Fear of Flying: Chapter 1
THE GREAT ESCAPE
Written by: Nada Chehade
My heart is pounding.
You got this.
I stumbled into Dubai airport and was mortified at the number of people I had to face in my dolphin print pyjama pants, the ones with the big hole in them. I snuck out of the house like a thief in the night; looking like an upstanding citizen was the last thing on my mind. I couldn’t wait to leave it all behind. I was done.
The airport was bustling as usual. No, seriously, there are more people at Dubai airport than there are people in the country. And there I was trying to be inconspicuous in my dolphin print. I hate when that happens.
I frantically search for the sales counter, which ends up being on the other side of the airport hall. I plunge over barriers, abandoned trollies, and push unruly kids out of my way to get to it. Finally, after elbowing my way through all the human chaos, I slump onto the ledge to buy my one-way ticket out of this place. I’m drowning in a puddle of my own sweat.
You got this.
“Pssst…I’m looking for the first flight out of Dubai.”
“All flights are leaving from Dubai,”
Fuck her face, fuck her face. I say underneath my breath; she knows what I meant.
“When is the next international flight I can catch?”
She’s such a bitch.
Destination anywhere was the plan. Actually, I didn’t have a plan. All I knew was this time, I didn’t want to walk out of my marriage. I wanted to fly the fuck out. I needed to put an ocean and a continent between my husband and me. It’s not like he didn’t agree the marriage was over; he revelled in the fact that it was up to him to end it through the courts. Oh, he enjoyed every moment of dragging it out and having that power over me. I was at his mercy. I am always under some man’s mercy.
The saleslady hands me my one-way ticket accompanied by a judgemental highbrow. I look up. Clearly, God endorsed this plan. It could have been butt fuck nowhere for all I cared. But this time, it was London. I’ll add a ‘mate’ at the end of my sentences and fit right in. London, here I come.
Boarding that flight was one of the most soul-freeing things I had ever been through. It was my great escape, so I twirled all the way to my seat and introduced myself to the couple next to me.
“Nice to meet you, I’m free!”
I laughed hysterically as the pilot gave his take-off speech. I was salivating at the thought of my husband waking up the next morning and grunting his way to the coffee machine only to realize how much I really loathed him. Envisioning him explaining to his colleagues that his wife absconded brought me great joy. I didn’t even notice the sound of the engines or the pressure of the lift.
Poof, I was finally amongst the clouds.
I did it. I left.
It’s not like anyone forced me to get married; I did that shit all on my own. I met a guy, thought I fell in love, got hitched, and my home life immediately–like the next day– turned into that scene from the Terminator where Kyle Reese shoots him over and over and over again until he’s reduced to random scraps of wedding dress and pieces of that pearl and gold embellished tiara splattered all over the walls. In this case, we were both the Kyle and the Terminator, throwing grenades and using our machine guns to blast each other from behind the bedroom door. And every time I would pack my things up and tell him, “Hasta La Vista asshole!” my family would cough it up to another hasty decision only to send me back to the warzone to get burned. Again.
I arrive at Heathrow airport around 6:00 am. My legs gravitate towards the arrival gates, past security, and straight to the smoking section right outside the terminal where the buses take off.
I light a cigarette.
You know, there really is something different about the air in London. It has this je ne sais quoi factor about it that makes it feel fresh and full of life. This is what freedom smells like. I chuckle, almost choking on my own spit. I daydream about all the amazing opportunities that can potentially be here for me. Maybe I’ll move to the countryside and begin a career in writing, something my real job in Dubai keeps hindering. I can drive down a bit further and become a cast member on my all-time guilty pleasure, The Only Way is Essex. Or, more realistically, I could become a tree-hugging hippie. I only have the clothes on my back anyway.
As I light my second cigarette feeling momentarily triumphant and fallaciously free, my boss calls me because I didn’t show up to work. Friends were looking for me. An Amazon delivery. There were people I had to answer to. Mind you, not a single call from my husband.
Then, out of nowhere, a terrifying high-pitched shriek throws me off my feet and rips through my thoughts. I know that shriek; it’s my mom’s. My mom is going to kill me. Her judgments always kill me. It wasn’t really her, but it sure sounded like her reaction when she finds out I absconded. It turns out it was the sirens of an ambulance passing by that would pull me out of my trance.
What the fuck am I doing in England?
I drop my cigarette.
Fear set in. The weight of what I had done settled. It dawned on me that I left. I just up and ran away in my pyjamas, mascara running down my cheeks, and a worn-out scruffy securing my bun. Fuck, this is what unhinged looks like. My family will be enraged. I deserted them. But they deserted me. They always do.
Anxiety took over—the irrational hell one. Women like me who steer off the path are cursed to a “life of hell,” I was told. You know, stories of some distant cousin who never cooked her husband a hot meal so she got hit by a bus. And I was literally standing at the Heathrow bus stop.
Reality hit me. Bit me, really. The Great Escape failed. It was destined to and I knew that all along. I was going back to the warzone, only now, there were more side battles to fight. Dreams of absconding to anywhere were crushed.
I couldn’t tell you what got me here. One minute I was standing in my living room, and the next, I was in England. I was functioning on adrenaline for hours until the sirens of that ambulance shook me awake.
I did that a lot when I was a kid to disassociate from my troubles at home. I would take my mind to the clouds. It feels free over there. I feel validated. I feel loved it. I don't feel shame. But it’s not reality. It was never my reality. I was just so good at escaping it in my mind.
I made it out but I didn't have a dime to my name, just the exact amount to go back home. It was embarrassing. Did I falter the dream on purpose? Maybe I didn't really have the balls to go all the way through with it.
What felt even shittier was that I was lucky enough to be standing in Heathrow in the first place. So many women would not be able to do what I did. I was ashamed I let those women down—women who were less fortunate than me. My old passport was such a freakin barrier in my life, so what the hell was stopping me now. I had access. I had the opportunity. But there was still this mental clasp on my brain. I was scared of venturing off alone. I needed permission. I was “married” like it was some sacred contract, and I would burst into flames if I didn’t honor it even after he dishonored it. At least, that’s what the town made it seem like.
Fuck, I’m even more broker than broke now. I’ll probably get burned at stake as soon as I land in Dubai. Someone will definitely get butt hurt. I made a decision all on my own without consulting my male chaperon. That’s the thing about that region; some man legally owns your body. If it's not your dad, it's your brother; if it's not your brother, it's your husband; if it's not your husband, it’s society.
The flight back sucked so bad and by then, I was awake for a whole day. I took self-loathing to another level. I hated myself. And my life. I hated that I was tied. I was stuck. The pilot announced, “We’re home!” before the descent and I sobbed in despair. Back to the warzone where I am under some man’s mercy. Back to dimming my light. Back to being invisible so that someone else can shine. Back to silence. Back to being afraid. Back to some man game I didn't want to play.
It was humiliating. Careless. I traveled to England on a whim, smoked two cigarettes, and went back home with my tail between my legs. Being impulsive got me in so much trouble. But it also gave me comfort. I reclaimed my power for these brief few moments. In the end, those two cigarettes changed my life.