The Day I Die

The locals were wrapped in parkas, hats, and gloves. Anna and I wore t-shirts, jeans, and cardigans slung across our arms. It was early afternoon. The olive skin and thick black hair of the other passengers told us that this was a common flight for the locals of Santorini, Greece. An airport employee received the "okay" from the flight crew and motioned for everyone to leave the terminal and walk across the tarmac to the small airplane that would take us to Athens.

Anna and I were on the first leg of our three-week long trek across Europe. It was February, a time when most tourists would rather visit Paris than the Greek Isles, but after spending an entire semester studying abroad on the coast of Scotland Anna and I felt like we were in the tropics. From Athens we would fly to Rome, where we would then traverse the rest of Western Europe via the Eurail.

We boarded the flight and were surprised to find we weren’t sitting together. When planning the trip we made sure to book our tickets simultaneously and chose seats next to each other. Anna thought we were doing this because it’s nice to talk with a friend during a flight. I was doing it because I didn’t want to die alone.

A military brat, I was practically born on a plane. I spent my childhood living and traveling between various countries. Even when my family finally settled in the southeastern United States, my mother made sure I traveled often and took every opportunity for me to fly across the ocean. My fear of flying grew gradually, not peaking until I started college in Michigan and spent every Christmas flying home by myself. By my junior year I started to look at each plane flight as the day I was likely to die.

I hadn’t told Anna of my fears. Unlike the anxious fliers who grip the armrest, fiddle with crosses, or have a constant look of panic plastered to their face, I kept my nervousness to myself. I took pride in the fact that if someone were to look at me they would see a calm, confident flier. Inside, however, my blood pressure threatened to erupt like Mount Vesuvius.

We approached my row first. A large, balding man by the window was already reclining his seat for a nap. A plump woman with thick, curly, black hair sat by the aisle. “Excuse me,” I said, “my friend and I were hoping to sit together. Would either of you mind switching seats with her?”

The bald man furrowed his brow. “No.” He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.

The woman explained that she was a regular commuter on the flight and preferred the aisle. Anna shrugged and continued to her assigned seat. “At least it’s a short flight,” she said.

I checked my ticket and found that the bald man was sitting in my seat. If I couldn’t sit next to my friend, I at least wanted to sit by the window so I could see death coming if we crashed. I tried to get his attention again, but he feigned sleep. Finally, I accepted my fate and crawled over the curly haired lady and into the middle seat.

It was windy outside and take off was shaky. I thought about looking back and catching Anna’s eye, but to do that was to give away my trepidation. We hit cruising altitude, but the plane continued to dip and rise vehemently. I kept my hands in my lap and stared out the window. I silently damned the bald man. The captain came over the intercom. He spoke in Greek first, then in English. He said there would be no drink service because it was unsafe for the flight attendants to move about the cabin. The plane dipped again and the curly haired woman grabbed my hand. She clamped her fingers around my knuckles until her skin was translucent. She whispered quick words to herself. That’s it, I thought, we’re going to die.

I thought of all the normal stuff you do when you believe death is imminent. I thought of my parents, my friends, my dog. I thought of Anna and her family, who would surely blame me for having proposed this whole excursion. I thought about traveling in general and whether or not, should the plane be going down as my seatmate and I expected, I should have gone on this trip at all. I was terrified of flying, convinced it spelled utter doom, and yet I flew multiple times a year. I wasn’t old enough to fly for business purposes yet so every time I stepped onto a plane it was voluntary. Each purchased plane ticket brought excitement for where that plane would take me, and the adventures I might have. Was flying worth this panic? Was traveling worth the extreme anxiety I felt before and after every trip?

After forty-five minutes the plane began its descent. The curly haired woman loosened her grip and eventually released my hand. I turned in my seat and searched for Anna. I finally spotted her on the opposite side of the plane, fast asleep and snuggled against her bunched up cardigan. I faced the front again and watched the port of Athens come into view. The plane was calm as we reached the runway. By the time the wheels touched the tarmac I felt giddy with relief to have survived yet another flight. The plane slowed to a reasonable speed. Again, I wondered if flying was worth the heart racing moments of fear I felt after each take off and before each touch down. As we taxied towards our gate, I bent down to get a better look at what could be seen of Athens. Small, but still visible, the Parthenon stood on its acropolis overlooking the ancient, weathered city. Yeah, I thought, this is definitely worth it.



Georgia Knapp is a Creative Nonfiction Writing MFA candidate at Georgia College and State University. Despite still thinking she will die before each flight, she is an avid traveler and storyteller, and hopes to make her living through those avenues some day.

Categories: Airplanes, Death

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