Italy became a reality after years of saving; it was our 25th wedding anniversary destination.
Even though I have been travelling since I was eight and put on board a plane to cross the country to visit my father for the summer, I’m really not much of a traveler. I don’t travel well. In fact what I’ve discovered about myself is that I’m a great “signer-upper” but when the actual time comes for the thing, I’m not near as excited about it as I was when I signed up.
Recognizing this about myself, I made sure to keep my foibles in check as our trip of a lifetime neared. One way I was going to combat my idiosyncrasies was to quiz as many people as I could and gather information about international travel. This was going to be the adventure of a lifetime and I was going to enjoy every part of it even if it killed me.
One of my biggest concerns was in regards to sleeping on the plane. I’m not a great sleeper as it is—never have been—so this was a hurdle I was determined to jump with the ease of an Olympian. I gathered information and tips like a squirrel gathering nuts for winter. I kept reminding myself that millions of people sleep on planes. It couldn’t be that difficult, right?
Needless to say, in the back of my mind the pressure to be able to sleep on the plane kept increasing. I knew that the thing about international travel is such that you have to sleep on the plane because when you land you are off for the first day of your trip—the trip that cost you your life savings.
The pressure was mounting and the trip was two months out.
Sometimes panic would seize me in the middle of the day and I would just breathe deep and let it pass.
I would say things to my grown sons like “Remember that your brothers should always be important to you,” and “Make sure that you will always see each other at Christmas time,” and “Marry wives who will welcome your brothers in their homes,” and “Please divide my jewelry fairly among yourselves.”
At one point my husband reprimanded me and said, “Cheryl! We’re going to Italy! You haven’t been given a death sentence!”
I’m not sure why but in my heart and mind there wasn’t much of a difference as the day quickly approached. I fondly remembered when I had signed up for this trip and it was just a vision, something I could talk about in the abstract. Now it was here and so I frantically compiled my list of tips:
- Take a Tylenol P.M. when you get to the airport (nope; I’m allergic to Tylenol)
- Drink a glass of wine when you get to the airport (again, allergies)
- Make sure to have some sort of shawl—preferably a pashmina (finally something I could do—bought it)
- Have a small pillow to sleep on (check)
- Use ear plugs to block out the sound (check)
- Use an eye mask to keep out the light (check again—I’m on a roll)
- Use a mild and relaxing scent to help calm your nerves since you can’t take Tylenol or drink wine (this was my own brilliant idea)
- Don’t even get your meager sleep the night before so that your body will give in to exhaustion (another brilliant idea that I came up with)
So it was that the day arrived and with my “peace and calming” essential oil, small head pillow, ear plugs, eye mask and red-wool pashmina shawl in tow I boarded the plane departing from Michigan to Italy having not slept, at that point, for about 20 hours.
Here’s how it is supposed to work: You get served your meal right away once in the air so that you can eat and get to sleep. Even the airlines understand this whole need for sleep and I was grateful they were on my side.
About an hour after being on board, and still sitting on the runway, we were begrudgingly told by the pilot that there were problems with the lavatories on the plane. There were airline maintenance personnel coming on and getting off the plane as if it was a subway system. They were taping areas off and we were told to stay seated (did I mention that someone tipped me off to possible blood clots from sitting on a plane too long so at this point my legs were in constant motion—toes pointed out, toes pointed in, toes pointed out, toes pointed in).
My husband kept glancing at me as I’m sure 25 years into this whole marriage thing he knew that my panic was just barely being held below the surface.
Finally, after three hours on the runway, we were told that we would be able to take off. The only problem (right after the blood clots…) was that they weren’t able to fix the two broken lavs which left only two for us travelers trapped in the blood-clot forming section. To make matters worse, we weren’t allowed to use the perfectly fine lavs in first class so most of the 3,000 people on board would have to use the working one which was—you guessed it—3 seats away from me.
But by all appearances I remained calm.
So we eat and I am now ready to get to sleep. I’m buoyed by all the paraphernalia which will surely induce a relaxing somber and rejuvenate my well-being. My husband is instructed by me to wrangle the bag out of the overhead compartment so I can retrieve said paraphernalia.
I’ve been given a light blanket by the attendant and now am in a quandary about the need for my pashmina so it goes in and out of the bag (and overhead compartment) approximately three times. I finally settle on needing it but wonder why my husband won’t take his seat. Apparently he is tired of the up and down and rearranging and has opted to wait until my ritual is completed and I am sound asleep—or dead from blood clots—until he will sit down again.
I arrive at my solution and pull the pashmina around my shoulders and lay the blanket across my lap.
I sprinkle a few drops of “peace and calming” essential oil on my small head pillow and ignore my husband’s growl of “What the hell is that smell?!” to which I say through gritted teeth, “It is peace and calming oil!”
I make an attempt to push the foam ear plugs into my ears, not knowing that you need to sort of twist them and let them open up in your ears.
I cover my eyes with the mask and fasten the Velcro and prepare for a deep sleep as I lay my head back on the pillow.
No more than five seconds later, the silky, elastic eye mask starts creeping up to the top of my head and flings off while the foam ear plugs fly out and sweat breaks out on my forehead from the heat of all the coverings. I’m a bit nauseous from the smell of the oil and my pillow, as it is cupped in a non-removable pillow on the head piece of the seat and is pushing my head forward in an unnatural awkward way—unless I do throw up and then it is a perfect position.
And my husband, God bless him, is still standing in the aisle amidst the 3,000 people who are now in line for the restroom. He is waiting, patiently, for me to ask for the bag back from the overhead bin so that he can finally get to sleep.
Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic wife, mother, author and speaker. Cheryl’s newest book is Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Women which is co-authored with Teresa Tomeo and is published by Servant (a division of Franciscan Media); there is also a companion journal that accompanies the book and an audio version intended for women’s studies or for individual reflection. Cheryl is the author of the non-fiction story Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage (available in paperback or Kindle format) and she is the president of Bezalel Books (www.BezalelBooks.com). She can be contacted at [email protected] or at 248.917.3865