I don’t know what I thought travelling in a private plane would be like, but I’m almost positive it wasn’t this. There’d be less duct tape, for one thing, and I would be going somewhere sunny and warm. Not Town in the Middle of Nowhere, North Northwest, where there hasn’t been a sunny day in weeks and the average summer temperature is 60 degrees.
I’ve had to dig out my jackets again and I hate to say it, but I could almost pass for professional. My fall-weight coat over my black t-shirt and jeans makes me look better put together, which probably makes me seem older. I guess that’s what I should be going for. My role is starting to involve more interaction with the public, and now more than ever I have to THINK about what I wear and what it says about me.
Clothes employed correctly send a clear message. It’s why I’m surrounded by dudes in dark suits and ties. It’s a uniform without being a uniform, it draws a clear line between US and THEM, it’s about power and authority. Don’t worry, the suits say. It’s under control.
Except that it’s not under control, and that is why I’m on a plane.
I don’t have to wear a suit. That’s the beauty of being involved with, yet not actually belonging to, this group. But I am conscious of the fact that I’m often the only woman in the room, and always the very youngest. That’s two strikes right there against being taken seriously. I don’t want to come across as a sexy sex object or a little girl, but more than that, I want to fit in. This is how groups work, I remember from my social psych days. The desire to conform motivates people to do a lot of things they might not ordinarily do. I’ve never been very good at fitting in. I wear all the colours to meetings and cross fingers that my brains will ultimately carry the day.
If I didn’t know what to expect with the private planes and the trips on short notice, then I REALLY didn’t know what to expect from being on assignment. On Wednesday, something awful happens and it scares me so badly that I don’t sleep for six days. The moment I hit the ground, all of the different things I’ve had to be to make this work split apart. I can still feel them rattling around inside of my bones, inside my head, making me frightened and strange.
My jacket gets covered in mud. It’s the only one I’ve brought and there’s nowhere I can get it cleaned. I wash it in the hotel bathroom with shaking hands. Out, damned spot.
I know what PTSD is, I tell the guys. But I’m sure to make a joke out of it because I’m scared that if I don’t, I’ll be seen as the weak girl. I’m already set apart by the nebulousness of my job title, so why would I want to make it worse? On the whole, though, everyone is very kind. I’m treated like a little brother who’s broken his arm; I’m teased a bit, but it’s kindly meant. They all know how I feel, they’ve all been there. Suddenly I’m fitting it. I didn’t think this would be how I’d do it.
Today a department shrink will open up my head and see how badly I’m muddled up. Because I feel…horrible. Scared. Disoriented. I keep shouting about how I’m FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE! but that’s for the benefit of other people. I don’t know if they buy it. Probably they don’t. I can only make people believe lies when I believe them too.
How could I have expected this.