I didn’t know I was afraid of flying until I took my first flight when I was 18. It was from Calgary to Toronto, from high school to university, from everything I had known into a strange galaxy made of new stars. And I was shaking and pale and sweaty and one of the flight attendants had to rub my arms and back to keep me from completely losing my shit. I cried in absolute terror for two of those four hours over Canada.
Now I can manage a plane ride without a full on panic attack, thanks to a little help from Ativan and some strictly managed pre-flight rituals. But reading Lydia Davis’s new story, “The Landing” still filled me with a familiar terror.
I generally don’t spoil endings here, so I’ll try to think through this without giving the last minute reward away, but the story is about how we tell ourselves stories in order to neutralize trauma. The narrator details a rough patch of flight, thinks through what may be last thoughts, tries to get right with the world before possibly being thrust out of it. The narrator looks to the steward, to in flight companions, others as they silently face down an immediate future that might include death. The plane has something wrong with it, and so it has to land at a dangerous clip, and there are risks, and the captain makes an announcement, and the narrator tries to plan out the last thing they want in mind, a possible last minute of mindfulness. I felt anxious and nauseous, and really wish I hadn’t read this right before what became a failed attempt to fall peacefully asleep.
Davis is so good here, her words so loaded and measured, her sentences mostly short but never stuttering, some longs one there to string you along. The calm rhythm of her prose is just right, like when you start to hyperventilate and force yourself to slow your thoughts down, or when you look back in wonder at something that excited or upset you. The feeling is that the narrator is making the event a little less shockingly exterior, making sense of what almost happened by telling you that it did and it didn’t. You can actually watch experience turning into narrative, into memory.
Photo by William Eggleston, and is the one I would’ve chosen even if the folks at Telegraph hadn’t, which by the way, is where you can read this story.