The jumbo's ceiling panels have crashed down on top of the centre-row passengers just in front of us.
We're still climbing, still shuddering after take-off and I have a clear view of the aircraft's innards; ducting, wiring, all the unsightly ingredients for the sausage-making of transcontinental aviation tucked away in the butler's pantry above cattle class.
Some people scream, the buckled-in attendants share looks of mild concern and mild contempt before rising to deal with the cosmetic catastrophe.
A part of me registers that we may be in some kind of trouble but that part (so used to taking my amygdala hostage) isn't even getting a hearing this morning because I'm 20 years old, in love and unbearably solipsistic.
Quite insufferably, I'm suffering the first-world problem of being privileged enough to be flying overseas while still wallowing in the misery of making the trip with my sister instead of my university girlfriend, who dropped us at the terminal.
As much as I'd like to picture a lachrymose airport tableau whereby the young woman in question is inconsolable, immovable, glued to the tarmac windows as a thieving metal bird streaks her gauche, albeit deep and complex, country beau towards the bitter northern hemisphere, I know she's already laying rubber out of the car park, cigarette in hand and the very personification of Milan Kundera's theory of "existential mathematics".
"The degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting," Kundera wrote, meaning those who want to remember a moment or a person, leave an encounter slowly (and vice versa), also meaning right about now my exotic inner-Sydney native is breaking the sound barrier.
The fear of losing this girl which, of course, I eventually do, as is the justifiable fate of every pretentious 20-year-old who reads Kundera, follows me to the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. It's a fear which ruins this long-planned, one-time-only and epochal family event.
I'm Audrey from National Lampoon's European Vacation, just not in Europe or funny (although Dana Hill's incarnation of the Griswold daughter embodied a certain tragic quality, as would play out so sadly in real life).
I slog through the snow with all the dead-eyed caribou and eventually declare - like an overrated reality TV survivalist - I'm tapping out early, eschewing all those opportunities such a rare experience presents and completely unaware I've been suppressing the panic I felt when those several plastic facades shook loose inside that passenger jet four long weeks ago.
As I prepare for the return trip, a new and pernicious fear of flying begins to surface and, sensing a fellow sufferer, my mother slips me several nondescript and unprescribed sedatives before I leave her, my father and my siblings (and, no doubt, a sense of universal relief) to the lethal Alberta chill.
I take the powerful drugs and sleep and blur and grope my way across oceans and time zones and, upon disembarking, it becomes apparent my flight has been packed to the shoddily anchored ceiling panels with members of uber-cool, early '90s rock bands making their way to Australia for the summer festival season.
Now it's my turn to be inconsolable.
I realise instead of dribbling and dream-punching for the past 16 hours, I could've been down the back of the plane drinking little bottles of scotch, smoking unfiltereds and making plans to meet up in Byron with some bona fide gods of grunge.
Fear, again, has denied me something potentially amazing.
MORE B. R. DOHERTY:
Tonight, decades from an era when you thought you could afford to let a few opportunities slip by, it's my little boy who's afraid.
He grips the doona with white fingers, holding the fabric to his mouth, saturating it with snot and tears. So thoroughly does he resemble a petrified Haley Joel Osment from The Sixth Sense, I question my very Earthly existence, patting myself down for seeping gunshot wounds and a receding hairline.
Over the past few weeks, our son has become afraid of his bedroom at night. He insists we check behind doors, cupboards, the toy box.
It's run-of-the-mill stuff, apparently quite normal for eight-to-nine-year-olds (especially males), as their imagination gets the better of them and the world beyond their window begins to balloon into something beyond navigation.
I lie next to him, run my hands through his sweaty hair and promise him all those things you're supposed to promise a scared kid. How mum and dad would never let anything happen to him (true), how there's nothing in his room to be worried about (true - except for the rats) and how, fundamentally, "there's nothing to be afraid of" (true, at least as far he's concerned).
I'm a charlatan, because I'm afraid of everything, too.
I'm as bad as Homer holed up behind a mattress with the kids, shotgun trained on the front door: "Bart, I don't want to alarm you but there may be a boogeyman or boogeymen in the house."
As I grow older and try to stay employed and try to be a good husband and help raise children and help maintain a home and mow all this bloody grass, I actually find myself longing for my son and Homer's wistfully simplistic infanticidal boogeymen, because, in middle age, the boogeyman is far more complex, representing everything from FOMO (fear of missing out) to KUWTJ (keeping up with the Joneses) to the big C (cancer) to the little c (coronary), to c-major (climate), to c-minor (coronavirus) to c-sharp (catheters).
I'm far from alone.
Every half-aware middle-class human knows accumulation only makes us miserable, as we're funnelled into a fear of losing what we own and console ourselves with increasingly pathetic rationalisations beginning with ... "At least we're not ..." or "Could be worse ..."
Roosevelt seems to have borrowed from Thoreau (talk about pretentious 20-year-olds), or maybe Montaigne, for the seed of his famous "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" inaugural address of 1933 and the speech seems as apt for today as it was in the face of the Great Depression.
One suspects, however, not FDR nor HDT nor MdM, could've had any idea how fear would become the currency of the 21st century and how, as a motivational force, it has easily outmuscled old-fashion societal tenets such as altruism or commonwealth.
I suppose the trick is to break the cycle and try and give our kids the tools to master fear, so it won't influence their decision-making or trick them with its many disguises.
And, it could be worse ... because the great thing about Western privilege is it affords us the luxury of navel-gazing and so many chances to face our fears, change direction and pursue our dreams, should we so desire.
Joni Mitchell summed us all up so beautifully when she said, "I'm frightened by the devil and I'm drawn to those ones that ain't afraid".
Of course, she also said, "You don't know what you've got till it's gone".
- B. R. Doherty is a regular columnist.