A Christmas to Remember
When church was over that evening, we headed to Mike and Shannon’s, friends of ours who had invited us over for a casual dinner. Some other friends came over too. We all ate chili and salad around the long wooden table in their dining room. Christmas music floated in from the sound system.
“Hey, Mike, you mind if I borrow your plane?” one of Mike’s friends asked.
“Help yourself,” Mike said. “You know what to do.” Mike and his friend, I knew, both had their pilot’s licenses.
“Who wants to go flying?” the friend asked. “The Christmas lights are going to be great tonight.” A bunch of people waved their hands.
I don’t know how or why I got to go for a ride first. Everyone else must have been feeling generous. I followed Mike’s friend out through the backyard and into the hangar that’s directly behind the house.
I was helped into the plane and slid into the seat behind the pilot. It was a small plane with only two seats. We put on headphones so we could talk to each other. The pilot went through his checklist, started the plane and warmed it up, and we taxied out.
The night was dark and rainy. Shadowy clouds were thick above us in a starless sky. For some reason I began to feel cold. The heater was on in the tiny plane, but it wasn’t that type of cold. It was more a tingle. A shiver. I took a deep breath and looked out the window.
“Nice lights,” the pilot said.
The feeling shot up my spine again. Unmistakable fear. This is stupid, I thought. Completely stupid. Not the experience of flying but this definite feeling of dread coursing through my body. Mike had vouched for his friend as a strong pilot who was qualified on several levels and owned his own plane. Get a grip, Lo, I told myself. You need to relax.
Up in the air, the atmosphere grew calmer. The rain let up and turned into a slight mist. There was no thunder or lightening. No strong winds. All I heard was the friendly drone of the plane’s engine and the occasional crackle over the microphone’s earpiece. But I still couldn’t shake this crazy fear.
My body grew tense, and my breathing became shallow. My heart thumped in my chest. It wasn’t like me to be afraid. I’m the type of girl who loves an adventure, particularly a tame adventure like we were having tonight. I like to ride bikes and go snow skiing and slalom water-skiing.
I gripped both sides of the plane’s seat harder. And then it hit me. We’re going to crash. I thought my heart was going to explode. Jesus, I prayed. This plane’s going down and we’re all going to die. Oh Lord, my parents and sister. Please watch over them. Whatever happens, God, my life is in your hands.
The Christmas lights were pretty, but I couldn’t really concentrate on them. I don’t remember anything about them. The plane flew in a big circle.
And then we landed.
The air went out of me like a rush from a leaky tire. My fear went along with it. We were safe. Completely safe. The plane taxied back to Mike’s house and pulled up facing into the wind and parked on the tarmac, all set for whoever was going to fly next. Hmmm, maybe I’m cracking up, I thought. I wonder what that was all about?
I don’t remember the pilot saying anything directly to me. I don’t remember anything he said at all. He might have said something. I don’t remember. It was hard to hear him without my speaker on. It’s still pretty loud with the plane’s engine running, sitting on the tarmac.
I remember sliding out of the plane.
I remember my feet touching the tarmac.
I remember the sky was black; we were on the dark side of the plane.
Those three memories took place in a split second, about the time it takes to walk two steps.
It was December 3, 2011, and after that split second, I remember absolutely nothing.