Most nights, I dream of airplanes.
Last night, I dreamt of one flying low, narrowly missing my childhood home, ripping the neighbors’ houses in half. No one was hurt. No one was home to see their homes cleft by this errant machine. They would arrive home later, tired from work, to see their roofs torn open and possessions lade bare.
The night before, the dream was an emergency landing. An engine was smoking, and the pilot spoke calmly, as out the windows we watched smoke billow from the wings.
In life, landings are an incredible pummel to the earth, where the runway appears as if from nowhere, and seconds later this great machine lurches to the ground, ungracefully, and slows itself in fits and starts. But in this dream, the landing was a beautiful spiral, the plane gracefully corkscrewing through the air, alighting on a grassy field. Again, no one was hurt. By the grace of God and man, we survived peril in this overblown tin can, and we hugged and cheered the hero pilot, having forgotten our destination.
Some nights, the emergency landings are on highways. Some nights, the plane taxis down country roads and takes off in high school football fields. Most nights, I’m simply late for a flight, and no one around me gives a shit.
So often, it’s Cleveland, my childhood home, where I take off. I dream of driving in to the airport, enclosed on both sides by great walls of stone. They appear as they did when I was a child, towering above me–not as they do now, simple highway barriers. I have not flown from this airport in years, and when I think of it now, awake, I feel some sort of misguided nostalgia. I never feel this in the dreams. In dreams it is only panic, frustration, desperation: forgotten passports, lost luggage, airport shuttles that don’t show–the overwhelming feeling of no control, as above me the steady stream of air traffic continues.
In life, flights are some mundane constant–always arriving, departing, delaying, canceling. Airports are clocks, where thousands of tiny cogs show up to work each day and keep the gears turning. The mechanism ticks, second by second, counting down until the next flight. But there is a sinister theatre lurking just under the surface of all this humdrum, where our naked bodies are scanned and our bags peeked into; where a discarded backpack clears a city’s worth of workers and travelers; where the lingering memory of 9/11 climbs aboard the plane with you, scrunching into a seat that is already too small.
I think a fear of flying must be common, but I don’t consider myself an aviophobe. In my waking life, I never think of planes. Only in my dreams do they spiral out of control, destroying and polluting. Only in my dreams do they run at random, destroying homes and barreling down city streets, taking off from makeshift tarmacs that are really just running tracks. But even in these dreams of in-flight chaos, the cost is never human; it is material–torn roofs, burned grass, my favorite dress that the airport somehow lost.
My outward calm never affects this cycle of arrivals and departures. When I am anxious, I dream of airplanes. When I am at peace, I dream of airplanes.
Somehow, always, flying machines loom in my mind’s eye, exercising some lingering influence over my psyche. I sit in various tin cans, large and small, and give myself over to the whims of some maniac dream pilot. Somehow, always, I am unharmed. Somehow, always, I am removed from the earth, and I observe it, hurtling below me or past me, in a way I never can when I am awake. Somehow, always, it is more beautiful and abstract, with softer edges, with grass greener and buildings more carefully architected. In my dreams, no control. In my dreams, lifted from the ground. In my dreams, subject to something beyond me.
And so, most nights, I dream of airplanes.