Awkwardly I went around my house, telling each of my children good bye. It would be two weeks until I’d hold a cat again; or rather, have them balk at my approach. Jerks.
My bag – a 28 liter standard school book bag – was packed. One pair of jeans, one pair of shorts. My “teaching” pants. Seven shirts, counting the one on my back. One pair of shoes. And matching pajamas. For the Adult© in you.
For those who insisted, itineraries were printed, with addresses, times, flight numbers, and plans in yellow and teal. Toiletries were allotted into their tiny containers, TSA Approved. I pressed the “publish” button on my blog entry discussing my impending departure.
Everything was ready.
Uncle Tommy – who, fun fact, was sporting some freshly broken ribs – pulled up too soon. Impressed by my minimalist packing – #OneBag *fingergun* – we piled into the car. Despite said ribs, he insisted on driving, and it was thus that we were off on a two hour ride to Atlanta.
Drinking warm water and updating my Snapchat, Aunt Carolyn nagged at me for not eating breakfast or packing cash. I choked down the Nutrigrain bars she threw at me, and kept looking forward – namely to abate car sickness, but also to the task at hand.
The gravity of what I had done came to me in pieces, and my habitual talking evolved from light hearted discussion to considerable groans of dismay as North Carolina faded away.
“Oh God,” and “What have I done?” were most common, set to the sound of Aunt Carolyn cackling in the background. Mama soon called, asking if I had changed my mind. I may have, but my non-redeemable flights had not. Let’s do this.
Parking lots; fields and fields of cars as far as the eye could see. Planes rose into the sky. As did the bile in my stomach.
Was I, of all people, really going to go through with this?
I’ll be the first to admit that this was a “bandaid off” approach to world travel. Me being, well, me, I should have done it in phases, cut it into little pieces until I felt comfortable traveling alone.
I am an anxious person. A paralyzingly anxious person. My life is littered with situations where anxiety has left me in a nasty state. Moreso, it’s held me back – and perhaps that’s the reason I took the plunge.
Or, rather, I’m an idiot.
Awkwardly, I clutched my boarding pass as they marched me towards check in. Perhaps seeing the abject terror in my eyes, Uncle Tommy asked the nearest employee for tips. Kindly, she told me how to get to Terminal A. I nodded in mock understanding.
As a “you shall not pass” zone, this fool had to fly alone. Turning to my family, I hugged them tightly and assured them that I wouldn’t talk to strangers. Without a second glance – bandaid off – I turned and walked away.
No one will ever know the choking misery I felt in the queue. As the drug dogs sniffed my legs, alone, I blinked away tears and swallowed regret.
Once upon a time, when I had a heart, I would cry so much I’d near hyperventilate. Instead of words of gentle comfort, my mother would say only one phrase: “Get a hold of yourself.”
Ironically, at that very moment this would be the last thing she would say, as she desperately wished for me to abandon my schemes. Nevertheless, her advice was solid, and I did “get a hold of myself,” and, with ID and boarding pass in hand, backpack off and through the scanner, I said hello to the other side.
I walked through the parting of the Red Sed; I reached the Holy Land that was getting through airport security. I was chosen. I was blessed.
And I blanked.
I take… the escalator… the elevator?
Just read the signs.
Kelly, my dearest cupcake and world traveler extrodinare, has been a crutch this trip. So, as I flailed my hands and begged to know what I to do in an airport, she said, “just read the signs.”
Her second piece of advice? Take the tram.
So I’m making my way downstairs, see that tram, take that tram, and I’m abroad bound. *piano riff*
Imagine, if you will, an innocent worm of character. Now, imagine thrusting her into an new world – an exciting, bustling world, filled with color and light; a strange world that’s all too wonderful to her sheltered sensibilities. There’s plenty of movies featuring such a scene, as it tis a terrific plot device.
Stating this, that was me in the airport.
Kelly likens it to a city; Matt, a mall. I call it both.
Disgruntled parents and explosive children; people sprinting and people sleeping. Moroccan music highlighting the bazaar like atmosphere. Enough rolling bags to build a wall; a barricade, should the zombies arrive. Kiosks with things I didn’t need. Sub-par food and not-so-sub-par food. Bathrooms. Charging stations. And this random cello player.
Using my new found skills of “reading a boarding pass” I found my gate and collapsed in a seat. Wheezing, I called my mother. And then I stared at the wall, “Delta” splashed across it, and thought of that brilliant John Mulaney piece.
Being a fat little girl, fear could take my dignity, but not my appetite; thus it was time to feed.
As I was finishing my sandwich and trying to study math – my first and last attempt – a Delta employee swung by, wheeling an elderly lady in next to me. She pawed at my boarding pass, hoping they matched, like forsaken BFF charms.
She spoke. In Spanish.
Staring at her vacantly, she gestured, repeating single words as if that improved my comprehension. I choked out a, “no hablo español” and she laughed at me.
I hated her.
Kidding, I love old people. With my elementary level Spanish, we formed a camaraderie, and by and by, we figuratively traded BFF charms.
It was time to board.
Heaving breaths, intermittent with short gasping ones came. Barely escaping the requirement to check a bag, I was thankful for this godsend, as it would probably induce a conniption fit.
Popping into the
deathtube airplane, I found my seat – after asking the attendant, after she had a discussion on how easy finding airplane seats was – which wedged me between two girls who looked desperately unmoved by our future in the air.
The plane jolted as Delta’s informational “In Case of Imminent Death” video played. Having seen Fight Club one too many time, it’s information was futile. I grabbed my iPod and put on some minimalist piano track. Easy listening.
Glancing out the window, I jumped, and looked away. I’m ashamed to say, a smattering of tears came.
At that moment, I realized I’d made a huge mistake. Me – the biggest self-preservationist weenie you will ever know – had decided to go halfway across the world by herself.
The last time I rode a plane – which was, oh twenty one years ago – I loved the experience. But I had a mushroom haircut and was four, so that negates any valued opinion I may or may not have had.
So, with that experience in mind, “Opus 28” blaring, and the slight gut lurch of a kiddie coaster, we lifted into the air. And with that – we were up. And, much like younger me, I loved it.
The plane rattled, and the thought about the distance between I and the world below came to me, causing me to dab at my eyes. Galloping up and down the aisle, a flight attendant offered generic cookies or generic pretzels, and when I seemed hesitant – questioning – she offered me both, as if I were the Queen of Delta Airlines. Or just pathetic. Probably the latter.
I forced myself to watch a movie, fortunate in finding a costume drama – Brooklyn. Aptly about a woman going to another country alone, it passed the time. As it’s terrible conclusion came to, so did Boston, as did my tears.
I called Mama as we parked, to alert her I was in Boston – up North, and with the yankees. *hiss*
Filing off the plane, I rushed to the bathroom. There, on my thinking chair, I hit the realization that I had no idea what I was doing.
How would I leave? How would I get to my hostel? Subway? Bus? Walking?
Wandering child, so lost and helpless, full of fear and damp with sweat, I was morose amidst the moors of airport consumerism. I collapsed at some random gate to catch my breath and collect my thoughts.
I checked my phone, it’s instructions moot. No way out.
Taking a sip of water, I accidentally spilled it into my bag – which would be being a theme for this trip. As I shifted through my damp belongings, I found printouts for my hostels. And, as if touched by God, I found instructions.
I devoured their contents.
With renewed spirit, I stood. I tightened my backpack straps. Connected that middle one that only nerds and serious adventurers wear. Guzzled the rest of my water and hurled it into a trash can. And I power walked to the sight of the glowing arrows pointing to “Ground Transportation.”
The Silverline was my bus. Growing anxious when it never appeared, I, showing no chill, hopped on the first coach I saw, which was an airport shuttle.
By Providence alone, the shuttle led to the subway station. Fearsome of the Boston accent, I fiddled with the ticket machine alone and received my Charlie Card.
Baby’s First Subway Ride went just as imagined. As I watched my trolly inch farther and farther away from my destination, I realized there were two trains for, um, two directions. And I was on the wrong one.
Panicing, I hopped off and exited the station. Not realizing there are bridges and passageways to get you to the other side I bought a new Charlie Card, entered again, and was on my way.
I must have gained an aura of mock confidence, as I was stopped by a man speaking only in some unidentifiable Asian language, wanting help. I lead him somewhere. Godspeed, my friend.
Switching lines, I walked through a narrow alley reminiscent of The Wiz, when a wall of urban teenagers approached, attempting to bar my way. Fight or flight kicking in, I began “texting” on my phone.
One of the stepped in front of me. I stepped around him and kept on my way, secretly terrified. Could be worse – could be killer trash cans.
Emerging into the daylight, blinking, a homeless woman reached out to me. I scampered away.
Emotionally and physically exhausted and starving – another theme of this trip – I arrived at my hostel. Depositing my gear, I ran to the first place with food.
I ate my panini dry and sat alone. An eclectic gaggle of Bostonians entered, in painted-on dresses and abrasive attitudes. They bought a pizza and ate it out of the box while walking. I’ve never been more impressed.
Back at my hostel, I twasn’t met with the heinous situation I imagine. Hi Boston was pleasantly clean, cozy and comfortable. My dorm was little more than a hallway with a door, rooming six ladies. Each bed had it’s own cubby hole, electrical outlet and locker. It was exceptional.
I took a sad and exhausting shower. Not supplied with a washcloth, I made do with a used make-up wipe. Pulling on my matching pajamas, I talked to my mother, telling her I was safe and not-lonely, just alone.
Piling into bed, I frantically began googling how I would get out the London airport the next day; as I would be quite without phone service in Europe. Feeling satisfied, I turned over, waiting for someone to turn off the light.
All of us were there, and most were asleep, yet no one dare budge to send us into darkness. As 11:30pm rolled around, I stood, and with a wave of confidence…
…I turned out the light.