My parents (nature lovers, both of them) desperately wanted me to fall in love with anything hairy or slimey or with jaws. Since before I could toddle, they kept my toes curled in soil and let my fingers crunch through leaves and fondle rocks.
My favorite animals had wings. If they fluttered, flurried, or soared, I followed them with envy.
But no bird my parents showed me ever captured my soul quite like the ones that soar above us thousands of feet high, clouds streaming from their backs. I was older when I learned that these birds weren’t crafted by God, but by man’s own divine touch. I was older still when I realized how disappointed my parents were.
Like any child, this bothered me at some level. Yet like any child, I couldn’t change what my heart wanted. And it wanted to fly.
I begged my parents for a bunk bed, even though I didn’t have a sibling. Then I had them push it against the window so that I could look out at the sky and pretend I had wings. When the clouds went fast enough, some days I thought I did.
My life was forever oriented toward the sky.
At some point I became the sky.
I watched as the bus with my body on it steered on roads far below. I was oblivious to whatever the kids said around me. I didn’t much care when teachers said that my feet were firmly planted on the ground. They only thought that because they wouldn’t look high enough.
In the end, none of the adults tried to force me down. As long as my grades stayed up, my mind could, too. And as far as they were concerned, I may well have been telling the truth. I was the sky, and I could see into every window and hear every lesson. It was as though I didn’t need to find the answers. They all found their way up to me.
This seemed as good an explanation as any for my grades. I didn’t study. I didn’t even particularly care about school. But I did have an intention. Some day I would fly. On some level, I knew my grades would help make that happen.
Purpose. I’ve been told some people live without it. My mind never fathomed how that could be. What gets them out of bed? What keeps their heart beating? Where do their minds go when they aren’t focused on something else? Are their minds ever not focused on something else?
Admittedly, my mind could benefit from having something else to think about. That’s what my father said, anyway.
Of course, he said to me when I told him my plans to become a pilot.
As if you would become anything else, he said after, though it sounded to me like the same words spoken twice.
Mom ribbed him for his attitude. Who wouldn’t be proud to be the parents of a pilot? What kind of planes did I want to fly, she wanted to know.
I didn’t know, but I told her I had no interest in jets. I didn’t want only occasional sprints through the clouds with the perpetual risk of being shot down to earth. I could never stand the concept of hunting birds. This was one thing my parents and I had in common.
I preferred a line of work that would keep me in the air as much as possible. Then my body and mind could share the same space.
Sounds to me like you want to work for an airline, my father said.
He was right. My intention changed. Not only did I want to fly. I wanted to never touch the ground.
Truth be told, that was my desire all along.
I continued with school, and when the time came to walk across the stage, my mind hadn’t changed. I knew what job I wanted, and I would do whatever it took to make that happen.
Girls didn’t understand this about me. At first, they loved that I had something I loved. None could get over how much more I loved this than them. I didn’t see it that way. Like the sky, I felt I had room to encompass all, but I was told I was living a lie. What I heard was that to love them meant not to fly.
My wife said this to me explicitly. We met on a plane, of course. She loved the idea of bedding the guy who sits in the cockpit. In between flights one day we made that happen. I got her number. She got mine. Back then, she loved the travel and the stories. Once we started living together, she loved the money, too. But now she says it’s no longer worth it. She can’t live this life anymore.
And I’m left with an impossible choice.
I stare up at the sky. Maybe it was true what they all said. Maybe there’s only room for one love in my life.
Then I look down at my ring. Maybe it’s true that apes were never meant to fly.
I look at my body far down below as it turns to walk back home. Then I dive after it. My feet feel firmly on the ground as I open the front door. Now it’s the heart in my chest that feels ready to fly.