There is the feeling that you get when you are vaguely and aimlessly thinking of someone and how lovely they are in general and suddenly a memory or thought comes of how lovely they were or are in specific and you find you have breathed in too far as if you were in some kind of pain and that if you want to continue to function more or less normally you are going to have to breathe out very slowly and carefully because the heat that is rising between your neck and your belly is going to burn you otherwise.

And then there is the feeling you get when you are vaguely and aimlessly thinking of nothing in particular and you remember that something is over now and you find that you have breathed in far too far as if you were in some kind of ecstasy and that if you want to continue to function more or less normally you are going to have to breathe out very slowly and carefully because otherwise the thing that is sinking somewhere between your neck and your belly is going to tear you apart.

And you wonder why both of them feel like crying.

Between chasing the local odd infection and flying back and forth to California and not resting and getting behind on clinic paperwork and bills and taxes and all and waiting for the phone call on her birthday and then on my ex's birthday and then mine, and then getting the call the day after my birthday....

well, I'm not quite getting sick. Breaking down. Falling apart. Whatever you want to call it. Of course, the last time I felt this stressed I got influenza viral pneumonia and was out for two whole months, on the couch with lung pneumonitis. The way I am feeling reminds of that, and that when I read about it two years later, Netter described it as "a generally serious disease with a high mortality."1

So clinic is cancelled today and tomorrow and I should be catching up on the work or the taxes or something....

....but all I want to do is walk on the beach and cry.

1The Ciba Collection of Medical Illustrations, volume 7, Respiratory System, 2nd printing 1988, p. 180

In the new place, the front and kitchen windows let sun stream in onto the wood floors. With the bedroom door open (as it must be, otherwise the cat can't reach the catbox), I can see the floors glowing red in the morning without moving. Occasionally, the prisms in the picture window cast rainbows across the polished oak and the white plaster walls. Against my feet, Cat Six, the thirteen pound behemoth of a rescued beast, begins to purr.

There's a certain grace in being home after almost an entire year of drifting from place to place by truck, train, and plane. There's a certain peace in making coffee in your own kitchen, kettle shrieking away on the electric stovetop, with the big red witch ball glowing in the morning sunlight and the blue glass lantern alight with the same. There's a comfort to a cat curling around ankles to trip me up as I try to feed and water him, and in dirty dishes piled in my sink, bacon frying in the cast iron, and a warm fleece blanket for my legs on the sofa.

I've come home again. Groggy and shuffling from the unneeded piles of covers on my bed (and oh, for a bed of my own, after years of borrowed mattresses and frames), shoving at the cat (who is fighting for lap real estate with the laptop), ignoring the work phone as it buzzes on the coffee table. Swearing and sweating onto the floors as I go through my morning workout. Fighting the clock for time to shower, to have breakfast, to have coffee and chat with folks before I drive to work.

I've never been more at peace.

Hop #1 today.

Met my new flight instructor. Seems a nice guy, if laconic. Looked at my (20 year old) logbook, read all the endorsements and comments carefully, asked me a few questions and said "Let's go find an airplane."

So we did.

After a fumbling walkaround on my part, missing a few things (fuel strainer drain - how can you forget that? You're juvenile, and it makes the Cessna pee on the tarmac) but carrying my checklist (which turned out to be for a different mark of Skyhawk, so NYAH) we pulled the airplane out of the hangar and got in. Plugged in com headphones. I stuffed my fat ass inside it, got my door and window shut, managed to start the engine properly, and we taxied out to the active (32/14, we were using 32 at 7B2 today). New in my experience, this airport doesn't have a parallel taxiway; it's got a taxiway to approximately the middle of the strip, and then you 'backtaxi' to the end where there's a spot to turn around and hold short if other traffic is coming in, as we had to once today.

Did the runup on the turn pad, got lined on up centerline, nodded to the FI when he pointed out that the windsock was indicating a 10kt crosswind, set the yoke hard over into the wind, put heels on floor and gave it full throttle, waited for the speed to hit 65 (MPH, in this model Skyhawk, confusing me since I learned in a later one which was calibrated for knots) and then...

Pull back. Watch the nose of the airplane rise. Be surprised, as always, at how 'heavy' the airplane feels when it's trimmed for takeoff; how it presses up against your yoke when a gust hits, and how hard it is to maintain the proper climbout until you trim it in. Feel the oh-so-familiar 'swiveling' of the airplane under me as the nose is bounced left and right of my heading by winds and by propwash on the left side of the vertical stabilizer. Then...

Sky.

I started laughing.

The instructor just produced a small but knowing smile and immediately had me climb to 2500 in the practice area and then put me through turns, steep turns, slow flight, stalls. It wasn't until after the stalls, when he was giving me a tour of the practice area, that I remembered I should have been nervous because I hadn't done this in so long., especially as I was getting some of his theory questions - well, not wrong, but just admitting "I don't remember that."

Nope. As he put it, "The airplane's still in your head and hands, isn't it."

Yes, it is. The smell of 100LL avgas. The feel of old fiberglass. The smell of Lycoming (Continental?) engine oil. The sputtering roar of the engine. The occasional mournful hoot of the stall warning horn in slow flight, when wind gusts pitched us back.

Then after 40 minutes, we headed back to the airport, and he said "Land it."

I said "I haven't-"

And he said "You fly the airplane fine. Land us. I'll give you our local landmarks. For one thing, you're set up fine for crosswind; aim for the bridge on Bridge street, see it? Okay, turn downwind just past the fairgrounds."

So I clicked the mic without thinking about it and said "Northampton traffic, Skyhawk 12732 is turning left downwind for 32 Northampton and a full stop." Then I turned the airplane downwind just past the fairgrounds. Said to the FI "When even with touchdown, go flaps, right?"

"Yep."

Pulled in 10 degrees of flaps as my touchdown point vanished under the wing strut and pulled out power to 1700. At his suggestion, turned base just before the river; caught a glimpse of the runways at Westover near the horizon through the notch in the ridge off to the south before I had to start watching left, letting the airplane drift down and slow. "We like 80 on base, 70 on final," the FI said, and I struggled for a moment to make it so before remembering to just set the power and let the airplane slow itself down. He nodded.

"Northampton traffic, Skyhawk 12732 is base to final for 32 Northampton for a full stop." Silence on the CTAF.

Watched the runway numbers coming up towards us, and...and...and...oh shit, sliding left, shit sliding RIGHT, CRAP I'M ALL OVER THE GODDAMN-

*thmp*

...braking.

"Not bad. Taxi back down and we'll go again."

Did three landings. Only came down moderately hard once. We shut down the airplane and went back inside the FBO.

"Well, as I said, you fly the airplane fine. Let's work on getting you soloed ASAP. You'll need your medical, and this pre-solo written..."

Hot damn.

HOT DAMN.

Ever do something you haven't done in a long time, and immediately wonder why the hell you stopped, because it's awesome?

Flying an airplane is like that.

Holy crap, I think I had a good day.

I learned to fly originally due to the example of my uncle, who passed away over a decade ago. Hindered by polio from his teens, he found freedom in wheelchair basketball, fun cars and flying his Beechcraft. Because of him, I learned to fly. Henry, I miss you, but when I was flying today, I think you were finally grinning with approval.

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