Thursday, May 31, 2001

Woke up this morning to find my stomach an aching pit, and my mind searching for ways to bail out of the trip. The human penchant for nervousness can be an annoying thing. I’d gotten over it by the afternoon, though; by then, I was just excited. Excited-nervous, but excited nonetheless.

After going over my e-mails, I went outside and pulled out the lawnmower. I had decided to cut the lawns shorter than usual, so as to have that much less to wrestle with when we get back, but that created such a vast sea of grass clippings that I had to rake it all up for fear it’d kill the living grass underneath it. I ended up mowing the upper lawn short, but mowing the rear lawn at the regular height. Well, so much for that idea.

I then ran to a deli to get sandwiches for Dad and me (Mom’s as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, so she didn’t want to eat), and after a satisfying lunch of Philly Chicken Cheese subs, I drove to my bank to swap out backup tapes at my safe deposit box (it feels so good to have regular backups stored off-site; I never expected to feel so reassured), then to Best Buy for some spare DV tapes.

I’d planned on bringing my digital camcorder to Europe. I was somewhat afraid that it’ll be stolen, but really wanted to record the trip as much as possible. Since I had a bunch of stuff on my current three DV tapes, I wanted extra tapes. So, I had two blank 60-minute tapes ready to go.

Mom had been feeling nervous for days leading up to today. It was nothing too bad; nothing more than a general sense of uneasiness had settled over her frame of mind. Nothing she couldn’t handle.

So, we packed, and finished up all those last-minute chores that seem to hide for weeks before popping out at you unexpectedly. I cleaned the house, mowed the lawns (rather too short in my desire to mow them as low as possible), put a backup tape in my safe deposit box, and stopped delivery of our mail. We finished everything with a bit of time to spare, giving us time to relax before a friend drove by to take us to the airport.

The trip to the airport was pleasant and blessedly uneventful. Mom and her friend chatted amiably. We arrived, hauled ourselves into the airport, found our way to the incredibly long Air France line, and waited.

We watched people walk by. We watched little dogs trot by. We shuffled forward in line.

After approximately three geological epochs, we made it to the front of the Air France line, received boarding passes from the lovely lady behind the counter, explained that we weren’t checking any bags (we’d made sure to avoid that; trans-continental flights tend to batter bags really badly), and headed off towards our flight’s gate. Our flight wasn’t schedule to leave for an hour. We had everything with us. All was well.

Except for Mom.

That little bout of nervousness had grown into full-scale fear. She was outwardly calm; the only trace of fear on her face were her slightly wide eyes. But this was just pre-flight nervousness, right?

An hour later, she was rocking back and forth in her airport seat, eyes wide, crying slightly. She was doing her best to keep absolute panic at bay.

We asked her what was wrong; she whimpered that it was the airplane. She didn’t want to go on that airplane, but she so wanted to go on the trip. And this isn’t her first time flying, or her first trip to Europe. She’s had pre-flight jitters before, but nothing like this.

We re-assured her that if she decided not to go, we wouldn’t go. She nodded, and said that she’d try to go. So many thoughts raced through her mind; Tough it out; Don’t disappoint Bob and Brent; You can beat this!

She couldn’t make herself get out of the airport seat, so we gently coaxed her up and helped her to board the plane. We found our seats and sat down; Dad and Mom were “alone” together in one aisle, and I was across from them in the next aisle. I looked over at Mom.

Mom was crying at full force now. She wasn’t panicking; she was keeping a tight rein on a dark, primal fear that threatened to burst out of her at any moment. Dad was trying to re-assure her, but she could barely even hear him. I furrowed my brows in sympathy, but what could I do?

bing bing “Welcome aboard Air France, flight 29 to Paris. Please stow all luggage….”

I furrowed my brows in sympathy, but couldn’t think of a thing to do. I tried to take my mind off of Mom, figuring that Dad was taking care of her and I couldn’t do anything from my seat anyway. I pulled out a notebook and started scribbling down a program design I’d had in my head.

I was too distracted to concentrate, though. I couldn’t get my mind off of Mom.

bing bing “Welcome aboard Air France, flight 29 to Paris. Please stow….”

I had just closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose when I felt a tug at my sleeve. It was Dad.

“We’re going to have to go.”

I nodded briskly and gathered my things. Mom was still miserable; she didn’t want to cancel our trip. We hustled off the plane and down the ramp, which began to move underneath our feet. They closed the plane door behind us and brought us in to the lounge. We sat down and Mom began to cry in earnest.

Our trip was over.

The Air France personnel were terrific; they consoled Mom, telling her that people get scared like this all the time. Even frequent air travellers — and my Mom’s been on five trans-Atlantic vacations — will sometimes just not be able to go.

Mom was still miserable, and worse, she was miserable about being miserable. She felt like she’d let us down, like her irrational fear had caused us a major inconvenience.

But if we had to choose between Paris or her happiness, Paris would lose in an instant. She just simply couldn’t face that plane flight, and that was OK with us. We weren’t about to force her into this; it’s a vacation, after all. It’s for fun.

So, we called the friend who’d taken us to the airport, and she came right over and hugged Mom and took us back to the house. Mom felt bad, but we kept telling her that this was OK with us. We weren’t going to be hurt or disapointed or angry because of Mom’s very real anxiety.

We decided we’d go to breakfast together in the morning, and we all went off to bed.

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