Thursday, January 24, 2013

Terminal Illness

When I exited my plane in Minneapolis and entered the terminal, I was high as a kite. My bones felt like jelly. As I walked it felt like I was gliding forward, as if being pulled on a skateboard by some unseen force.

When I fly, I get nervous, so I take drugs. And I typically take a bit more than my doctor's recommended dose to make sure I'm out cold for the entire flight. Maybe that's unsafe, but I'm a honey badger and I don't give a shit.


I usually pop a few pills about an hour before my flight, drift into unconsciousness once seated on the plane, and wake up hours later at my destination. It's like the entire trip never happened. It's magical.

On this particular day, circumstances were a little different. Minneapolis wasn't my final destination; Portland was, and Minneapolis was just a layover. This was the first time I had to maneuver to a connecting flight while under the influence of sedatives, and I hadn't anticipated being quite this high.

I spotted a screen listing departures and wonkily strode up to it to find my connecting flight. I peered at the monitor but I had trouble making sense of the words. It made me feel self conscious. I tried to act cool so the people around me wouldn't suspect I was Anna Nicole Smithing out.


Eventually, after much labored staring, I figured out my connecting flight was leaving from gate A6. I had a couple hours to kill, so I decided to wander around a bit and clear my head. I was faintly aware of soft rock being pumped over the loudspeakers. Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" drifted out, barely audible. I stepped onto one of those automated walkway things, and noticed a woman in the distance, riding the walkway parallel to mine. As she approached, I could tell she was mouthing the lyrics to the song. I fixated on her lips, somehow both drowsy and overly analytical of her actions. I felt concerned for some reason.

Girl, you better stop singing, I thought. Someone's gonna notice you singing along to a song from 1990. That's like a million years ago. What are you, a dinosaur? Shut up, dinosaur. 

I snickered and congratulated myself on my sick burn. The singing girl was within earshot and noticed chuckling. She also noticed me staring at her. Suddenly aware that someone had been watching her sing to herself, I assumed she'd immediately stop and look the other way. On the contrary, she fixed her gaze on mine, and began mouthing along to the song with exaggerated fervor as she glided past.


I felt flummoxed, but couldn't discern exactly why. I figured everything might just seem extra weird because I was hopped up on pharmaceuticals. I pondered this as I made my way to my gate, then took a seat near the window and took a few deep breaths. I looked around. Everything was slightly blurry. People’s faces looked off somehow, like default character profiles in The Elder Scrolls.


I pulled out my phone, navigated to the BBC News application and tried to concentrate on reading, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of the hieroglyphics on the screen. I texted my friend Kristin instead.


 A few moments later, she responded.


 I texted her back.


She replied again.


Annoyed, I flexed my fingers and tried to focus on a more coherent message.


Kristin didn't even bother responding to that, so I texted her one last time.


I gazed around the terminal. I noticed a little boy doing the worm on the floor, trying to get his mom to notice. He seemed to be moving in slow motion.

Everything just seems strange because I'm high, I thought. Nothing is really weird. Everything is fine. I'm sure that little kid isn't bending all time and space to his will by doing to worm on the floor.

I sank further into my seat. My eyes felt heavy. I peered around the airport through my drooping eyelids, my vision becoming increasingly restricted as my eyes slowly closed. After a minute or two, they shut.

When I woke up, I was first struck by how silent my terminal was compared to earlier. For a second I slouched in my chair, reveling in the peace and quiet.


I opened my eyes to find myself completely alone, save for a woman some twenty feet away staring at an iPad. Darkness had fallen outside. I panicked.

Oh shiiiiiiiiiiit! I thought, sitting bolt upright. My flight left! I slept through boarding! I have to live in Minneapolis now! I can't deal with Minnesotan accents! I'll die!

Suddenly quite sober from the alarm I was feeling, I grabbed my laptop bag and hustled to the nearest help desk. The woman behind the counter, a grumpy looking lady with fingernails the length of velociraptor talons, barely acknowleged my presence.

"My flight left," I blurted out. "I need a new flight. I need to get to Portland." The woman rolled her eyes.

"What's your flight number?" She muttered. I told her I didn't know, but my destination was Portland.

"The gate was A6. I accidentally fell asleep and missed it." I paused. "I mean, uh, I got sick. I was barfing while they were boarding. Bad seafood. It wasn't my fault. I need to be redirected. I can't live in Minneapolis." The woman rolled her eyes again and began typing away at her computer.


"Your flight doesn't doesn't board for another 10 minutes. It's at gate A9, not A6. It's over there." She pointed behind me with one of her footlong nails. As I thanked her and left, she rolled her eyes a third time, this time so dramatically she might've seen her own brain.

My relief over not actually missing my plane was tempered by the realization that I'd now have to fly unaided by drugs. I was happy to be boarding on time, but as I shuffled down the aisle of the aircraft looking for my seat, I began to feel more and more nervous about the ensuing trip. I was too aware of everything: the rattle of the plane's engines, the passengers crammed in like sardines, the low ceiling making me feel claustrophobic. I nervously looked around for babies, because everyone knows that planes with babies on them never crash.

Then I spotted something even better than a baby: Food Network's Ina Garten, seated next to her husband Jeffrey. My eyes went wide. Ina Garten was on my flight. What's more, as I approached I realized that my seat was directly behind her. Trying to maintain my cool, I slid into the aisle behind her and stared reverently at the back of Ina's head.


This happened on 30 Rock, right? I pondered. Liz Lemon was high and mistook a spunky tween for Oprah. Is that happening to me? Am I still high and imagining this? Should I ask Ina if she has a tupperware of biscotti? 

I listened to Ina talk to her husband. She sounded just like on TV. It was definitely The Barefoot Contessa. I tried to make a mental list of celebrities who died in plane crashes, but I could only think of Aaliyah and Lynyrd Skynyrd. No plane with Ina Garten on it could crash, right? That's would be impossible. Rachael Ray, maybe, but not Ina!

I took a few deep breaths and managed to calm down a bit. When the plane took off, I listened to Ina and tried not to focus on the airplane bouncing around. It helped, surprisingly, though not as effectively as hard drugs.

The plane did not crash. Nobody died. Thank you, Ina Garten. You're a lifesaver.