Saturday, September 10, 2016

Climbing to New Heights

            Image result for airplane with training wheels -bicycle -bike
by The Urban Blabbermouth
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It started when I was ten.  I was riding shotgun with my father when a small plane crossed the highway in front of us.  The plane floated gently to its landing, like it had all the time in the world.  It was beautiful.  I knew then I wanted to be a pilot.  

I dreamed of soaring with the clouds and flying through them.  I could go anywhere the crow flies.  No stuck in traffic following a road as laid out by some anonymous engineer.  I could fly with the birds, although, I never thought myself a bird.  I loved the freedom.

But, I fear heights.  

It's not just any heights, it's low heights, the kind you get with stairs, balconies, bridges, and landing airplanes.  When I fly on airlines as a passenger, I look out the window at thirty thousand feet, no fear.  Somewhere between six feet, my height, and thirty thousand feet, airplane's height, lives my fear, a mysterious feeling that emerges from my stomach and rises up into my chest.  I can't describe it. My jaw is clenched right now and my face is scrunched into an ugly frown as I tell you my story.

I signed up for flying lessons.  I was fine at two thousand feet up.  Looking out the side window of the Cessna 150, the ground slowly passing by, I was just floating along with the clouds below, although a bit noisily.  The world is different when you look down on it as a series of roof tops and black roads.  

The instructor and I went up to practice take-offs and landings, touch-n-go in aviation parlance.  As I pushed the steering wheel forward, the plane's nose pointed down for the landing, and I flew straight towards the ground at one hundred miles per hour.  The ground started to come up at me.  I stared out the windshield at it.  The runway disappeared and the windshield filled with this dirt brown and grass green blob, the black tarmac runway in the middle like a tongue.  The muscles in my biceps tingled, my arms went weak and start to shake slightly, as I held the nose down.  I was flying into the ground.  The instructor took over.  Not entirely unexpected for the first lesson.  I attempted three more landings but my anxiety grew worse and the ground grew bigger and bigger until it took off and came up to meet me in the air.  

I took several more lessons and each time, the instructor took over.  I came to the conclusion that I liked the ground beneath my feet and not in my windshield.  I gave up learning to fly -- no crashing, no broken bones, no excruciating pain, and no dying.  I should have taken up racing cars. Much safer. 

As self-therapy, I have ridden the roller coasters at Great Adventure Amusement Park near my home. Roller coasters are perfect. They are fast, close to the ground, and I am out in the open but securely strapped in place.  I ride round after round.  I figure that by excess exposure to my fear of heights, I will get over it.  I look for the scariest, longest roller coaster ride with the biggest drop from the highest possible point straight down to ground.  If there is the word Nitro in the ride's name, I am on it in the front seat.  Once, the Park offered to sell me pictures of myself on the ride.  I had a clenched jaw, a scared ugly, frightened rabbit look, holding the seat bar with a vise grip while the woman next to me was smiling happily, her arms raised in the air.

In my old age, I am still in therapy at Great Adventure.  I have concluded that all this fear is the result of my imagination run amok, the same imagination that I will now use to write amazing and awesome stories in this blog.