July 7, 2022
“Pretend he died,” they said. “Pretend he never existed.”
No, I won’t pretend.
“No,” I answered in the silence of my mind. To the circle of friends, I grinned slightly, just enough to stop the tears which were welling in the pockets of my eyes. I made a half-hearted motion to shrug my shoulders.
The cloud spewed us out without any forewarning. It had been so thick that our energy expense doubled to keep flying, but the release from the cloud had been strong. I now found myself floating in a soft glide.
The suddenness of the glide itself caused me to brake against the forward momentum which I had been accustomed to. I thought how funny, braking in mid-flight. Seldom does any handbook mention that maneuver, Truthfully I imagined how my whole flight prowess would look to another in flight. I flapped, flailing clumsily, teetering sideways then diagonally until I leveled out.
Definitely not handbook worthy. Nope. “Remembering physics might have been a good idea, Steph,” I scolded myself.
Speaking of physics, with the cloud cover gone, I refocused. I could now see him. Except he was not along my right side. I swore to my memory that I had seen him on the right.
I chuckled. He always made me laugh. We had no instrumentation. No radar. No radios. They had long ago failed. Besides, the readings were never trustworthy enough to gauge anything. The flight through the clouds was nothing short of miraculous.
Communication was limited but we always figured it out. Gyroscopes worked. And refueling opportunities always seemed to appear at the perfect times.
In this sunshine I figured he had arrived first as he had always done. Whenever I discovered something new, I would point it out to him. He rejoiced with me but I knew he had already seen it. Two steps ahead of me he always was. Or so it seemed.
But I always felt as though he celebrated my discovery as if it was his own.
I dipped, then ascended. I felt I could impress him a bit now in clear sight of each other. “Look,” I spoke aloud. “Look, I haven’t lost my touch!”
I smiled broadly as I ascended. But his grin was no where to be found. He was not above me in his usual prankster fashion as I had imagined.
He was not there.
Concerned, I looked left. “Idiot,” I scolded myself. Turning my glide to the right I realized that it had been a long time, maybe years, that I had even turned. I slid into the turn, dipping to the right more and more. The bracing, even from a glide, hurt. In that glide, I recognized the return of a skill which had been resting.
I headed back to the cloud cover which now loomed in a blur of white. The distant horizon hid its mass into that soft white line. Flying, one would never anticipate the swampy fog it really was.
As I flew, I scanned directions, left then right. I bobbled, repeatedly tipping left then right to see below and above. My expectation was a dot, a darkened dot with a sparkle at the top which would reflect the suns rays.
I kept flying to the cloud cover, not realizing how far I had already traveled in the clearing skies. Gliding even took effort which caught me by surprise. How can gliding which is basically floating be effortful? I am still unsure. But I grew tired with looking, searching and maintaining the healthy glide.
Nearing the cloud, pockets of currents disturbed the air. We had held steady within the cloud for so long that I never realized how developed some skills has become. I knew when to brace if a pocket hit me head on. If I saw the churning of turmoil to one side or another, I could dodge its full impact by weaving with my wings.
And with that awareness, I plunged full force into the blinding white swamp of cloud. I did not really know how to find him but I could estimate the time I had last seen him. I would return to that point in time. It would not be exact or scientific but my plan was something.
With the settlement of my mind upon a plan of action, panic started. What if he had died? How would I have known? Surely I would have known? How could I not have known?Even in the murkiness which spanned a period of years, we had flown together. He would show off. So would I. Personally I never understood the journey, but I knew he was there. Every once in awhile we would actually speak, getting close enough to read lips even in the fog.
I never knew our destination but it seemed like being wing to wing was perfectly okay for the two of us. Sometimes months would pass. All I knew of him was the distant roar of his engines. As I grew accustomed to such distance, currents would steer us closer if we did not do so ourselves.
A tip of wings and a giggle would pass between us. Maybe never a word would be spoken. Sometimes we would fly dangerously close. We would laugh for days until the cloud would nudge us to separate.
“He is not here,” I cried to myself. Tears welled in the corners of my eyes. “Stop it, Steph. You have to be safe to fly. You need to keep navigating.” I reminded myself.
“He could be dead,” I whimpered. Banking again, I braced to fly crossways to the cloud’s current. I had never before felt the cross current inside the cloud. I had just flown. Now I approached each with deliberation. Time after time for days, then months, I had just flown.
We had flown.
“Numb skull,” I berated myself for such lack of awareness. As I cursed my own lack of perception, I banked across the current. I was now in full knowledge that I flew alone.
If I saw others (and I must have), I do not now remember them. The cloud’s size engulfed such an expanse that surely others must be navigating their way through as well as us.
Us? Oh, I mean ‘me.’
The travel seemed endless. Now that I knew I was alone, the cloud seemed denser, swallowing me, digesting me, removing me. But I flew on.
Just as I was near the point of giving up, I noticed a slice. The cloud had been cut. There was a path! Either something had flown through this part of the swamp-thick cloud or the cloud itself had collided with mountaintops or something of the sort which then pared it open.
I felt relief just as I was near giving up. Any longer my own safety would be in jeopardy. I had begun to doubt my ability to withstand another turn as well as my own sense of direction.
Where was he? Did he die? I could not think any longer about if I could or could not do something. I wanted to find him.
But the cloud had been parted. I eased into the break which carved out an almost invisible road. As difficult as the cloud had been and as difficult as the double back had been, was as easy as this road was becoming.
“Thank goodness,” I prayed aloud. The road branched until the cloud lightened into tufts of white. Paths of clearings widened into clearings with white patches. I could once again see below and all around. The continual seasick feeling eased almost immediately. I had grown accustomed to nausea.
I could feel my back muscles, my stomach and my arms and legs relax. I was no longer fighting the wind currents.
And there were other flyers, none of whom I knew. Except one.
I recognized him. My shoulders sagged with the easing of a question’s load now answered. He was alive.
I flew near enough to see him clearly and for him to see me. But he was flying differently. My imagination took over as I thought his appearance had changed. I wanted to rush over, dive bomb him, then hope to see him laugh.
But I realized as I watched him that he was flying away. My eyes began to tear. He had been flying away. I flashed calculations in my head. How long had he been gone? When did he fly off?
And of course came the dreaded question to one’s mind…why? Why did he leave?
I watched those wings, his wings, for awhile. I watched first without emotion. I watched his wings with memories of the journey of years. I watched his wings now as I recalled the joy of when I first saw them so many flights ago.
Just momentarily, I watched his wings with the eyes of a younger me. My heart sank with the weight of his dismissal.
He was alive and he was flying. My mind needed to comprehend quickly that he no longer wanted to travel near me. The ‘us’ that had mysteriously sliced through clouds without even knowing we were slicing, had evolved separately.
I would never know the reason or the timing. I would only know that it was time for me to bank the turn in the currents. He never paused nor looked to me. But I knew the crafty bastard he had always been. He knew I was there. And it was time for me to go.
I ascended slightly. I wanted to feel the pain of the full wind coming at me. I wanted to test the strength which I knew I had and therefore, was no test at all.
My arms locked into a bended brace for the climb. No tipping or I would flip. A dip on one side would make me roll. “Please,” I prayed. “Please get me out of here.”
The wind felt as though it released my side but I had actually risen above the current just enough. Once again I thought my forgetful escape from simple physics was rather fascinating. “Well, at least I can amuse myself. Plus I can be constantly amazed at the best of basic facts.”
Smirking, I banked again. I was returning to my path. I glanced back but of course he never stumbled. His wings never dipped. He never loop-dee-looped a farewell. I could only stare into the clouds as I navigated back through its progression of clearings and tufts.
I reached the far end of the cloud days later. I never saw anyone else. At the edge, the cloud too did not even bother to spit me out as it had the first time.
I smiled at the thought of a cloud purging me. Absently I looked for him and his wings. “Cmon” my mind reached out for him. “Let me just bounce into you a bit.”
I began to smile at the memory. Then I sobbed. Have you ever sobbed yet continued to fly? I kept flying. I took time to float when I felt the need to cry.
Even in the clear skies I could practice maneuvers. My heart was only half full when I braced to bank against the currents. My arms seemed to take over the absence of half my heart. An autopilot mode guided every effort. I saw my body working as I flew.
I felt my thoughts. For miles and miles. I felt external to my own being. But I kept flying. The distance between what was and what is grew greater until I could once again give in to my weary heart. I sobbed and I kept flying.
The tears came and went for days. Still the miles flew as I flew with them. I found myself dipping a wing. I dipped it further.
And I rolled. Smiling, I righted myself. “Go the other way,” I commanded. And I dipped, dipped further, then dipped into a roll.
I giggled. Just a little bit, I giggled.
Then I pulled back, bracing again into the wind.