Have you ever had a panic attack at 30,000 feet? I’ve had two in the last month, and one this weekend led to a fairly interesting adventure. But let’s back up.
I’ve never loved flying, but ever since I moved to New York City from Southern California at 18-years-old, I’ve done a fair amount of it. This year, however, what with it being my first year of self-employment, I’ve done a ton. I said yes to personal and professional travel, perhaps a tad too often, just because I could. Then this fall, it reached a critical mass. Since August, I’ve been on 15 flights (including two trans-Atlantic flights, which I actually don’t mind as much), one long ferry ride, and two long train trips. On Wednesday, in the middle of traveling to see my Grandmother for Thanksgiving, my body decided rather suddenly at 30,000 feet that it was overwhelmed by life and done with plane travel. Last time this happened, I was traveling alone, and the stewardesses (God bless them) pulled me out of my seat, blew air in my face, put cold compresses on my neck, and proceeded to get me drunk so they didn’t have to call in a medical professional. This time, I was traveling with my husband (God bless him) and my hands started shaking so hard I couldn’t hold the drink he’d pressed into my hands (and I was already on anti-anxiety medication). To say it was unpleasant would be a small understatement.
When we landed, I turned to David and said, “I can’t get on the next plane. Also, I clearly need treatment for my flying phobia.” And, “But seriously, I can’t get on the next plane.” And that’s when the foundation of what my marriage is started to play out. There I was, sobbing in the Phoenix airport. David said, “Are you sure you can’t get on the plane? Because it’s a short flight and I think you can probably do it.” And I collapsed into tears again, and said, “I can’t.” He asked if I wanted to get a plane home. I said, “No,” and croaked out, “I think we need to rent a car.”
And my amazing husband nodded and said, “Ok. We need to rent a car,” grabbed his iPhone, started searching, and then told me to grab my things. Let me tell you, you get some funny looks when you roll up to a rental counter in Phoenix at 10pm, sans reservation, and ask to rent a car and return it in San Francisco four days later.
The whole thing made me think about what marriage is. Life is a series of things you plan and things you hope for, followed by things going awry. Life is thinking you’re going to have a short and comfortable flight to New Mexico, and ending up in pine-scented Flagstaff, in a hotel you picked because you were too tired to drive your rental car any further, with a wife looking rather green around the gills after a terrible panic attack. And the thing about marriage is that it gives you a partner to sob on, to plan with, and to drive the rental car, when you’re shaking too hard to do it.
Back when I started Reclaiming Wife, people asked me to write about marriage as a culturally privileged state. And while I thought the topic was very interesting (guest post anyone?) it wasn’t something I could personally write about. David and I did our early growing up in creative and ambitious New York City. In the professional creative worlds in New York, powerful men are sometimes married with families. Powerful women rarely have both and are often single. So as an absurdly ambitious person, I felt significant pressure not to get married. And before we got engaged, I spent a lot of time wondering if married life, and wanting to focus on my family, was going to hold me back at all. And the answer that I came to was what played out for us this weekend.
Far from holding me back, David has always been the person who helps me figure out what to do next. He sees solutions where I don’t. He gives me the tools I need to move forward and the push (and hugs) to do it when things are tough. If I’d been alone in that Phoenix Airport, I would have been in a scary place. While I probably would have sorted something out, it would have been confusing and frightening. But with David there, it turned into an adventure.
Rather unexpectedly, we drove 1600 miles this weekend. Also unexpectedly, I went to Las Vegas for the first time, where I finally saw a burlesque artist do a pole dance. (Holy shit ladies. There is a reason this is one of my long time personal obsessions.) I played the slot machines (which I still don’t understand). I saw crazy fake pyramids and Eiffel towers (again, don’t really understand). We had the kind of road trip where you don’t have reservations, you just drive till you’re done driving and then find a hotel. I stared out at the desert and thought a lot. We listened to a two hour interview with Nirvana about the 20th anniversary of Nevermind, did some googling to discover that, as I suspected, we were born in the last two years of Generation X and are not in fact Millennials (being on a generational cusp is fascinating). We read about and discussed generational theory. I stared into space some more. I wrote in my journal in a lot of different locations. I took some photos. We ate a fair amount of In N Out. And when I called my mom on day four in the car, she said I sounded “well rested.” Oddly, I was.
When we told the story of how we ended up in the middle of a roadtrip to the table of seniors at my Grandmother’s retirement home, cheers broke out for David when I told them that he’d rented a car, without hesitation, after my panic attack. And if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that 70- and 80-year-olds tend to know a ton about life and marriage. So when they applauded David, I knew for sure we were on to something good. Because life is complicated. And frankly, life is hard. And having someone around who’s willing to change plans, to make jokes, and to turn a serious obstacle into an adventure? That may be as good as it gets.
Photos by me, for A Practical Wedding