What am I doing alone in this small plane with a new pilot? How did I get into this?
I tried to concentrate on each of Mike’s movements, tried to guess the purpose behind each one. Maybe that would keep my nerves intact.
It seemed only weeks ago this young man was ten years old, pulling on the throttle of our friend’s four-seat plane—up we went, high over the Pacific between the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Maui. Then Mike pushed the throttle and we raced toward the sea. I felt quite safe sitting behind Mike, as he sat on his daddy’s lap, our daughter in the seat beside me. In the pilot’s seat Ray had his own throttle. I knew that at any moment he could resume control.
Suddenly the sea was directly below, outside our right window. “Hey Mom,” Mike called over his shoulder, “I can make it turn.” I closed my eyes and forced a smile.
Was that the beginning of his interest in flying? I concentrated on remembering. I must not let him know I’m uncomfortable. Near the end of that trip, I remembered, a pilot had invited Mike to join him in the cockpit of the 727 between the islands of Truk and Pohnpe.
“Cesna 215, you’re cleared for take off,” a voice forced me back to the runway. But I couldn’t decipher the message. How do you understand that gibberish? I asked.
“You get used to it,” Mike answered casually.
His hands moved methodically from one instrument to another. Am I really doing this? I wondered. Can he really be ready to fly without his instructor?
Other trips came to mind. Although Pete is a pastor, every few years we take trips to preach overseas.
Mike always seemed at home in airplanes. On an Air India flight, a fellow passenger had a stroke. The stewardesses pulled him into the aisle and laid him flat, but seemed otherwise to be helpless.
Sixteen-year-old Mike stepped over someone’s legs, reached into the overhead compartment a few feet ahead and pulled down an oxygen tank. Once he saw that the flight crew was taking appropriate action, Mike slipped back into his seat as though nothing had happened.
That was when I knew I’d want Mike around in a true emergency, I reminded myself.
We were half-way down the runway now. Every movement Mike made, even his unintelligible conversation with the tower were a fascination to me. He pulled back on the throttle and I felt the lunge as we left the ground. I felt as calm and safe as if we were driving down the 91 Freeway together. Only now we were flying above it.
Mike headed east and named the streets below. “Soon we’ll be over the house,” he informed me as though I didn’t know where he’d take me first. “See the school?” We’d both spent more waking hours at our Christian school than in our home. But I’d never seen it from above.
One minute later we circled over our home. My heart swelled with awe that this son of mine could provide me such a thrill.
He followed the general path of “our” freeway to the beach where our family had enjoyed many outings; then out over the water in a wide arch.
Was it only two days ago during his eighteenth birthday party, I wondered that he asked me The Question?
“I solo tomorrow,” he’d told us. “Do you want to go up with me the next day, Mom?” My throat had suddenly felt like concrete; adrenaline raced through my being.
“I promised you when I was eight that you’d be my first passenger. But you don’t have to if you don’t want do.”
“Of course, I’ll be with you,” I’d stammered. Had he sensed my fear, my terror? Or did I sufficiently fake my confidence in him?
As we followed Harbor Boulevard back to Fullerton Airport I sat back in relaxed splendor. This was a son who not only determined he would fly one day, but also for ten years remembered who he’d promised would be his first passenger. Why did I ever fear?
© Beverly Caruso