Careening towards adulthood in a Delta 737

Experiencing a rite of passage, high above the clouds

lf18-pollard

Tom Pollard is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

I remember two key things about my first airplane ride.

    1. I was five years old.

    2. I was terrified.

My fear of the unknown and my fear of unfamiliar situations combine to produce less-than-stellar results. I remember thrashing about like a dying octopus — yanking my seatbelt, kicking my feet and sobbing. My parents tried to calm me down but to no avail. When the plane took off, I buried my runny face in my dinosaur shirt, waiting for the steel coffin to plunge us all into the ocean. In the vast unknown of the sky, I felt adrift and terrified we wouldn’t make it to our destination.

Then my mother — probably exhausted from trying to get her snot-nosed kid to stop bawling — reached out and grasped my shoulder. All at once, the sky felt much smaller. I wasn’t alone on my journey anymore. I was still a child — which meant I could depend on my parents to guide me to my destination and worrying about the journey wasn’t my responsibility. Not yet.

Earlier this summer, however, I flew by myself for the first time. From the moment I bought the ticket, I felt nervous. The fear seemed ridiculous and illogical. I’d been in college for more than two years, and flying hadn’t made me tense since I was a child. I was an adult now. I could handle getting on a plane by myself. I could control my own journey.

Well, here’s the twist — I actually had a great flight. Navigating an airport on my own wasn’t as hard as I expected. Turns out, if you just follow the signs, getting on a plane is pretty simple. Once I sat down in my seat, all my anxiety vanished. I had it under control. When the plane took off, I felt a surge of independence rise up within me. I was alone, sure — but I didn’t need anybody else. I was the master of my own destiny. 

In a way, I think my first experience flying solo is similar to my first experience with adulthood. The emotions I felt on the plane are the same as the ones I felt my first day at the University. Yes, I didn’t know anyone, my dorm room smelled weird and there was a dead wasp in shower — but I was free. My parents drove back to my hometown, and an amazing wave of independence and excitement washed over me. I was an adult now, and I could do whatever I wanted.

The thing is, you can’t ride that wave forever. The more time I spent in college living as an “adult”, the more reality started to set in. I started to realize I’m stuck with this gig. I can’t ever go back to my childhood. My parents won’t always be around to make sure I get to my destination safely. Eating. Sleeping. Going to class. Jobs. All these things are now up to me.

I’m flying solo.

The late-stage anxiety of independence hit me on my return flight. When the plane took off, I didn’t feel confident. I felt like I was hurtling off into the void with zero plan. I think everyone feels a version of this when summer’s end arrives and college starts up again. We’re all getting older. More and more, we’re in charge of keeping our lives together. We have to make sure we make it to our destination.

I’m not sure any of us are ready.

When I got off the flight, a woman stopped me in the terminal.  “Excuse me,” she asked. “Did you fly here by yourself?”

I told her I had. Then a little boy — who I assume was her son — peaked out from behind her leg. He looked up at me with a strange sort of wonder.

“You see?” She told him. “When you’re grown up, you fly anywhere you want.”

“Is flying by yourself scary?” He asked me.

“Not really,” I replied. He seemed satisfied.

I’m not certain I meant it.

Sure, flying by myself wasn’t too difficult. It’s something I can handle. Adulthood, though? Adulthood is difficult. Adulthood is complicated. I don’t always feel ready for it. But that’s not my call to make. Like an airport departure time, adulthood creeps up on you whether you’re ready or not. All you can do is arrive before the flight leaves and hope it’s taking you in the right direction. Nobody else can do that for you.

I hope I can make it on my own.

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