A week before my first time celebrating my girlfriend's birthday, Elle and I were sprawled out on my mattress having pillow talk about our fears. "Dying and failing … oh, and heights." Heights? But she flies all the time, I thought. I started to panic — my epic birthday present for her was now a potential nightmare.
Let me explain. A month prior, I found myself deciding between buying tickets for a Fran Lebowitz talk at BAM and vouchers for a spa day. Fran sat at the top of my list until I logged onto Living Social. There, wedged between laser hair removal and Tuscan getaways, sat a deal for flight lessons. Bingo! The gift of flight would be way more meaningful than an algorithmically chosen pair of pants. Plus, the flight lesson surprisingly wouldn't break the bank. Vying for "Girlfriend of the Year," I then commissioned a friend who is a cartoonist to draw her in an airplane as my way of revealing the impending birthday in the sky. Which maybe I would end up burning.
"What exactly do you mean when you say heights? Like, you can't get on a ladder or you wouldn't go bungee jumping?" She shot me a side-eye and slowly lowered the chocolate-chip cookie from her lips. Elle knew I was digging for info. She had been trying to figure out her birthday gift since before I even had a clue. Quite frankly, it was the longest I'd been able to keep a surprise. By surprise, I mean I had told everyone except her, including her friends and my mom. They all had one of two reactions: "Yas bitch! You did that!" That was the one I was going for. The other reaction was, "That doesn't sound very safe at all." Moms can be annoying.
What I hadn't anticipated was my girlfriend's undisclosed and apparently deep-seated fear of flying. The fear was so real, she even established a special ritual that involved wearing a specific T-shirt and a call to her grandma before every flight. We'd never been on a plane together before. This would be a hell of a first flight.
In an attempt to quell the anxiety beginning to boil between the two of us, I blurted out, "I booked us a lesson to learn how to fly an airplane!" Her eyes widened. "Oh my God, I'm gonna die," she lamented as she threw herself into a pile of pillows on the bed.
After five minutes of my convincing her that this was not a joke, and telling her no, I cannot get a refund, she asked if she could have a couple of days to think it over. Truthfully, I could get a refund. Additionally, I myself have a crazy-sensitive stomach and a laundry list of reasons why I shouldn't go in the air. Hopping on a Boeing 747 is one thing, but cramming into a plane with a cockpit smaller than a college dorm room was another. However, I'm not one to back down from a challenge even if it is self-induced. And I also figured if we could conquer some fears together, we had a pretty good shot at making the relationship work.
A few days later, my girlfriend told me, "I'm not a punk, so we're gonna do this." Hesitant, she seemed as if she were trying to convince me and herself. By the end of the week, we were packing snacks for our day trip to the Global Aviation Corp. in Long Island. I strategically planned my look to give "pilot realness," a matte red lip and a black turtleneck. I even curated a flying-themed playlist for our save-worthy Snapchat story. Elle followed suit in her flight bomber and Air Yeezys. During the train ride, we both avoided talking about what was really happening, opting to fill our time with rap freestyles, bites of ciabatta sandwiches, and silent conversations with God.
When we got to the aviation center, we made our way to the main office and were greeted by a middle-aged white man with a charmingly snarky disposition. I announced that it was Elle's birthday and proceeded to do a birthday twerk followed, apparently, by lots of nervous chatter. Elle, nerves reaching a near-climax, was still quiet. She pulled me aside to let me know I was talking "too damn much," right before we were introduced to our pilot instructor.