I looked at my screen in shock, but also a little in awe. When I tried to divert my attention out the window, onto the turbojet, I couldn’t help it when I failed and my gaze fell back to my computer. My breath quickly became shallow as I absorbed the story laid out. On the screen, my pale face stared back at me, framed by long, dark hair; an image from almost ten years ago. I remembered that day, the excitement of college graduation, and I could even feel the wind blowing my hair back like in the photo.
However, my profile was only one of many in a collage including some of the very people on this flight. I identified the man bearing an expensive suit and the kid who just recently calmed down enough to sleep a few rows in front of me. The sleeping older woman next to me was shown holding a child, no more than a year old. I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own daughter, Brie, who my husband and I decided to name after my own grandma. I never knew her, but sometimes I feel like I do from all the pictures and stories my mom has shared with me. From what I’ve heard, my grandma was a nervous woman, someone who refused to even step on an airplane. When my mom moved to the midwest, constantly she would ask her to fly out and see them because to drive the distance could’ve equated itself to masochism. My grandma’s response would always be the same,
“I’d rather wait for your annual visit to New York than jump on one of those deathtraps myself.”
I like my grandmother and daughter are very alike in that respect. Whenever I’m called away for another conference, Brie, my daughter, comes into my room the night before in a panic, convinced I won’t come back alive.
The plane jumped with incoming turbulence, jolting me back to the present. I moved my gaze to the text above the the picture; It was adorned by the words “HUNDREDS MISSING”; but even more disorienting was the subtitle. My heart skipped a beat as I read the following sentence: “SUSPECTED DEAD AS PLANE DISAPPEARS”.
All of us on this plane, that’s who this is referring to.
I searched the expressions of passengers around me. Their closed eyes told me no one else seemed to know of the breaking news spreading across the internet. As I looked around, I came to the realization that I was cut off from them. No one would believe me if I jumped up and started screaming about our plane disappearing, annoyed stares is all I would get. Assured the pilot wouldn’t let us crash without a formal warning over the speaker, I dismissed the headline as a dream, made up by my own worrying and tried to relax.
It was late into the night by this point. We were all traveling from O’Hare to Heathrow. An eight hour, non-stop flight, one most painlessly taken overnight. By the time our plane crossed the Atlantic, most passengers were passed out, either from exhaustion or melatonin. However, I was still left awake. Even though I knew I had meetings tomorrow that I couldn’t miss with a lazy excuse of feeling tired.
However, it had never been that easy for me to force myself to fall asleep, to let go from the anxious feeling flying gave me. I had to be awake during flight, let my eyes burn from the glare as my “personal TV” displayed our journey slowing inching across the Atlantic. At a certain point, I always broke down and purchased in-flight Wi-Fi to browse the internet for hours on end.
Sometimes, even that didn’t feel like enough and on a night like tonight, I was definitely left with a nagging sensation in the back of my mind. I started to look around again, this time focusing on the opposite side of the row. In seat 23F, a boy with a pudgy face and posture sat slumped over two toys. Normally, I wouldn’t stare for longer than a minute, but the faint movements interested me and I focused my vision in the dark to try and make out what was going on. Through the dim light, the figurines started to become clearer: a worn Superman action figure and cartoonish horse, similar in size, but differing in color. The child continued to bounce them up and down until bringing them towards each other in a crash. Over and over, the two toys would be drawn back before smashing sideways into each other. On the fourth time, the Superman fell out of the boy’s loose grip and hit the floor sliding backwards into the seats. The toy was gone rows back before the kid had time to burst into tears and begin to search frantically for it.
The boy then woke his mom, starting to plead for her help. The woman, clearly annoyed, only held him, trying to calm her son down enough to sleep. A little shaken, I sat back and attempted to calm down. But, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake the unsettling feeling in my chest and felt the muscles in my face scrunch up, along with my hands. However, I couldn’t allow myself to panic and quickly fixed my vision on a dwindling reading light across the plane.
After a few minutes, the light began to flicker on and off. At first, I ignored it. But then the light stopped flashing and began to pulse. It shifted between completely dark to on, then the light got brighter, even to the point of momentarily blinding me. After the waves seemed to reach their most intense glow, it turned itself off. The man who had been using it reached his hand up to fidget with the turner, before screaming as shards of glass and sparks flew everywhere.
Every single person was awoken by the chaos. Most didn’t have the opportunity to judge their surroundings before the rest of the lights went off in an outwards spiral.
I had barely any time to protect myself under my dense hoodie, not quite thick enough as I still felt the gentle thudding of glass against my arms.
That’s when I heard it: the screaming and crying. Both from the people around me and my own chest, tight and flexed as I released a high-pitched yell.
I shifted the soft fabric away from my eyes to the horrific scene of parents leaning over their children and businessmen holding their shattered glasses. As I looked down at my own forearms, I realized the fabric wouldn’t be able to protect me again, as it had become shredded from the shrapnel of glass.
Immediately, the plane started to drop. My body was thrown forward into my tray table, the seat belt dug into my waist hard enough to leave aches and a bruise for later. I couldn’t make out which direction we were going in, but we descended so quickly that my ears had popped within seconds and my headache spiked from the dramatic pressure change. While I was bent over cradling my throbbing face, the woman next to me used the dive to lean over and mumble prayers. The action seemed to bring her solidarity, but her need to reach out to a divine spirit only made my panic spike.
As if the pilot spotted somewhere safe enough to land, the vehicle took a sharp turn to the left. We rapidly began our final descent, and doing so sent napkins and strands of hair up into the air.
I was clinging on to my life, arm rests, and seatbelt.
I felt our plane touch down abruptly and everyone, and thing, was sent into one collective jump.
When our plane became still, no one seemed to know what to do, but everyone felt the need to do something. Passengers and the remaining crew stumbled over their seats, trying to reach the nearest exit. Next to the doors hung the torn interior lining of the plane and thrown luggage was strewn all over the aisle. I stood up as the woman next to me left, but had to stay for a minute and collect my breath. My head still throbbed and my eyesight was filled with shooting yellow stars.
The distance set between chairs felt especially small as I waited there for the mobs of people to exit. Through the chaos, I could see the seats were still covered in glass, but that didn’t stop others from crawling under the overhead bins and over the chairs. I supposed they would rather hurt themselves than stand to be on the plane for one more minute.
Feeling more clear minded I made my way towards the tail of the plane, where I thought I could find what I needed. I followed the steps taken by heros like James Bond to see if I was correct. Except for the junk still scattered about, the walk was relatively easy if still taken with caution and good attention to the floor.
To the right of the swinging bathroom door, still barely clinging to its hinges, was a detachable panel in the wall. After I pulled on its black latch, the mini window swung open and, instead of revealing an expected view of outside, I was met with two textured speakers and a walkie talkie strung up in a crevice hidden on the side. Finally, protruding from the top was a crank, like a tool used to roll down the windows in old vintage cars.
My chest expanded as I held my breath. I didn’t know what I was doing aside from my experience watching old spy and, well, plane crash movies. Personally, they have never been my style, but after having Brie, they’ve turned into my favorite type of cheesy kids movies.
I attempted to give the dusted machine some power as I turned the crank. My hand was visibly shaking as I began, but I tried to stay calm, knowing this could save us. I also knew, if this didn’t work, I’d most likely never see my family again.
A light in the bottom corner started to flicker after a few moments and grew with the surprised smile on my face. As it turned from dim to bright, the light also shifted from red to green. When the bulb seemed content at an emerald green, I took my hand off the knob and grabbed the walkie talkie. With that in my hand, I reached and pressed a button with a faded “on” label.
The machine started humming and as I played with the dials, I began to hear the familiar static made by broken TVs or the radio on isolated road trips. By this point, I was practically laughing from relief, or crying. Knowing I had just found my ticket out of nowhere can be justified as an overwhelming experience. I roamed the channels until out of nowhere a deep, masculine voice cuts through the narrow hallway I was standing in.
“- Flight 140, please respond. We are receiving faint signals, but need a sign before our final rescue,” the voice said.
Were they coming to rescue us?
Out of excitement and hope, I frantically started pushing buttons and yelling into the walkie talkie.
“Yes! Yes, that’s us,” I said, “We crashed upon an island, somewhere in the Atlantic, close to Galway!”
I thought that the first six and a half hours might not have been a complete waste, as I remembered the map of the numbing seat monitors
I continued to repeat those words for five minutes, and only stopped when my throat felt parched enough to make me look for a drink. As I scanned the aisles for someone’s forgotten water bottle or soda can, I heard sound emanating from behind me, at the back of the plane. I ran just in time to listen to what I assumed was the most important part of the message.
“-We have spotted you and are landing. Prepare to board our emergency ship-” the same voice said.
The radio broke as he said the last word, but I wasn’t worried at all. In fact, I was so happy I think I felt a tear run down my face.
Not thinking through my excitement, I ran down the aisle once again, this time with the intention to finally get off the plane. About three rows from the nearest emergency exit, my foot caught a strap from someone’s duffel bag and I tripped. Instead of catching myself on an elbow rest that jutted out from one of the seats, my failing arms missed and my entire body fell. When my head hit the floor, my vision went blurry right before I passed out.
My eyes ached through my shut lids.
As I came to my senses, I surveyed the scene around me and noticed all the similar details as before: glass, torn fabric, and forgotten magazines.
I was – I was laying on the ground?
I stood up around chairs and misplaced purses, and gave myself a moment to remember what happened.
The plane crashed, but I stayed on. Why? To talk to someone?
Oh my god, the conversation, the person who was rescuing us. He was going to send in people to come save us. I must have passed out after then
This time I carefully stepped off the plane to be met with warm, humid air; the wind hugging like a blanket, and only fueled a desire to go back to sleep. However, I walked down a green hill which our plane at the peak of when I looked back. From my high elevation, I could see the large “SOS” written into the sand, as well as the footprints that left dents in the letters.
I looked down at my feet to avoid getting caught in one of the many shrubs and hidden bushes growing from the ground. As I did so, I concurrently noticed many footprints, many, many. While I studied them, one thing became clear; they imprints were only going one way. I felt nausea rising in my stomach as I couldn’t put that aside, even from my elevation, I could see no living thing. Through the few square miles of land, no person, no one walked.
They were all gone.
And they hadn’t come back to get me.
I remembered when I was five I had gotten lost in a supermarket.
After running off to chase down my favorite cereal, I eventually found myself lost in a swarm of giants and enormous shopping carts, shaped like off-brand racing cars. I wandered around the aisles for what felt like hours, but was most-likely only minutes.
When my mom eventually found me, I had found a semi-comfortable spot in the dispensable candy aisle. Although I had calmed down enough to sit still, my mom was practically panting through tears of joy.
I can’t pinpoint why this has always been my first memory, but to this day, I’ve never forgotten the words she said next.
“Honey, promise me you’ll never wander too far, then I’ll always be able to find you”
I walked along the beach and stopped when I reached the last “S”. And I kicked it. I started screaming, partly out of fear and anger, but also the hope someone would manage to hear me.
But I was alone, and it would remain for the rest of my life, which was now shortened from the expected thirty years to five days at most.
I cried for all five of those days. I thought of all the experiences and memories I would miss. I thought of every milestone in Brie’s childhood I wouldn’t witness as a joyful mother; her first steps, her first day of school, her as a teenager…
I would miss seeing her bloom into the young woman I knew would make me proud.
I hoped my mother and my husband would take good care of her; as well as each other. There’s so much of the future flashing by that I would now miss of family and friends, now a literal ocean away.
When I closed my eyes for the final time, I felt a collection of air and sand blowing on my face from above.
From a point in the sky I couldn’t see, the noise of an engine rumbled.