Wings

I love travelling. I love waking up to see new horizons, meeting new people, and enjoying all of those singular moments that you can only have when you’re so far from home.

I love travelling, but I fucking hate flying.

The act of flying stresses me the fuck out. I worry about missing my flights, about my baggage being over the weight limit, about my carry-on not fitting in the overhead compartment, and most of all, about being a burden on others.

The first time I travelled to Canada, I was mortified. The first leg of the journey was an international flight to Japan. I had a 16 hour stopover in Narita en route. It was the first time I had ever been on a plane. I was big back then, too. I tried to do the seatbelt up but it just wouldn’t close. It was about an inch short.

I didn’t know what the hell to do, so I just kind of sat there, with the two unconnected ends of my seatbelt hidden beneath my overhanging, corpulent gut.

The plane started filling up. The flight attendants were doing their cabin checks in preparation for take-off. I noticed that they were checking to see whether everyone had their seatbelts on. I thought I was going to die with embarrassment.

I whispered to the attendant as they came towards me; ‘myseatbeltwontdoup’

‘I’m sorry?’ they asked.

‘My seatbelt won’t do up,’ I repeated, louder.

Loud enough for people around me to hear.

People laughed. Sniggered. Shared snide comments under their breath. Politely, of course. To spare my feelings, while still being horrible.  The person in the seat beside me gave me the sidelong stink-eye.

The attendant just sighed, then went to grab me a seatbelt extender.

Ah, the seatbelt extender. What an introduction. It is a frenemy that I’ve known and loathed for years. It simultaneously represents both freedom & failure. Freedom to see the world, with a constant reminder that I’m not like other people. I failed at what so many other people are able to keep in check.

My ex-wife was from Canada, so most of the travel we did was long-haul international flights. She was the Black Widow to my Hulk. I always got super stressed and frustrated before a flight. She would reassure me, and take care of me, and kindly ask the flight attendants for the seatbelt extender for me. Because she knew just how utterly wretched having to ask made me feel.

There was a part of me that always dreaded travelling with her, because I felt like a burden. Travelling is meant to be fun and carefree and adventurous, and I always ended up feeling like a cantankerous lump of anxiety that needed to be taken care of. More than once, I ended up in tears in her arms once we’d reached our destination because of how inept and useless I felt.

I hadn’t travelled by plane since we broke up. This was partly because the thought of travelling alone was daunting, and partly because if I did travel, I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone else. No-one likes sitting next to a fat dude on a cramped plane. The thought of having to ask for a seatbelt extender amongst a group of strangers who were possibly going to be all judgey again was too terrifying to contemplate.

So I just didn’t do it. I decided that I would only travel again once I had lost an enormous amount of weight. When I knew I absolutely wouldn’t need to ask for a seatbelt extender. When I was normal.

But then, I found out that my cousin Amie was having an amazing party down in Sydney for her 30th birthday. A Sparkle Party. Glitter, sequins, shiny accoutrements, oh my! I needed to go. I couldn’t miss it. I had been looking for an excuse to do the glitter beard thing for ages, and here it was.

I flip-flopped so bad about going. I wanted to commit, but I let my fear of judgement and the threat of anxiety stop me. I used excuses like ‘oh, I’m saving for a big trip later in the year’ and ‘I’m just not sure I can get the time off, and it’d be silly just to go down to Sydney for one night.’

But really, it was all bullshit. I was just scared.

Around Christmas, I hung out with Amie, and the way she talked about the party made me decide that I just needed to go. I needed to stop being afraid and just fucking do it. So I booked my flights, and organised to share accommodation with my parents. It was happening. No backing out now.

When I showed up to check-in yesterday, it allocated me to a seat on the exit row.

Now, exit row seats are rad. You get extra leg room! But there were certain conditions that one must meet in order to be seated in the exit row. One of these is ‘the passenger must not require the use of a seatbelt extender’.

The check-in kiosk asked me whether I met all requirements to be seated in the exit row. I knew that I would still need a seatbelt extender, so I clicked No. My seating was re-allocated. I was now to be seated in seat 2A.

I boarded the plane, put my carry-on luggage in the overhead compartment and felt the anxiousness start bubbling up from within. The seatbelt sat there in 2A, already fully extended to its limit. It wouldn’t be enough – I knew it. The longer I looked at it, the more I knew that there was no way that it was ever going to go around my waist. There was absolutely no way.

Yet, I still wanted to try. I sat down, and I tried the seatbelt. Without the need for any extraneous manoeuvring, the seatbelt clicked shut. I didn’t believe that it had actually happened. I thought I had broken something. I pulled on the buckle, and it held tight. It had closed. I didn’t need a seatbelt extender anymore!

I looked around the cabin like I’d won the fucking lottery. I pumped my fist in the air and I had to resist the urge to shout triumphant expletives at the top of my lungs.

That kind of behaviour isn’t looked on very favourably in the aviation industry, and I was very much looking forward to actually going to Sydney.

My anxiety melted away. My butt fit in the seat. The seatbelt encircled my waist comfortably. I was travelling like every other Joe Public. I’d taken another forward step on my journey to where I want to be.

I landed in Sydney, had an excellent vegan burger with a mate in the city, made the obligatory King’s Comics and Kinokuniya pit-stops, then headed to the hotel to get shiny.

The party was amazing. My glitter beard was majestic.

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My time in Sydney was over all too quickly, but will never be forgotten.

I checked in for my flight back this morning. Lo and behold, I was offered another exit row seat. It was if the universe knew that I had been dwelling on the fact that I had clicked No the day before and missed an opportunity to experience something that I wanted. I wanted to sit in the exit row. I needed to. I wanted to know that I could do it.

This time, when the message asking me whether I could fulfil all the requirements of an exit row passenger appeared, I clicked Yes. And I muttered ‘Fuck yes’ to myself as I pressed the touch screen with a little more vigour than was required.

After spending a little time getting acquainted with Neil Gaiman’s latest novel, we started boarding the plane. This time, I was in seat 1F. Window seat, in the exit row. Nice. We headed into the plane, and I sat down.

I pulled the seatbelt around my waist, and it clicked in, secure, without protest.

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Seatbelt extender, I’m glad I knew you. Thank you for helping me visit Melbourne, Japan, Fiji, Canada, the United States, and China. We had some good times. But I never want to see you again.

I have wings now, and the world is open to me. To travel, without fear.

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