Learning How to Fly

Learning How to Fly

Many strange things occurred in that house. First, the toy radio spoke to me, although it was missing batteries and a plug-in. Then came the ghosts.

The crashes woke me up initially. Loud, booming sounds, like a jet overhead, except it roared in spurts. Is it thunder? It never thundered or lightning’d in the rainforest of Southeast Alaska. 

I looked outside through the round porthole my dad salvaged from a ship and installed in my room for a window. There they were, a tall entity of fire beside a short, squat moon-like blob, making their way down the rocky beach towards water’s edge. Just a few more houses down the Tlingit had carved their marks on the rocks thousands of years ago.

I awoke my little sister next to me, who heard the crashing noises, too. Together we cowered like frightened animals. I knew it was futile to tell her to look outside – they were already gone. But she remembered the scary crashing noises, until her rationalizing mind erased it. Then no one believed me. The ghosts tricked her.

So many strange things happened in that house that after a while it was hard to tell if they had actually happened, or if I had dreamt it. Dreams can feel so real. 

One time lying in bed, I woke to see a ghostly cupid strumming a harp, and from out of the door a thick arm was reaching, fingers crumpling in as if to clasp something, finding nothing, opening again like an anemone to repeat its useless exercise. 

Later, I awoke again and realized my family was downstairs; I could hear them laughing in the kitchen. My mom was making pancakes. Running down the stairwell I was met instead by a cold draft – they were all gone, the living room and adjoining kitchen left dark. Death and fear had banished all sunlight and joy. They had left a while ago. This occurred often.

My mother, who I adored, left me on many occasions. Through the sobs I would beg her to not to go, and I would wake up crying. I don’t know why I had such vivid frequent dreams of being abandoned — it’s not like I was neglected. Sure, my mom worked part time and left us with terrible babysitters, like the time I was five and my sister and I ran away from one particularly mean one, tottering through deep snow down Fritz Cove Road with my little sister on my back. (The sitter didn’t come after us either.)

I had so many nightmares that I experimented with different sleeping positions. I discovered that if I slept on my left side my nightmares came less frequently. So I tried this, but they would come again, and I would wake up on my right side. 

Nightmares, or “night mirrors” as I knew them, spawned from a magical mirror that resembled the one the evil queen commanded in Snow White. Perhaps they were mirrors that reflected my worries and fears. I prayed to God, I ate less pickles, but yet still they came, the dark harrowing mirrors of my psyche.

I discovered in my night mirrors that I could save myself by doing one of two things: I could fly, or I could die a self-imposed death. Flying sometimes didn’t work; in these instances I’d look for a way out, either jumping off a cliff or drowning. Dying meant the dream was over, and if lucky I would wake up. But I could never allow the bad guys, the fear, to catch me.

I tried to teach myself how to wake up during a night mirror. One time I force-woke myself up, only to realize I was still dreaming – or was I? To double-check I touched my eyelids with my actual, physical body. They were still closed! 

When I didn’t have nightmares I dreamt of flying. Sometimes I soared over the kids at recess, the ones who were stronger and faster, the ones who laughed at me, who were my best friends then out of blue for no given reason stopped talking to me. That felt wonderful. Sometimes I flew clutching a zip-line, holding on desperately, pulling and pumping my body to escape the bad guys who chased me on land. Sometimes I would rocket up too high, too fast, into the stratosphere. I was out of control. In a panic I would try to come closer to earth and slow my speed, but then I would find myself above waterfall drop-offs in sheer terror.

I had so many dreams of flying I thought for sure I had been a bird in a past life. I thought that perhaps I was the chosen one who had already seen two ghosts and heard God on my Barbie radio. I could be the first human ever blessed with the powers of flight. 

So in my grandfather’s guest room where I lived during weeks out of the summer, I looked in the wooden mirror and prayed to God to let me fly, please just this once, to let me be a bird again, to escape the fear and my insecurities and the laughing kids and the race-winners, to please let this weak thing with only talents for feeling to fly just this once, because the only other option was to be consumed by the darkness that awaited me in my night mirrors. 

I crawled on top of the skinny bed, looked at myself in the inert mirror across the room, and jumped.

Down I thudded onto the hard wooden floor. 

Try again. 

Again! Please, God. Just let me fly, just this once…

Again and again I descended, feet thudding hard onto wooden floor.

I tried and I tried, and I tried again, jumping with all my might. Just this once, please God, let me fly!

After twenty or so tries, I gave up.

Sitting on the bed I gazed at her in the quiet mirror, a pale girl with hair the color of fire, skinny neck and tiny shoulders, eyes swollen with allergies, who wanted to fly away, to not have to face them: my grandfather (“you don’t play to have fun, you play to win!”), the kids, the shame, and the night mirrors.

So when my mom asked me if I wanted to do a high school exchange, I grabbed ahold of a zip-line in white knuckled fists and coursed away from the rebels who didn’t accept me into their tribe and the jocks who called me “a freak”. I flew to another world.

When I jumped out of an airplane everything looking so small and insignificant, little dolls and toy houses I could play with. I flew like a rocket towards the earth. 

When I rap battled in Canada, words and thoughts flew like a missile on point. I was in charge.

And when I built a business in Costa Rica, we flew over windy, misty mountains roads every weekend to buy provisiones to the soundtrack of AC/DC and Rushpast lush coffee farms smelling of delicious coffee beans, past cars on blind corners, praying to the wooden cross hanging from our rear view mirror to live. I spiraled up higher and higher into the stratosphere, deliriously out of control.

Then I met a man who on our first date flew me on his Honda CBR 600. We popped wheelies, flying at twice the speed of reason, and within a year I married him and bore him a son. Time flies, too.

And when I gave birth to my son my heart soared right out of my body, caught a warm thermal, and dove right into his.

And then I taught him to fly.

Art by Jane Terzis

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