen in indistinguishable rumpled dark suits, carrying either a laptop or the Wall Street Journal.

You move through the airport check-in process in this instacrowd of fellow-travelers, beginning to bond with them in preparation for the flight. Oh, good. The couple with the baby will be on this flight. There they are at the gate, handing the baby Cheerios which it flings onto the carpet in a 4-foot circle around them. Most of the students aren’t on this flight. This is the time of year they’re all heading toward somewhere coastal, and you’re not. But most of the businessmen are with you, ensuring that you will both not have to talk to anyone on the plane and that you will not get to use at least one armrest.

Now it’s a matter of narrowing down who’s going to sit near you. Not the baby. Please, not the baby. But it’s a couple. The man and woman each pull out something to read and talk neither to each other nor you. You sit by the window and put your jacket over your head and think that you might sleep for the two and a half hours it’ll take to get there. Maybe more. It’s raining now.

You won’t sleep. The plane jumps up and down in the air, a prop at the end of a string held by a small child bent on childish entertainment. The captain does not turn off the “fasten seat belt” light, and you wish that there were more straps to keep your head from hitting the seat every time the plane dips. The flight attendants can’t serve beverages and are still sitting in their fake little seats, their fake smiles rigid on their faces. The baby is hysterical.

The feeling of falling, powerful every time the plane dips, then less so as it recovers, comes on and does not stop, although no instructions have been issued by anyone. The sounds of the plane’s engines are being drowned out by the sounds of the passengers wondering what’s happening, gasping at each new jolt, someone near you has begun crying softly.

You take the jacket off your head and see that it’s the woman next to you who has put down her book and is now snuggled into her partner’s chest. He has wrapped his arm around her and is stroking her hair, looking around the cabin for someone to do or say something. The captain comes on the overhead to say that you’re experiencing “extreme turbulence” and that any passengers not in their seats should return to their seats at once and buckle up. He is going to land at the nearest airport.

The plane is going down. It’s below the clouds now, and you can’t see much out the window because the rain and ice are pelting it so hard that the windows are curtains of water. You hope there’s an airport below you to catch you.

There isn’t. The pilot announces that he’s making an emergency landing, and barks at the flight attendants to do something airplane jargony. The flight attendants do not move. There is nothing for them to do.

The jolts come harder and faster and it’s difficult to tell exactly when the plane hits the ground, except that the noise coming from the other side of the plane is the loudest thing you have ever heard. Even so, is this really happening to you? Things are being thrown around the cabin – women’s purses, paper coffee cups, magazines, and you wonder who will clean up the mess. The seats at the front of the plane suddenly seem to be going uphill, like you’re at the back of a roller coaster heading upward. People are screaming, but now the noise has a distant, tinny quality to it. Someone has gotten out of his seat, and he flies into the air and lands two rows back on top of three people who scream and try to push him away. A section of overhead bins toward the front cracks, breaks, falls onto the heads of the people below it who put their arms over their heads and scream. And now you’re wet and cold because the plane is sideways with a large hole in it where the rain whips in. You’re all still moving. The plane is still skidding along the ground, and it seems you’ve all been strapped to a bullet fired at the ground for an impossibly long time. You feel both weightless and leaden, and you can’t tell whether you’re breathing.

And then the cataclysmic noise stops, and all you can hear is the rain, and people crying. So many people are crying.