The time is 00:11.
My watch tells me my heart rate is 78 bpm.
I haven't slept in 18 hours.
My playlist is on song 38.
It’s been 2 hours since I kissed my boyfriend. I’ll see him again soon.
How long is soon?
I don’t know.
The realization hits me so suddenly that for a moment I can’t breathe.
My heart rate is 92 bpm.
In, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Hold, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Out, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Repeat.
The time is 00:12.
The engine begins to cry.
This plane has 189 seats.
This row has 7 seats.
I’m in seat 20a.
Outside the sky begins to fall. Water, making the pavement slick and oily black. Light from the city beyond reflected in long blurred streaks.
Then a voice dripped in static.
“Good evening, everyone. Thank you for choosing our airline. The current temperature outside is 12 degrees. We’ll be landing in 7 hours, and 27 minutes.”
Just like that, I feel the rough cloth of the chair push itself into my back. Outside I see the number 82 pass us on the runway. A baby begins to cry. I try not to.
The time is 01:00
I feel a gentle tapping on my right shoulder and turn suddenly.
“Sorry to bother you. She’s asking you if you want headphones.”
I see the boy sitting next to me, he looks about my age. Behind him in the aisle is a flight attendant, her red uniform perfectly ironed. In her hands is a basket full of disposable plastic earbuds. I pull my hair back behind my ears to reveal the headphones already there. She smiles at me and continues her walk. I turn back to looking out the window. “Hey.”
My head swivels to the right, back to the boy. I get a better look at him. Black hair, long and tied back. He’s wearing a shirt to some rock band I don’t recognize. He’s holding an iPhone 6 with a broken screen.
“Sorry to bother you again. I just wanted to say that I really like your nails. My parents would kill me if I tried that. You’re lucky.”
I look down at my hands. The paint is still fresh, smooth, unbroken. One of my friends gave it to me for my birthday. It has one of those stupid names, “Bloodmoon” or something like that. My boyfriend and I did it right before I left. He said he wanted some way to remember me, even just for a bit.
I turn back to the window, the city lights blurry.
The time is 1:32
The lights really are beautiful.
I watch what I’m pretty confident is highway 71, the thousands of little lights traveling along it. From this far away it looks like a stream, meandering its way across the country. I can’t even make out the individual vehicles. It’s wild to think that the line of light are cars, and in those cars are people. Each of them is living a life, just as important as mine, traveling to somewhere that they have decided is important. For only God knows what. All of them are completely oblivious to me, flying all the way up here.
The city is gone at this point, dipped below the horizon. I watch it for as long as I can. Now I look forward, into the darkness, broken only by small towns, islands of humanity.
The time is 02:04
I’ve already listened to my entire playlist twice. I tried to start my book, got 30 pages in and then had to stop. I know that I should sleep. It’s the only smart thing to do right now. But still, it hurts so much. I don’t want to go to sleep. The plane is completely silent except for the unceasing sound of the engine. Outside is nothing but darkness. But still, my brain refuses to slow down.
What have I done? I had no decision on this, so why is that even a question I feel the need to ask myself? What if the new school is bad? I know that I’m supposed to be excited, and I am. But at the same time I’m scared. It makes sense, I guess. But worry is like hunger. It gnaws and writhes and bites and claws and tears apart every fiber of this thing that is me. It starts small and grows and swells and slinks out from the shadows. A single seed, a single wayward thought created by something as meaningless as a single word. It grows and swells and spreads out and out and out. A disease, a cancer, a virulent plague of the mind. Obsessive and crawling, singular and driven, growing until in a singular moment it's all consuming. It is everything. It infects everything else, they all become a reflection of nothing but it. And suddenly it becomes all I can think about.
I close my eyes. Take a deep breath.
Now that’s a problem I can fix. I reach down and unzip my bag, rummage around until I find something. I latch onto a bag of chips and begin to open it. Then I see my hand. It’s shaking slightly as I hold the colored plastic in my hand. Gently, almost imperceptible. I feel my heart rate begin to accelerate again. I can hear it in my ears, drowning out the engine with every beat.
A moment of panic, and I glance at the boy to my right. Did he see that? No, he’s completely asleep, gently breathing. On his lap is a paperback, half open, the front cover missing. His cheekbones are more pronounced than I first realized, leaving his cheeks sunken. His nose looks crooked, as if it was broken at one point. It's quite striking.
It’s rude to stare at people, especially when they are sleeping.
I turn back to my chips, tear the bag, and grab one from inside.
I put my playlist back on for the third time.
The time is 03:24
As I come slowly to consciousness all I can see is light, bright, but no color. Faintly, as if in the distance, I hear a song, but I can’t make out the words. Where am I? All I remember is my house and my friends, playing some sort of game, and then a fire, and something to do with a dog. But there’s some sort of ethereal quality to it all, and as I try to recall the details they slip away. It’s like chasing a school of fish. From a distance you can get a broad sense of the general shape. But the moment you get close they swim away, impossible to touch.
I open my eyes, and the sudden brightness blinds me for a moment. I blink away the pain as the Earth slowly comes into focus.
Outside is a sea of clouds. Infinite, spreading out in every direction. Distance seems meaningless, and it’s impossible to deduce any sense of scale. Just barely visible is the sun, setting each crest of cloud ablaze with heavenly light. The sun itself is hidden, but its red light cuts across the entire horizon. The sky is alight, and I’m floating above it all. All I can do is stare out at the endless expanse, the curving, nebulous clouds. They look almost fractal in nature, bending into themselves. From up here it all looks so still, though within must be roiling chaos. The density of the clouds allude to rain below, maybe even a storm. But here, nothing but serenity and peace.
My whole body rotates to the right in alarm and I almost smack my elbow into the boy next to me. He leans back and then laughs, soft as rain in a forest.
“Sorry man, I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s just beautiful, that's all.”
I see his front tooth is slightly chipped, framed by perfect lips.
“No, no, don’t worry it’s all good. And you’re right, it really is beautiful.”
He smiles gently, then looks down at his book. I look for a moment longer and then shift back to the window. The sky is slightly brighter, and the clouds are still there, looking exactly the same. Infinite, fractal, glowing. Perfect.
The time is 5:52
The plane pitches gently forward, awake with activity. Flight attendants gather up the remains of breakfast. A father soothes his crying child. The sun outside lights up a field of scattered clouds, suspended over a distant sea. The sky is so perfect it could be that of Elysium. The sky, the ocean, and the distant ships traveling its waters. What could they be transporting? How far have they come? What would it be like, to be out that long at sea, far away from family, from friends? From home. To submit yourself to that, again and again. Do you grow numb to it at some point? Will it ever get easier?
The plane rolls to the right. My view shifts up to the sky, endless deep blue. My whole body is shifted and I end up leaning against the boy. I readjust so as to not bother him, and see his smile.
“Don’t worry about it.”
Blue eyes, bright as the sky. Thick eyelashes. The allusion to eyeliner, washed away at some point.
A moment of eye contact. Another smile. Heat in my face. And then he turns away, looks down at his phone. I do the same.
I unpause my music. Turn to the window. Gaze out at the water, and lose myself in its cerulean blue.
The time is now