April 2018

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Tuesday night I awoke at two in the morning: outside, the wind howled and swirled. Lightening flashed white as the thunder boomed. Inside, the bed shook and the closet door rattled against its frame. I could no longer hear the steady boom of waves hitting the sand in the ocean outside the open window. I expected to see Auntie Em fly by any minute.

Ann asked: "Should I close the window?"

I remembered a sixth grade discussion where my friend Johnny, the smartest kid in the class, knew that in a hurricane or tornado you should open the windows in your house in order to alleviate the pressure on the home.

"No. Leave it open."

Ann noticed I was scared and held my hand. For long minutes, we were quiet, listening to the wind howling, and then I said to Ann, "Are you scared?" She snored. I guess not.

I have faced imminent death a few other times, and I have never been scared. Years ago, Ann and I flew in a very small plane from Costa Rica's west coast to San Jose. When Ann and I arrived at the "airport," we were the only two people in a large grass field. We stood as out of place as pink flamingos in Alaska and wondered what practical joke our taxi driver might be playing when at last other passengers arrived with their luggage.  Once twelve of us had gathered in the field, two small planes landed, and Ann and I were assigned to the plane with a family with giant luggage. 

An overweight pilot hoisted the giant luggage into the plane's tail as sweat poured down his face. He grunted and moaned and rolled his eyes as someone handed him yet another giant orange suitcase. Ann and I worried with one another that he might have a heart attack. The six of us who were his passengers finally loaded into the plane, the father beside the pilot and the mother and two daughters in the middle with Ann, in seats facing one another. I sat in a jump seat in the plane's tail. Sweat continued to course down the pilot's face.

The pilot moved the plane forward and the plane lifted us into the air, but not high enough. We headed straight at a mountain that loomed in front of us and a red light flashed on the dash board. The mountain grew larger and larger and when I could no longer see sky, but just the trees in the hillside that I imagined we would soon crash into, the pilot banked hard to the left and we took a run again, this time lifting over the mountain. The red light continued flashing. 

As the flight continued, the plane repeatedly hit air pockets and went in free fall for a few seconds before rising again. The women at the middle of the plane retched into barf bags as did the father at the front. 

I looked away from all the retching and thought about how glad I was that we faced death at the end of our trip and not the beginning. What fun we had. I'd taken a lot of photos with my new camera, and I hoped that if I died someone would process my film (as this was in the olden days, before digital cameras.) I watched out the window as we dipped close to the trees and then rose again into the clouds. I was serene.

Then there was the time I had brain surgery, and though I didn't want to die, I was not afraid. Life, after all, was fun and full.

Tuesday night, however, I was afraid while Ann (and apparently others in the house) snored. Why was I afraid this time?

Maybe it's because this time I had decisions to make: Open the window or close it? Run outside or lie here holding Ann's hand?  Sound the alarm or continuing listening to the sounds outside? Call 9-1-1 or try rolling over and going back to sleep?

In contrast to the decisions I had to make Tuesday night, in the small plane, the pilot was in control, and I wouldn't have had any idea what to do even if I had a choice. During brain surgery, an anesthesiologist knocked me out and so far as I remember, I just lay there while--I assume--all those people in doctor's scrubs fiddled around in my brain.

I've heard people express fear about not being in control. Maybe for some people fear is about not being in control and for me fear is about being in control, about making a mistake. I wonder if that's just me, or if that's part of growing up a girl in a man's world, or an eldest child's perfectionism or...

The morning after the storm, I said to my brother-in-law who had just arrived, "Welcome to Oz." He looked at my blankly, and I explained the connection in my mind between last night's storm and the tornado in The Wizard of Oz.  "What storm?" he said. "I didn't hear the storm."

I guess he snored, too. 

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