My alcoholism was never once suspected. I had made it a strict habit not to get completely bombed under twenty-four hours before flight. Much of the time outside of flying and the twenty-four hours prior to flight time, is obliterated. I have a home in Los Angeles, and I have a home Pittsburgh. I have had two marriages, and remember very little of either one. The one time I felt in complete control of my life was behind the instrument panel of a jet airliner with the hundreds of souls behind me having entrusted me to their care and survival. This act, this solid performance, I was able to keep up for close to twenty-five years. I will neither declare nor confess that in the air I ever felt any particular sense of power. Rather, I felt a peculiar place of belonging, as when, as a young boy, I had watched a Scout Master surveying the white tufts of a river from the shore before taking our small fleet of six canoes through the whitewater. He was reading the line. He did so with his human eye and one paddle held up to it like a rifle, tracing the flow of the river. Even with all the computerized instrumentation that will chart a course in the air throughout a flight’s journey, when flying I felt this brief sense of being alive as I had once felt canoeing. While human participation in the flying of such airborne crafts is nearly superfluous, as flying a jet is nearly automated, I must also believe that this respite of being able to live a life outside of my time spent on the ground had saved me from one of criminal madness, an accidental suicide, or some passionate murder.
Duff Allen is a writer who lives in upstate New York. He has an MFA from Bard College where he teaches writing in the Clemente Course for the Humanities. His work may be found in “Prima Materia” and other publications.