It is easier to evacuate an airplane than to leave a failed relationship. My collection of airline safety cards explains how to handle an emergency over land or water. But there’s nothing to tell me how to break up with you.
I’ve got a fat stack of them. US Airways. Korean Air. Air Canada. American Airlines. Whenever I’m on a flight and they instruct us to take out the cards and pay attention to the safety information, I slide mine into my purse.
I don’t want to have sex with you anymore. And those kisses I used to write about in my journal at length, the ones I hungered for, I now avoid. It’s your teeth. I can feel them sliding against the outside of my lips. And we no longer move our tongues in a coordinated way. Our timing is off. If I think about it, it makes me desperately sad.
So in lieu of sex, I perform a striptease in reverse for you as I get ready for work. I have to put on each piece of clothing slowly though, because otherwise, the titillation doesn’t happen. I try not to leave before you’ve brought yourself to climax, but sometimes it’s really all I can do to stand there bent over in my dress pants, buttoning up my blouse.
When I’m home alone, I take out my safety cards and examine the drawings. They tell me how to brace for impact, and how to remove the flotation device beneath my seat. I know to put on my oxygen mask before assisting others. I know that sometimes the nearest exit is behind you.
The people on these cards are always so calm. Especially the women. Continental Airlines has a drawing of a woman wearing an oxygen mask, and I swear the artist used Botticelli’s Venus for inspiration. She’s got long rippling hair and delicate fringed eyelashes. Her face is placid, thoughtful, even.
Whenever we fight, I form a break-up plan in my mind. I will go to my sister’s place until we can get the apartment packed up. I will offer you the cat. I will ask for that alpaca blanket your mom knit us. I will redirect our mail. Talk to the landlord. Make up a passable story to tell our friends and families. I steel myself for our split, and maybe I tell you what I’m thinking.
But then your face shifts and you start crying. It’s an awful sight, like the time I accidentally smashed the potted plant in the kitchen, and the leaves and soil lay in a tangled mess on the floor. And it makes me want to kiss you. I think about all of the ways you are special, and how you get how weird I am, and love me better than anyone else. You said that once in the heat of an argument. “Nobody else would love you like I do.” And I believed you then. I did.
The final sequence on each safety card is always an emergency landing on water. It’s the worst-case scenario, so airlines put it on the back. Why risk frightening passengers with it first thing?
Sometimes people are depicted bobbing beside the plane, docile figures clinging to their personal flotation devices. Other times, they’re piled into lifeboats. But in the end, each card is the same. The plane is empty, and you can tell that it’s sinking.
Brittany Smith is a Toronto-based writer of long and short fiction. She loves travel, popcorn, and the Food Network. She’s currently juggling several projects, including the development of her publishing business: Willow Jean Press, a memorial storytelling service.