I used to fly.
I don’t mean on an aeroplane, like ordinary mortals. I mean I used to fly, free and unencumbered, by my own power.
It was freedom. It was bliss, a greater joy than you will ever know. I was like… like a superhero, an angel.
I felt inside as though I shone brighter than the sun, not with heat, but pure light and lightness.
The sheerest pleasure I could feel was to sneak out of my bed at night and arise into the sky free and clear.
Here’s a few things you don’t necessarily know as a child.
Air gets a lot colder as you go up. It’s only as an adult that I can truly appreciate that the need to wear warm socks, two pairs of thick trousers and multiple upper layers when above five thousand feet is common sense. And gloves, covered by thick mittens, with possibly a charcoal handwarmer.
My parents rushed me to hospital more than once after I’d been “sitting on the roof” with hypothermia. As a child I had remarkable powers and remarkable intelligence in some areas, but I was dumb as a post in others.
What didn’t help is that I didn’t understand either about wind chill. Wind chill is the enemy. It causes one to freeze up even faster than flying up high. Problem was if I couldn’t move, I couldn’t steer. I’m lucky to be alive, because I’m not invulnerable, though generally my bones don’t break, (I have broken a toe, some crazy how), so hitting the ground from a great height really hurt.
The human body appears to be naturally hydrodynamic. It is not naturally aerodynamic. I didn’t have; some magical or naturally occurring force-field to keep the wind out of my face, super-strength so I could punch my way through the air, or, a natural resistance to friction.
I wore swimming goggles, the ownership of which my parents attributed to my deathly fear of water. I do in fact have an absolutely hydrophobic fear of being surrounded by water, this is why I will go swimming from time to time and dive. We don’t let our fears define us. I don’t drink water unless I absolutely must. I drink coffee, grandma.
The swimming goggles kept the worst of the bugs out of my face and stopped the wind-chill freezing my eyeballs to blindness. You want fear? Try being a few hundred feet up, blind, and not knowing which way is up or down while feeling, essentially, weightless. Actually don’t do that, it’s terrifying. I’d rather a monster came out of the wardrobe.
I don’t know how I got my eyesight back. There’s been some damage I’m paying for now.
The air gets thinner.
So there I am, with the greatest power and freedom in the world, I can fly, just take off, out my window, but I’m what eight years old? So I know that the atmosphere gets thinner, but I don’t understand the consequences of that. I think I’ll just take deeper breaths or faster breaths or something.
That wasn’t going to, well, ah, um, fly.
Dad worked from the house very often, so I stole a small oxygen cylinder that he used for welding from the garden.
I tried to steal a small oxygen cylinder that he used for welding from the garden.
What I actually did was unlatch the cylinder from the frame he wheeled it around in and then stayed under the fallen device, barely able to breathe; I’m sure you’ll appreciate the irony, until morning.
Never do this.
Do not try to explain to you parents either that you needed the oxygen for high altitude flying. What this gets you is a lot of shouting and screaming, a bloody good hiding, (for lying), and then some long silences and then some protracted visits to the psychologist’s office where you have to clamp your mouth shut at all times lest some unguarded word or deed escapes you and you’re confiscated by the government for probulation. I was described as “intelligent but the most uncooperative child I’ve ever met.” I didn’t even look at this man for two years, I still don’t know what he looks like.
There were toys though.
So it turns out that I couldn’t lift the heavy things, so no oxygen for me. Apparently, the clothes on my back were about as much as I could manage.
I wasn’t a superhero, that was clear.
Oh, unless you have binoculars you don’t really have to go very far up so that you can’t see anything significant on the ground. I lost many pairs and got into a lot of trouble for it. Put the strap around your neck.
Don’t fly so low that you run into power lines. Electrocution is not the problem, not grounded see, but it hurts and they’re not visible at night at any kind of speed.
Don’t buzz helicopters. They are the scariest thing in the sky, I still have nightmares about getting my head cut off mid-flight. I think the pilots have those nightmares too.
Oh, and once last thing.
On any day that I flew I was using up all that energy, thousands and thousands of calories. I ate all the time and hardly ever slept because I was hungry and also hopped up on caffeine, Gran.
I have diabetes now, and I’m overweight, and no matter how much exercise I get, it’s not flight, so I don’t lose weight.
But that’s not what stopped my flight. What stopped it was that it was boring and dangerous and somehow, I was always in trouble even though no-one could see me fly.
Although, if I’m honest, truly honest with myself, I stopped because no-one could see me fly. No-one clapped and cheered for the joy of it. No-one said, “Wow that’s amazing!” I never got a costume, never got plaudits. Just flew by myself, frightened and in the dark, where I was alone, and scared of the dark.
I miss it like breathing though.
Published January 2019