They say when you’re about to die, your whole life passes in front of your eyes. But what if it just seems like it? What if it’s time that is speeding up? I ask this because the airplane is going to crash, and I will probably die.
I am seeing things from childhood—the time I fell out of the apple tree and broke my arm, the time I got sent to my room because I pulled Eva’s hair and made her cry. She deserved it. She’d wrecked my favorite toy truck, trying to shove it into the garage of her playhouse. Any idiot could see the opening was too small. But Eva kept pushing until the dang thing broke. Did she get punished? Hah.
My seatmate is praying. Or at least I think it’s what she’s doing. It’s not English, I’m pretty sure, and she is being very quiet about it. I should be grateful.
The cabin crew are visiting each row of seats, making sure our seatbelts are secure and our oxygen masks are working. I hope it’s a sign they think we’ll survive. Otherwise, why bother?
Then I see Laura. The sun is making her hair sparkle like it’s flecked with gold. She’s smiling at me, her face tilted up in case I want to kiss her. The funny thing about this segment of my life is smelling Coppertone and tasting the cherry Lifesaver she’s just enjoyed. The problem, however, is that I do not recall kissing Laura. So why would I taste and smell her? It does not compute. It’s as if the life supposedly passing in front of me is the one I should have lived, not the one I remember. Laura married that dork, James Finnegan, the class president, and probably has six kids and two dogs by now. After college, I married Jenna and later divorced her because . . . Can’t remember why. Anyway, me kissing Laura? Never happened.
The woman next to me grabs my arm. “I am so scared.”
Yes, some kind of foreign accent. French? Italian? Spanish? “Me, too.” I pat her hand. “Maybe we’ll come out of this.”
“Ah. You are hopeful, then?”
No. But it would be cruel to say otherwise, wouldn’t it? “One can always hope.”
She removes her hand and rummages in her purse for a tissue. “My children. They will be orphans.” She begins to cry, a silent sort of thing with tears rolling down her fat cheeks and dripping onto her well-endowed bosom.
“You have children?”
It’s like we’re not about to crash and burn at all, like an ordinary flight where at some point during the journey, you exchange inanities with your seatmate. “No.”
It’s actually a lie, but I really don’t want to strike up a conversation. And I don’t particularly want to review my life passing before my eyes. Which has me teaching Rhoda how to drive in the crappy Ford Fiesta I’d bought her. I was a nervous wreck. She was ecstatic. I see us now, pulling into the driveway, the car lurching to a stop, inches from the garage door. Rhoda throws her arms around me. “Thanks, Dad. How’d I do?”
I could have told her she would never learn how to drive in a million years, but I fudged, saying I thought she needed a few more lessons before she should go for the license. In truth, I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting next to her when she was behind the wheel. I paid for lessons. And they worked. Sort of. Rhoda was never a good driver, but that’s true of lots of people on the roads these days. And then she ran off with that shyster dude who sold designer fakes and got caught and is now in prison. Rhoda still loves the jerk. We don’t see eye-to-eye on it, so we don’t talk much.
Maybe I should reach out to her before it’s too late.
Hell, it is too late. I can’t die right now. There are things I need to say, like to Rhoda, and things I want to do. I’ll make it up to her and maybe Jenna, too? I’ll live a better life. Just give me a do-over. At least one more round of golf. A chance to walk back the off-color joke that sidelined my career at Morgensterns. Dinner at La Perla at least once more, please? A trip to the Greek islands I’ve been putting off because I should be saving for retirement. If I’m allowed to live, I will, goddammit, live.
Aw, hell. Who am I begging? God? And who will miss me when I’m gone? Not one fucking soul.
The plane hits some turbulence, provoking a cacophony of screams from my fellow passengers. The woman next to me gasps and starts to tremble. I feel my heart pounding somewhere up near my eyeballs. Here we go . . .
But we don’t. The plane levels off, and the pilot announces that he’s going to attempt an emergency landing at a nearby airstrip.
Not good. If he’d said airport, I’d be thinking “all riiiight.” But this is a Boeing 767, and airstrip runways are not long enough for passenger airliners. We will skid off the end, break up, and catch fire.
I do not want to burn alive. If I survive the landing, I will be shoving my way past women and children, desperate to get off the plane. I am no gentleman. Women and children first? That was a bygone era.
The plane begins to rock from side to side, like the pilot doesn’t know how to stay level. I can see the ground beneath us. Woods in every direction. We will plough through trees if we don’t break apart before then.
Oh, God. One wing nearly touches the ground. Tarmac, actually. This must be the airstrip.
“Dios, mio!” The woman next to me makes the sign of the cross.
I can only clench my fists, sending my thoughts to Jenna: I love you. I have always loved you. I don’t know why I--
We hit the ground and bounce up, coming down even harder the second time, so hard I nearly bite my tongue in two. The woman beside me screams.
The plane tilts to one side, rights itself and then begins to spin, finally slowing to a stop.
“Get out! Get out! Get out! The cabin crew are screaming. I unlatch my belt and stand up.
My seatmate can’t seem to manage hers, so I help undo the belt and then push her in front of me. “Keep moving. Quickly.”
“Mi bolsa.” She turns back.
“No.” I pull her back in front of me and frogmarch her towards the nearest exit. When we reach the doorway, I nearly lose it when I see how dreadfully long the slide is.
I stifle an urge to shove her aside. “You have to go. Go! Go!”
I follow her down the slide, thinking I am going way too fast, and I never want to have to do this ever again. My left foot hits the tarmac rather hard, and I feel a sharp pain in my ankle. But the woman is fine. She’s standing there, wringing her hands, pleading with the man next to her. “Mi medicinas!”
I look around me. It appears some of the evacuees might need medical attention—one elderly man for what appears to be a heart attack (I was that close to one myself) and several others for broken bones.
“Get back! Get back! Go! Go! Go!” the crew are yelling.
I see smoke. I turn to run and fall, face first, onto the tarmac as my ankle gives way. I am about to die. My life is passing before my eyes. But then two men pull me to my feet, drag me to safety, and the movie stops.
For days afterwards, news accounts keep mentioning the one survivor who was so thankful he’d been saved that he literally kissed the ground. I’ve stopped answering the phone or the knock on the door because I’m tired of saying, “I didn’t kiss the ground!” Although my nose did get a bit scraped in the fall.