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Flight Home

Artwork by Joanna Chen, staff artist

I’m told that I worry too much, that I spend too much time doom-scrolling Twitter and Instagram and the Google news feed. I’m not about to deny those allegations. On the daily, knots in my stomach aren’t doing somersaults as much as they are performing a not-so-careful castration of all rational thought processes in my brain. So, here’s how to survive the class called “Flying Home During A Global Pandemic.”

Step one: Be the obsessive type.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I’m the kind of gal to spend hours scrolling deep into my crush’s Instagram timeline just for a hint at whether they’re taken or not. Now, just because I’ll admit to this doesn’t mean I’m exactly proud of it. Perhaps less shamefully, I hyperfocus on any given task until it’s complete. It's a curse and a blessing. I spent the early days of the pandemic scrolling through YouTube hardcore prepper videos to feed my growing obsession with the catastrophe of it all, hand sanitizer, lemon-scented Clorox wipes, and the works. Somehow, I couldn’t get myself a mask in the days leading up to my flight from Kalamazoo’s AZO airport to Chicago’s ORD.

Step two: Don’t think ahead. Stay stuck on the past, or better yet, the endless possibilities of future catastrophe.

I didn’t think to bring a scarf either, so I’d relegated myself to holding my breath and doing my best to “social distance” within the bounds of the terminal. While this was a non-issue in Kalamazoo, this was not the case in Chicago. My heartbeat was that of a stallion running a well betted-on race and I could feel icky sweat rivulets forming at the base of my neck and in the creases of my forehead.

This wasn’t really happening, I told myself. This isn’t real. It can’t be. I couldn’t just be kicked out of the dorms and sent back to our little, old apartment in the heart of L.A.. I couldn’t be sent to isolate myself in a place with so many memories, both good and bad. But it was real. I was on a less dense than usual flight, thankfully. Yet, despite everything being virtually the same as the flight I’d taken just a few months earlier, a small deposit of pebbles settled at the bottom of my stomach, while moth larvae were maturing in my esophagus.

Step three: catastrophe, or rather, catastrophize? Ask yourself, “What is the worst-case scenario here?”

Oh god, oh god, oh god. What if I catch it here, on the plane home? What if I bring it home to my elderly mom and auntie? That would be devastating, life-threatening, even.

A jolt. Rumbling like a dirt bike on a gravel road. Pause. It takes me a moment to register: it’s the turbulence. My pulse quickens, as if it weren’t high enough.

Step four: collect your belongings and yourself.

"We will be arriving at our destination in approximately fourteen minutes folks… Please remain calm…”

I try to breathe in, out. In. Out. It comes in stiff waves of breath as if I were on some breathing machine. As I step out of the plane, as I grab my suitcases off the conveyor belt, as I get picked up by my family after over fourteen hours awake, I collapse. Mentally. I may not be safe from the virus yet, but at least I’m back. Home.

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