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still there

I thought I was over it. I thought the fear had packed its bags and left me for a person less rational than I. But there it was yesterday, sharp and clear; my fear of low-flying planes.

The fear came, naturally, after 9/11. It's a bad fear to have when you live so close to a major airport. The planes fly low all the time; I swear I can make out faces in the little windows sometimes. The sound drowns out the television, makes you shout to be heard.

After that first week or so when there wasn't a single airplane in the sky, the absence of noise from above became somehow worse than noise itself. And then the planes came back and the skies were filled with traffic again and I, like so many other people, cowered in fear every time the underbelly of a jet made an appearance above me.

Eventually - more than a year later, actually - the fear subsided and it dawned on me that a traffic heavy sky was a good sign. As long as the planes were flying and airports were open, all was right in America. There had been no sudden attacks that would shut us down again.

Cut to yesterday, driving home from work. A cold, but bright and sunny day. Winter in the air, Christmas on my mind, a good song on the radio. So hakuna mattata.

See, the odd thing about the planes is how they seem to appear out of nowhere. The noise, the rumbling ground is just suddenly upon you, sometimes jolting you out of whatever state of reverie or spacing out you may be in. Yesterday, it was more than a jolt. It was a bullet. I was stopped at a traffic light, fooling around with the radio stations and it was just there. The roar, the pounding in my stomach as if some bass-heavy song was thumping on the stereo and then my instinct, as always, to look up.

The jet was right above me, dark against the bright sky, tons of metal screeching through the air. Something snapped inside my brain, perhaps a fragment of a memory of a fear that I thought was safely sent packing and I froze. I felt the familiar palipitations of my heart, the quickening of my pulse, the dryness in my mouth. I stared at the plane, craning my neck to follow its path and I had a vision of it crashing into some building, any tall building, taking it down with a purpose and vengeance. It just seemed so low. So huge. So ominous.

The light turned green and I pulled into the CVS parking lot on my left. I took some deep breaths. In with the good, out with the bad. I pulled myself together and headed towards home again, with the metallic taste of fear still in my mouth.

I felt somewhat ashamed that, two years later, I still have this notion that planes are evil weapons of mass destruction, that I still had this anxiety and stress swimming in my head when people who were there, right at those buildings, right at that street, even inside the buildings, and not watching from a distance, seeing the smoke in the air as almost a secondary event, are able to look at planes without flinching. And then it hit me, again. Another one of those clarifying, defining moments.

I will never get over it.

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Heh, tell me about it. Every time I'm driving directly in back of a bus in Israel, I get the same feeling.

The wife was also fearful of flying after 9/11. She had to go to Minnesota (before we were married) to spend Passover, and on the way, she had to stop over in Cincinnati and pick up her brother.

She did fine. But came back with a bad cold.

Since then, I don't think she's had a problem.

I personally was never really afraid of flying -- or even wary -- after 9/11. Of course, the first time I flew after that was March of this year, but still... It just didn't bother me. I was more worried about wedging my too-large butt in the ever-smaller seat, if you want brutal honesty.

I have to say one thing, that may raise some ire, as it has done on my own site, but unless you live in New York, it's really hard to comprehend what goes on with the whole fear of planes thing, and how you always look twice when you hear one that's particularly loud.

Sure, they may do that in the rest of the country, but it's not like the skittish fear that was embedded into all of us that day...

I kind of agree, Vinny. It's really hard to convey that this is generally a New York specific thing without sounding somewhat proprietary over 9/11, which is not what I intend, but it always comes out tha tway.

That's exactly what I'm saying.

People around the country have this vage abject fear of what could happen.

New Yorkers stand next to the Chrysler Building or Empire State Building, and at some point, invariably, will wonder, "Is this the next one?"

Sure other cities feel the pain and the sadness, but it probably doesn't hang around them the way it does us. That's not a knock on them, but as you said, it always comes out that way whether it is or isn't.

I liken it to the terror Israelis feel when they get on a bus. We sympathize, and we may even be afraid it'll happen here, but we can't even begin to comprehend going through your life and making peace just to get on a bus.

Excellent point Vinny. I've been aviophobic for at least 15 years, yet the fear was always about being in the plane. Now it's that plus fear of being hit by the plane. I work on the 33rd floor and there's just the most spectacular view right up the East River, but so rarely can I enjoy it now. I look up the river and my stomach sinks. Up in the air like that they often look as if they are coming at you, a thought which would previously have been absurd.

What's strange for me is that my office now faces the WTC site. We're just across town, so it's not like I can see the ground there, but the air that was once totally filled is now empty. In a lot of ways its easier for me to look at that then the wide open views of the river. The sort of fake notion of being closed in by other buildings to the west makes it easier.

I work near McChord AFB, Washington State. They do "touch and go's" every day.

Right over my building.

They fly right down Pacific Avenue because it is an easy lasndmark to fly over (it is 15 miles long and dead straight). 500 feet up max.

I just close my eyes and hope those maintenance guys are doing they're job.

I also hope it is making our pilots better. So when they have to do it for real, they're good at it. I'm pretty sure they are. They haven't fallen on me yet.

Not the same thing, but oh well.

I have to admit I'm one of those that doesn't understand your fear. I've always loved planes, loved being in them and was always in awe as they flew over. I can fly some small planes now but have yet to get a pilots license.
So its hard then for me to reconcile my experiences with yours, maybe it is a New York thing, or atleast for some people in NYC

Oddly enough I don't mind flying at all, even after 9/11. However I do admit to looking up at airplanes over London to make sure they are at the proper height.

You're not the only one that does this, though the level of fear may be deeper. Since 9/11, I too have had that response to planes flying overhead - always thinking, "gee, doesn't he seem to be flying a little low?" that type of thing. And these are regular flight routes! The same plane passes through the same stretch of sky at precisely the same time every day, and yet I still feel compelled to watch it until it's out of sight, as though watching it disappear will somehow guarantee that it does.
There's one that passes over the neighbourhood school right at recess every day. The children, who used to get all excited and wave madly and say, "ooh, a plane!" now stop their play for nearly a full minute, and just...watch.
And we're not in NYC, we're not even in the US. But the GM tower in Detroit looms large within our view, and I think we're all doing that "is that next?" thing.
But ironically, actually flying doesn't bother me at all.

You seriously, seriously have to quit writing these plane entries on the same day my husband is flying. This is like the second or third time this year. I think I have to go vomit now. Hold me...

Well, I would agree that the fear is much more abstract for some people than it is for others. None of us can ever really know how anyone else feels or what a specific fear is like for them. Shared experiences sometimes give us a framework we can use to relate but we don't really understand. Then entire US shared 9/11 to an extent and we have that shared experience that helps us relate to the fears others have that are like ours. NYC shared that experience in a different way than the rest of us. While we watched it on TV, they saw it out their windows. While we notice the skyline different in movies and TV shows, they see a hole out the driver's window of their car. I don't think you are belittling the fear that the rest of us fear. It's just that you shared that experience in a very different and much more real way than the rest of us did, and so you have the ability to relate to each other in a way we can't.

And Michele, there's no reason that you ever have to get over this. It might be easier for you if you could, but you may not. You can't put a timer on something like that, and you can't ask yourself to be over something you're not. That said, don't give up on the ability of the human spirit to heal. Just because 2 years wasn't enough time for you to get over it doesn't mean you never will. You may in time.

Some of us were in DC that day. I know more people died in New York, but it wasn't everyone, and I feel that needs to be pointed out since sometimes it really does seem to get forgotten. I didn't actually see the Pentagon get hit, but I know people who did, I know people who were there, and I certainly saw the smoke. Perhaps I don't think about low-flying planes because there aren't many around here; I'm not sure how I would react.

Dave, I know that besides the people in NY, the people who were in DC that day are the only ones who can really understand the depth of the fear that lingers.

I have the exact same fear and I don't live anywhere near the airport, NYC or a major metropolis. Some things we will never overcome.

Michele, I'm not even sure that fear is the right word. Some things just take one back.
Stand around a bunch of middle aged businessmen when a helicopter goes whop, whop, whoppng past.See that one who tracks it and immediately starts scanning around with his eyes? Strip him naked, you'll see the little scars from leech bites and little cuts and scrapes that got infected. You'll always be able to tell a Viet Nam Vet, he'll look up and then around when a 'copter goes by.
I think we'll always be able to tell someone who was a New Yorker or from DC on 9/11 when a jetliner goes over, low.
Most of the time it won't bother you, on the infrequent times it does, hold your love close, if only in your mind.

Your fear, not of flying, but of terrorist WMD struck a chord with me. I was at DFW airport one week ago, picking up a passenger, when 2 18 wheeler trucks pulled up along side the terminal.

I felt my heart rate go up. Radically.

I watched those trucks for 20 minutes - all the time looking out for a cop. (Where are all the cops that want me to move along, no standing, circle the terminal, when I need one??) Finally the trucks were unloaded. No truck bomb. That kind of thinking never occurred to me on 9/10.

It's about an innocence lost. And I do not believe it will ever be found again.

At the Air Base that I guard, we are constantly accused of being paranoid about various trucks being left on the perimeter fence and all kinds of "profiled individuals" coming up through the serpentine and up to the gate to ask stupid or "tactical knowledge" type questions.

Stay paranoid and live.

You should think about seeing an expert. What you're describing -- the flashbacks, the renewed sense of fear, etc -- sound like post-traumatic stress disorder.

We've learned a lot about how to deal with it since Viet Nam.

I have to say, I disagree with the New Yorkers. I agree that the events of 9/11 itself are probably a lot more personal for anyone from New York, but I wouldn't categorize a fear of planes (low-flying planes especially) with New Yorkers alone. For me, planes crashing into buildings isn't just about the loss of the WTC, it's about the sudden realization that an airplane can be a weapon. That's something, as an American (and as a young kid), that I never really had to consider before.

I don't know about you, Michele, but what drives me nuts whenever I get scared is the lingering feeling of guilt. Whenever a plane scares me, I guess there's just a part of me that thinks that if I'm scared, the terrorists win. It doesn't seem like it should be like that, though.

D.C.-er here. Cold sweats, heart palpitations when I see planes in the sky, men in overcoats that look overstuffed walking near the White House and my office, trucks parked too close to buildings, etc. It's cold, naked fear. I ditto the commenter who suggested help for these symptoms. Mine aren't too bad, but they can be debilitating. I feel no guilt for being scared -- yes, the terrorists managed to elicit a response in me. Congratulations to them. That fear does not stop me from supporting an all-out war to get rid of those who would harm us. That helped with the guilt.

I'm OK now with the planes overhead (living in Queens, you have to be), but I heard a loud "bang" over my head today walking to work (somebody dropped something on a scaffold over my head), and still jumped and didn't settle down for a while. I probably always will. I don't ever want to hear the sound of an airplane hitting a building again as long as I live.