secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.
well, that’s fine, i suppose, but can’t you see how much easier it is to put theirs on first? i can see what i’m doing when i reach for the person next to me and put their mask on for them. i can see where it’s all supposed to go, how to hook the bands around their ears and hold the yellow plastic shell over their mouth until they start to breathe. i can see how to help them.
i put on one person’s mask. i help one person. maybe i save their life. then i turn to the person across the aisle and slip their mask on, too. i can’t breathe, now; the plane is shaking around me and people are screaming; somewhere, a baby crying, someone’s tiny dog barking from under a seat. i stand up and stumble down the aisle, following the glowing emergency strips on the floor, putting on mask after mask, barely even looking at the people behind them anymore.
i collapse into an empty seat when my vision turns into a collage of multicolored spots. a mask dangles in front of me, or maybe not. is it there?
i reach for it, my clumsy fingers skating over the plastic and fumbling with the ties. the person beside me sits quietly, their mask on, their eyes forward. someone has put their mask on. maybe it was someone else. maybe they did it themselves. i find myself wishing they hadn’t, wishing i could do it for them, because maybe if i saved them, they would save me back.
if i help enough people, surely someone will help me.