Late afternoon, late August. I'm on an airplane flying over Saskatchewan. My head, full of snot, is against the window, and I'm dozing lightly. The refreshment trolley clicks by, the pleasant chat of flight attendants and passengers a gauzy connection to consciousness. There's a New Yorker magazine resting on my lap.
I've had a glorious vacation in the Canadian Rockies with my new lover. And now he's dropped me off in Edmonton and continued by car to Saskatchewan to see his parents. I'm not ready to meet his family, so I chose to fly home.
I open my eyes a little. The young man beside me has dropped my empty styrofoam cup into the garbage bag held open by the flight attendant. Nice lad, I think. I close my eyes again and drift.
Then the plane dips. Slows. Seems suspended. And makes a sickening drop. A flight attendant makes an announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen, please stay seated with your seat belts fastened." I pry my eyes open slightly.
The nose of the plane slants downward. We continue to sink. My stomach squeezes and my heart pounds. I still have my eyes closed, though. This isn't the familiar rock and roll of turbulence. I don't want to believe we're plummeting from the sky.
From some ancient crevice in my brain I recite the Hail Mary, remembering the Robert Redford river-crossing scene in the World War II film A Bridge Too Far. I recall being in a glider plane a few years back, engineless, riding the thermals, rising and falling with the wind. I imagine we're doing the same thing now.
I open my eyes to see the young guy flipping through the emergency manual. I breathe as deeply as possible, my head cold buffering me from full-on alertness. We rise and fall again. I steal a glimpse at the young guy. Sweat beads on his forehead. I realize I need to say something reassuring, for his sake and mine. I look at him and smile. "Hey, how ya doin'?"
I feel like reaching over to hold his hand, but I don't. Seventy-five per cent of me thinks we're going to be fine, but the other 25 feels vacuumed into blackness. "We just have to trust. Pilots are trained for this kind of situation."
He nods and looks over my shoulder, out past the wisps of cloud at land and water. We've dropped thousands of feet from the stratosphere. The pilot comes back on.
"You may have noticed we made a rapid descent and that your ears popped. That's because the aircraft has lost cabin pressure. Safety is our top priority, so we're diverting to Winnipeg."
We dive toward the Winnipeg airport, angling over suburbs, houses and trees. We touch down abruptly and taxi to a gate. The young guy is talking now. "I can't wait to get in my car in Toronto and be in control." I nod, not bothering to remark sagely.
As shaken passengers jump up to queue for the washroom, I know what I can do. I can meet my lover's family sooner rather than later.