Was I? I still don’t know; supposedly I’ll reap the benefits the next several times I fly. I’ll admit I was calmer during this particular flight, but I’m not sure if it was the hypnotism, or the man who conducted it. Spread your wings with me:
Tuesday I was flying home from Philly home to Tampa (got that?). I had the aisle seat, so I was waiting for whomever it was that had the window before getting comfortable; or, as comfortable as I can get on a plane. It was a man, around my age, attractive, tall, with piercing eyes. I stood aside for him and told him I was waiting for him. He said wonderful, he loved when people waited for him. We settled in, chatting that idle conversation strangers forced to sit together for two hours engage in. I kept dropping my pillow, my blanket, and he joked about it, even picked up the bag the blanket came in and threw it on the floor so I wouldn’t feel so nimble-fingered. We both began to read our respective novels, and I put mine aside for a moment to pop my Dramamine. He looked over and said I wasn’t allowed to do that unless I was willing to share. I told him it was for motion sickness, and that I hated to fly, that I was terrified of it. He asked what I was afraid of. I said, “Dying.” He asked how I thought I would do that on a plane. I shrugged. “Name it; it will cause my demise.” He asked if I wanted to be rid of that fear. I said absolutely, I would love it. He said if I was willing to invest a little time and money he could recommend a good hypnotist.
I really tried not to roll my eyes. I think I did a dead stare. I said, “I really don’t believe in that.” He asked why not. I explained that I really didn’t think I could be hypnotized. “Besides,” I said, “isn’t it true that only ten percent of the population can actually be hypnotized?” He said no, not true. He asked if he was bothering me, if I didn’t want to talk about it. I said I was fine to talk about it, and he asked me several questions. Was I always afraid to fly? No, I said. It started in my mid-twenties, right after a flight I took home to Philly from Las Vegas. It was storming and the plane was bobbing up and down. There were flashes of fire in the sky, the pilot said we may have to emergency land in Allentown, depending on the conditions in Philly. I was panicked, I was crying, I thought I was going to die. I didn’t fly for ten years after that flight. Although scary, I told him I didn’t think that was why I was now nervous to fly. He didn’t argue, but I could tell he thought that was exactly when I became afraid to fly. Thinking on it now, that flight does mark a before and after. Not afraid to fly before that flight; petrified after. My aisle companion also said sometimes it’s not the flight at all that is the irritant, but the place where I traveled. He said sometimes it’s easier to attach the blame to the flight than the events that took place, the location of the bad time. I could consider this possibility. Maybe this guy knew his shit. Then he asked if I wanted to try a little experiment.
Okay. So at this moment my MO would have been to stick my face in my book and tell this dude to experiment with the back of my hand. But I thought, why not? What’s the harm in it? Be open-minded. So I said sure. He asked what my name was, I told him. I asked him his name. Let’s call him Sam. Sam said, “Do you mind if I hold your hand?” He must have seen in my eyes that I’m thinking psycho psycho psycho. He said, “See, that’s what all this was leading to. I really just wanted to hold your hand the entire flight.” I laughed and said sure, he could hold my hand. If I was going to agree to this, I had to go all the way.
So we’re sitting on the tarmac. Funny thing was, the plane was delayed twenty minutes due to a poopy problem in the bathroom they were trying to clean up. So while we waited, Sam proceeded to hypnotize me. He didn’t exactly hold my hand. He told me to lay it flat and comfortable on the partition between us. While he spoke, at certain intervals, he touched my hand. He told me to get comfortable in my seat, just relax, I could close my eyes or keep them open, looking straight ahead. I chose to keep them open, and at first it was hard to concentrate on what he was saying because all of me was focused on his other hand. Was he reaching for my purse? Diddling himself? When I realized he was doing neither of these things or anything else unsavory, I settled into it.
He told me to think of the last time I flew that I was really happy. That the flight was an okay experience, that the destination was perfect and it was the best time of my life. I thought back to my birthday trip to Tampa in February 2011. He said to settle into that feeling, remember what I did, how I felt, see myself as if I was watching a movie. I felt him touching my hand. Now he said to picture a movie screen, the kind they have on planes, three rows ahead. The screen is black and white and I’m on it. I’m in my seat, but there’s another me on the screen, and she’s about to fly. He told me to look at her face and tell him how she felt, what I saw. I told Sam she looked scared, felt nervous. He told me to feel what she was feeling. He took me through five points: waiting to take off, light turbulence, heavy turbulence, plane shaking turbulence, and safe landing. He told me to look at screen Rachel’s face, understand that she was panicked, but that I was here, watching her, safe in my seat, calm. I know that there’s turbulence on a plane. It’s normal. Sometimes it’s worse than other times, but I’ll be just fine. He asked what would make screen Rachel feel better. I told him the impossible will make her feel better; that she will know without a doubt that she will get off that plane alive. But she’ll never know that, it is unknowable, so she’ll never be able to feel better because the only thing that will make her feel better is an impossibility. He said absolute knowledge is always an impossibility, but nothing else scares Rachel like that. I agreed. I said I know that’s logical, and I tell myself that all the time, but it doesn’t work.
He asked me if I ever made pudding on a stove. I said no, but I used to watch my mother. He said picture I’m in the kitchen with my mother and she asked me to help her stir the pudding. Let me interject here that at several points during this process I wanted to cry. I don’t know why, just wanted to cry. But I held it in. I was not going to lose it on this plane, in front of Sam. Anyway, so now I’m stirring the pudding for mom. He said I had to stir it slow and carefully, because if I scraped the bottom of the pot I would get skin in the pudding. If I stirred too fast I would create lumps. So slowly stir the pudding. Now feel the pudding in my belly, it’s all those nervous feelings, slowly stir them, stir them, repeat to myself, “slow pudding.” The he told me to take the five points of flight and experience them backwards: safe happy landing, horrible turbulence, bad turbulence, light turbulence, excitement and anticipation of my pending vacation. See screen Rachel and go up to her, stirring the pudding, and tell her she’s going to be just fine.
He asked me how I felt. I admitted I felt quite calm. The plane took off and there was some jumping, some turbulence and I wasn’t panicked. An hour into the flight he asked how I felt. I said surprisingly calm. He asked if I still thought I couldn’t be hypnotized. I smiled. He said people have a narrow view of hypnotism. It’s not the unconscious sleep we see on television and movies. He said hypnosis is simply a state of relaxation, where the subject can isolate his thoughts to let nothing in but the images and words suggested by the hypnotist. True focus, which I absolutely had. Sam said I would try to be nervous on upcoming flights. He said my fear is like a missing tooth; I would probe around in my mouth looking for it, forgetting it was extracted. Be patient with myself. I have the tools now. I can stir the pudding.
When we were disembarking he gave me his business card, told me to contact him, let him know how I made out with flying again. He said in time I would be mad at myself for spending so much time in fear. I glanced at the card, saw PhD after his name, stuck it in my pocket. Outside, waiting for Arty Party to pick me up, I took the card out and looked at it further. Just a name, a business, two numbers and an email. I put it back in my pocket. When I got home and emptied them, it was gone. I ran outside and looked in the driveway, searched AP’s car floor. Nope. Nowhere. I must have lost it at the airport the second time I went to put it in my pocket.
At first I was devastated. I intended on contacting Sam and telling him about my flights. I intended on flying with that card in my pocket as a good luck charm, much like I wear my Betsey Johnson Wickter necklace and my dad’s A initial ring. But the Universe had other plans. Sam was my angel on that flight, he gave me a gift, and now it’s mine, a legacy to carry on without him.
Will I try to find him with what little I can remember from the business card? Maybe, if I can. I haven’t tried yet. Maybe I should just leave him where he is. Was it the hypnotism or his solid presence beside me that made that flight calm despite the turbulence, the bouncy landing when we touched down in Tampa? I won’t know until I fly again, and again, and again. I sincerely hope it’s the former; I want to believe that I was sent something I needed and I get to keep it. I want to be a big girl in the kitchen, stir the pudding all by myself.