The months counted down and became weeks and then days. Arriving in Ohio for the first time back on that cold January day seemed so long ago. Me and Raven had done so many things together. Shared so much and seen so many places. But the time drew nearer and inexorably closer till I had to leave.
I suppose I started getting worried round about the beginning of June about three weeks before my departure. Apart from the fact I was going to have to leave my baby there was the flight. People who know me are well aware of my absolute terror of flying. I start worrying weeks before I have to fly and of course all possible disaster scenario’s parade through my mind. The usual terrorist bomb, an in flight fire raging out of control. The pilot and flight crew dying of food poisoning mid flight, even mid air collisions. More even bizarre scenario’s and every news item about aircraft and their mishaps is followed by me with ghoulish and unreasonable fear. Also we’d just had the Icelandic volcano ash cloud. That didn’t help. By the final week I was a gibbering wreck inside barely keeping it hidden from Kit, but she knew.
Every time I fly one of my first visits is to the docs for Valium. My little pre-flight sweeties, usually washed down with beer and G&T chasers. Even that seems to do little but I MANAGE IT. I am what is known as a stubborn git. No way will I give in to this unreasonable fear and I MANAGE IT. The funny thing is that as soon as I’m on board the latest metal behemoth of choice and possible death I am OK. All my worries seem so far away as the Beatles once sang. I become Matt Spears, seasoned international jet-setter. And I have certainly flown a few miles over the past year or two.
But flight nerves aside as the clock ticked down to my leaving Ohio I would sit on the deck and looking out into the warm night I would remember. As crickets cricketed and fireflies performed their bright flights of love I looked back. Incredible times together as our love for each other grew stronger. We had visited Niagara Falls in Canada, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland and other fantastic places but the times we spent alone together were the greatest. Watching TV snuggled up together on the sofa. Laying in bed at night talking and me reading to her. Making her lunch for work and slipping little love notes in. All of these times were so precious to me as I looked back on them as I sipped my beer on a warm Ohio night. But I looked back in sadness that this had to end for now at least. I did shed the odd tear as I remembered all this but I never showed them. I kept them to myself. But Kit knew this.
And eventually the final morning came. Wednesday 23rd of June dawned hot and hazy. Humid with a promise of rain later. I hadn’t slept much as I rose and made tea for us. All of my nerves jangled. My mind was a mess and so I took my Valium. It seemed to help and soon we left for Columbus Airport. England were playing their last match of the group stages as were the USA that morning as we sat in the departure lounge. A small group watched the action in the bar. We had coffee and then I had beer. The nerves started to disappear but the sadness got worse.
Eventually the Football ended. England and USA were through but narrowly and we all know how that ended but Kit and I sat and talked. We kept it upbeat although I was breaking inside. I visited outside for a smoke break and returned to find a Gin and Tonic. OMG I think there was about four measures in it. Kit knew my frailties and had issued me medication. Gawd bless her. The waitress we thought had to be related to Bette Midler. She was a young spitting image of Bette and we asked her to take pictures of us. She did.
But the minutes counted down. My flight was called and I had to go. We embraced and I couldn’t hold my tears back any longer. I didn’t want to leave but I had to. My visa had run out almost or I’d have stayed but well… that is life shitty though it is and we would see each other again soon. After the goodbyes were done I picked up my laptop. Straightened my hat and headed for the new full body scanner that had just been installed. Belt off. Laptop out. Pockets emptied and I walked through into the departure lounge without a beep. I could still see Kit and wiping my eyes I waved one last time. The sadness in her face mirrored mine but then I walked. Off to my flight and Newark Airport.
The flight was on time. The same Brazilian built Embraer aircraft we had arrived on. Just 57 seats. Just like a coach with wings. Sadness trumped my fear as we took off for the 90 minute flight to New York. The weather was good. I even took photos from the aircraft window and as we came in to land I got to see New York and the Statue of Liberty. We had missed it on the way in. And the flight was uneventful. I got myself a beer and the obligatory pack of salty pretzels before we landed.
New York was a nightmare. I phoned Kit to let her know I’d got there and searched for somewhere to smoke…..Nowhere….nada. So I made do with coffee and bought my duty frees. No temptation there at least as you only picked them up at the departure gate. So there I was The Only Living Boy in New York. Walking onto the enormous Continental Boeing 777 armed with booze vouchers. My medication. I didn’t want to fall for the same thing as on the way in. You can only get drinks on the flight with a credit card. Great stuff but the bloody visa machine broke down mid Atlantic so no more ‘drinkies’ for this guy on the way to the USA. This time I was armed with pre-paid vouchers (thank you baby). No bloody electronic failures would thwart this kiddo on the way back. Little did I know.
The take-off was smooth and I was still enjoying the tail end of my Valium/G&T . As I said before as soon as we were airborne I became Matt Spears, international frequent flyer and all was going well. I trolled through the seat back screen looking for films to watch and joked casually with my neighbors. The effects of my medication were wearing off ie the Gin and Tonics and I watched eagerly as the drinks trolley approached slowly, drinks voucher clasped tightly in my sweaty little mitt.
[Cabin Announcement] Please fasten your seat-belts. We are expecting a bit of turbulence ahead.
The drinks trolley was just two rows in front of me. I willed it closer. We bumped.
[Cabin Announcement] Would all cabin crew please return to their seats and buckle in we are about to experience bad turbulence till we get over the Atlantic.(Sound of alarms in the flight deck)
[Me] Oh fuck!
I watched as … just out of reach the drink trolley was closed up and put away and the cabin staff beat a cowardly (in my view) retreat leaving me in a terrible condition … ie sober.
[Me] Oh bollux!
It started. Outside all looked good. The sun was a fiery ball setting behind Canadian clouds. The clouds looked cute grey and fluffy and many thousands of feet below us. And we hit it. As I said I have flown many thousands of miles recently over various continents but this was a cracker. We went up. We went down. We went up as we went down. We went sideways. We rolled. I even think we looped the loop. God knows how many hundred tons of metal and humans were tossed about like a ping-pong ball in a spin drier. Never in history have I gripped seat arms so tightly.
I tried to mentally will the by now securely strapped in flight attendant to bring me booze. No luck and then I realized that in a perverse kind of way I was enjoying this. People were swearing and praying as overhead lockers were popping open and I smiled. I was the Columbus Cowboy and I turned my mp3 player onto full volume and ‘Yehawwwwww’ . And an hour later it all went quiet.
The seat belt signs went out. The cabin crew resumed serving. I got my large one and breathed a sigh of relief. We even got dinner.
I even slept a little although aircraft seats are not designed for this. I am sure they just want to make sure you enjoy every damned minute. But the hours passed quietly and we saw the rising sun over Ireland. Shortly after we started our descent into Heathrow. After six wonderful months away I was almost back in blighty. What would it hold for me?
To be continued………….