In the pitch blackness of the night it is impossible to see the AD's propeller, but I can sense it. Four big blades, cutting an eternal circle into the darkness. I can feel that circle like a hand, steady and sure, pulling me through the night to the target.
What was the first circle in my life? Probably the turning propeller of a toy airplane thrust out into the wind. The light was glittery and alive, dancing and rippling off the spinning blades, as I held the small plane in my hand. Now I guide a much larger plane into the wind as the control stick gently throbs against my palm in a reassuring and familiar way. It seems as if I have always been in this cockpit, high above the earth, moving forward in space and time, guided by a constant memory on a mission that was always there.
When does memory start anyway? I don't know, somewhere around the age of two I guess. For me, there was the beginning of memory and there was flying. I can't remember a time when I didn't want to fly. . .
I can't remember a time when I wasn't checking the face of the gauges: the tachometer, the oil temperature gauge, the cylinder head temperature, the altimeter, the compass. Yes, the engine is functioning perfectly, yes I'm at the right altitude, yes, I'm on the right heading. Yes, everything is correct . . . as I head for the target.
It's true, growing up, no one that I knew had ever flown an airplane or even been inside of one. Yet, from the beginning, there were the dreams, flying dreams. Dreams so real, so powerful and so vivid that I would bolt into wakefulness with all the images and sensations of the dream still prickling my flesh and stirring within my limbs.
I would awaken from those dreams with the absolute conviction that I could fly. I could still feel the flight I had just made within my body. In my dream I would rise up from my bed and move away from the house top, merely by pushing down against the air with my hands. My body and legs formed the fuselage of an airplane and my arms and hands were the wings.
The air was marvelously responsive, reacting exactly like the water in a swimming pool. I could pull against it in a breast stroke to go forward, flap downward with arms and hands to go up. I had perfect control and so I could maneuver very precisely around telephone wires and large trees without the slightest sense of fear.
The control I experienced in those flights felt natural and absolute. I could go forward or backward, up or down with perfect precision. The muscles flexed in my arms and hands as they worked the air. No wonder, when I woke up, it still seemed totally plausible that I could fly. I had already lived it. For me, there was the beginning of memory and there was flying. I had already been in this cockpit.
But did I ever actually believe that I would some day fly a real airplane? I don't know that I ever thought of it that way. It was simply an ideal that I always carried with me. And then, one day, it was true . . . It was true.
"You fly these things Butch?"
I can see now why it caught my father by surprise. And yet, maybe he was the cause of it all. He's the one who took me on those first magical rides high up into the sky.
I can still remember the sunny mornings in the kitchen of the old house on 42nd street. All the light came in from one side and the ceiling was very high and far away. In mid day the room was filled with shadows, especially up near the corners of that high ceiling. But for a little while, early in the morning, the kitchen was bright, when the eastern light would come flooding in with a warm slant. I liked the morning best, by afternoon the light-yellow walls had dimmed down into blue-grey shadows and the room felt somber.
On some of those mornings, my father would come in and pick me up before he went off to work. He wo