I have the bladder of an eighty-year-old.
I’m also a pilot.
For a while I got by ditching the plane with my copilots on the ramp and running—no, SPRINTING—to the bathroom. They probably assumed I didn’t want to fuel up or tie the airplane down, but the truth was much, much worse. I shoved my way into the traffic pattern wherever I fit, and whenever I had to get down urgently, I did everything fucking perfectly. When I had to pee, I was the pilot I’d always wanted to be.
Then came the long cross country flight for my next rating. Almost four hours with an instructor, someone I’d only flown with once before. And that’s what haunts me almost a year later—my instructor. Right next to me. In such close quarters I couldn’t avoid bumping his knee when I reached for the throttle.
You can’t run to a bathroom when you’re two miles up. Over an empty desert.
My destination airport, St. George Regional, was farther away than it needed to be for the requirement, but I also needed the hours. I got to my departure airport after an hour-long drive from home, did preflight for the airplane but not for me, talked some shop with the instructor, and got in the plane. No clouds in sight, the air was smooth as . . . something smooth. My least-favorite air traffic controller was in a good mood. I was going to be one step closer to the coveted instrument rating after three years in purgatory. It was a perfect day to fly.
Until it got wet.
Half an hour into the two-hour flight, it hit me. I tried to ignore it at first, thinking it might have been a false alarm (some days I can’t fucking tell anymore). But twenty miles north of a little desert airport called Delta, I realized I had a problem on my hands.
Blushing, I looked at the practical stranger to my right and admitted, “I don’t think I can make it to St. George.”
“Do you want to stop in Delta?” he asked. “We can ask for a different clearance.”
I didn’t want to stop in Delta. We’d only been in the plane for half an hour. What was I, five? Eighty? Was I really in my twenties? “No,” I said. “Let’s try for Milford.”
Milford (I think you should know Milford’s airport code is KMLF, which I find very funny) was another intermediate airport about sixty nautical miles south of Delta. I figured I could hold it for another half hour and make some progress instead of hopping airports all the way south. I made the decision and committed. Boy, did I make the wrong one.
Thirty miles south of Delta and halfway between everything, I started to sweat. My bladder was screaming. I was dizzy, and it wasn’t the altitude. I asked my instructor, “Do you think we could go to Fillmore instead? Or are they about the same distance away?”
“They’re about the same distance,” he said, the poor soul not knowing how dire the situation was.
I remember my nuanced thoughts about his answer clearly: fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. We pressed on.
Milford’s wind farm appeared in the distance, the windmills so small from 12,000 feet they could have passed for those personal fans old people bring to parades. The airplane symbol on the GPS nibbled away at the magenta line stretching off-screen. For a while, I almost thought I would make it. But head spinning, hands shaking, I stared at the instruments, begging God to spare my velour seat from my bladder’s rage, knowing, not-so-deep down, I had already lost the battle.
Still staring at the instruments, I said, “I didn’t make it.”
We shot the approach—which added an extra fifteen minutes but I was already sitting in my own pee so might as well do what I came to do—and I landed. Stuck in my crunchy jeans, I climbed out of the airplane and waddled to the pilot’s lounge, grabbed a few paper towels, and tried to sop up what I could. There were not enough paper towels in the world. I wiped up the dribble headed for the next seat, marveling at the capacity of someone so small she needed booster seats in other airplanes.
I apologized to my instructor, whom I’d left to fuel the airplane. He texted my flight school, who thought the whole thing was funny, to let them know they had a seat to shampoo. I texted my boyfriend, who also thought it was funny. I owe him a new lunchbox for a separate but similar incident. Ready to get in the plane and fly home, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was forgetting something . . . .
Right. Preflight for myself. I never learn.
When we got home, I got to walk through the pilot’s lounge smelling like pee, jeans still crunchy. I don’t know if any of the receptionists noticed. You’d think after two hours I would have dried at least a little, but no. Thank goodness for the leather seats in the car.
I haven’t gone back to that flight school since. I even stopped flying with the school next door and switched airports. That wasn’t why I switched airports, but for the sake of the story, it can be. I left because I peed in an airplane. A final middle finger. Every once in a while, the airplane I marked is in the air at the same time I am, and I can only think, “Ha. Pee plane.”