I've never been a good flier. I like to keep my feet on the ground. I much prefer traveling by train or by car. I like to see how I get from point A to point B, to watch the landscape go by in a locomotive or an automobile. And to be honest, I'm not 100 percent sure how airplanes work. Look, I'm a smart person. I've wikipedia'd it and all that, but I'm just not totally sold on the science of it.
You sit there in a cramped seat inside a metal tube, you roll around on the runway for a while, then suddenly you begin to rumble into the air, sucking in your breath and white knuckle clinging onto the armrests as you ascend, just like you did when you were riding The Vortex, a roller coaster at Paramount's Kings Island, the world famous or at least Midwest famous amusement park in your hometown of Cincinnati. But unlike The Vortex, the airplane does not ascend up and up and up only to crash down and down and down and flip you around in North America's first corkscrew turnabout on a roller coaster, whatever that really means, no an airplane rises up only to stay airborne. In and above the clouds. You stop seeing the ground after a while. And then suddenly, you're there. At your destination. Without ever really knowing how it happened. Chicago to Clouds to San Francisco, to Paris, to Tampa.
I love to black out. It is such a magical feeling. You can drink and drink and drink until your brain just shuts off, like the power in Jurassic Park. For me, it happens suddenly. I'm a few drinks in and having fun, except for the fact that I'm only a few drinks in and not feeling 'it' yet.
I need to feel 'it'. I need to not feel everything else that I'm feeling and I need to feel 'it' and only 'it' that feeling I felt the first time I ever put bottle to lip, 'it' gets harder to find, 'it' slips away from me these days, like a cloud through my fingers, where is 'it'? The first time I found 'it' was in the bottom of the bottle, so that's where I look and I look and I look until suddenly I'm gone.
And then I don't have to worry, because I've found 'it.' Or 'it's' found me or whatever it doesn't fucking matter. Nothing matters in the blackout. It's just a nice, warm darkness.
It's like when you were a kid and you used to be afraid of the dark, so you always slept with the lights on, but then one night you decided to be brave and you turned off your Minnie Mouse lamp that sat on your dresser across the room. And you have to turn around and navigate back to your bed in the darkness. And you to your surprise, you traverse the path perfectly. Like a beautiful, flightless bat. And you are lying there in the darkness, with your head on your Strawberry Shortcake pillow and you're snuggled underneath the green and pink quilt your grandmother bought you before she died. And you're lying there in the dark, and you realize that the dark itself isn't scary. It's still. No one can see you. You don't have to do anything. You don't have to keep up with your older brothers or perform for your aunts. You can just be still. In that warm darkness. In the blackout.
It's not all comforting blackness and Terminator sleep mode though. Because the plane lands. And you wake up. Sometimes in a different bed. In a different place. With stolen things. Without your purse. With a stranger. With a strange person. Headache. Nausea. Vomiting. Heartburn. Hunger. Thirst. Regret. Anger. Guilt. Discomfort. But you're there. And you walk through that temporary little hallway with your rolly bag, knowing that you will soon discover the puzzle pieces. Time to assemble them together, to complete the picture of your destructive chaos. It's an ugly picture and it keeps getting uglier. And the puzzle keeps getting bigger and bigger until it's one of those giant thousands of pieces puzzles that Dad would do to de-stress and you always offered to help and he always let you try but then it was so hard, you could never find the pieces that fit together right away, so you gave up pretty quickly, because the whole point is putting the pieces together you want the satisfaction of putting the pieces together otherwise what's the point? As General Leia Organa in a Carrie Fisher costume once said, "instant gratification takes too long."
And you saw that quote a long time ago, when the Borders on Michigan Avenue still existed, the one where birds would fly into occasionally, just like they were the tourists and nobody thought it was odd that a bird was sitting at the cafe of the Borders of Michigan Avenue, except for you, but then not everybody is afraid of things that fly like you are. But you saw that quote in her book at Borders and you laughed. A strange laugh, a hollow pit in your stomach kind of laugh. I wish it wasn't that familiar to me kind of funny kind of laugh.
And then there's the crashing. That's mostly why I don't like flying. Let's be real. It's the crashing. The crashing and the burning and the impact and the screaming and the oxygen masks falling and the powerlessness over my own death kind of thing. I watched "Lost," they really show you that actual crash a bunch of times. Very effective. I know it's unlikely, statistically, and I'm much more likely to get attacked by a shark, but don't even get me started on how I can't venture past my knees in the ocean. "Jaws," enough said. But it's that visceral, explosive, dramatic destruction. It's such an exciting way to die. So upsetting and awful, too, like I don't want to die, but if I did, that would be the way I want to go. If I could choose, maybe I would choose that. There would be so much attention on it and news stories and reports of my death would be spread far and wide. And it would be terrible. To die. But it would only be terrible for what? 30 seconds? A minute? Just a short little instant and then you'd be plunged into darkness. Into the black. And everything would be still. And you wouldn't feel anything anymore.
Maybe that's something to look forward to. The blue yonder slipping into black. I'm not so good on an airplane. I like to keep my feet on the ground. But maybe I can. Maybe I can fly.
About the author...
Eileen Tull is a storyteller, performance artist, poet, comedian, and one-woman-show person. Her work investigates feminism, body image, addiction (to technology, to substances, and to ourselves), and, above all, seeking joy. She has performed throughout the country, from San Francisco to New York City, including in the SF Fringe, New Seeds Festival, United Solo, the Cincy Fringe, the Minnesota Fringe Festival, and the Dallas Solo Festival. Her work has been seen all over Chicago in theaters, bookstores, art galleries, bars and other non-traditional spaces. Eileen co-curates Sappho’s Salon at Women and Children First bookstore, a monthly performance series for female-identifying artists exploring gender, sexuality, and feminism. She is a drama instructor with the Chicago Park District, and her work as a creative activist was recognized by The White House in 2016.