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I turn to the oval plane window to the right of me and look out at the deep blue sky, scattered with small clouds below. Miles beneath, I can see the dark green ocean. There is a large boat in the water. From this height it looks merely like a white spec floating through the ocean. I think about the people on this boat. Who are they? Where are they going? I imagine a group of fisherman with weathered faces and lonely hearts, stranded miles from their homes. I begin to doze off as I play out the lives of these men in my head.
There?s a light tap on my shoulder. I struggle to open my eyes; the lids are heavy with fatigue. I see a middle aged woman standing over me, smiling.
?Hello,? she says. Her warm voice matches the friendliness in her face. The plastic blue name tag on her shirt reads ?Karen.?
?Hi,? I respond, stretching my legs.
?I was just coming around to take dinner orders. Do you know what you would like?? she asks.
?Oh, umm? I?m fine. I won?t have anything, but thank you.? I glance at my carry on bag filled with airport snacks. Karen gives me a worried look.
?We still have quite some time until we land. Are you sure you don?t want to eat something??
?No thank you. I have some food with me so I should be fine.? I smile up at her.
?Okay just let me know if you need anything,? she turns around and begins talking to the man in the seat across the aisle.
I grab my carry-on bag from the floor and place it in the empty seat to my left. I open the bag and begin to rummage through the contents. I pull out the book my father bought for me before I left, almost two years ago to this day, A Real Travelers Guide to France. I run my fingers along the glossy picture of the Eiffel Tower on the cover and think about my fathers bright eyes. The pages are worn from months of use and have that well-read feel to them. I remember before I left light wrinkles were just beginning to find their place along my fathers forehead. With a deep breath I recall the smell of his homemade spaghetti and meatballs he made every Sunday night. I place the book on my lap and reach back into the bag.
I reach back into the bag and pull out a wrinkled picture of my younger sister, Anabeth. She mailed it to me about a year ago. I study the photo and look at her shimmering smile and bright blond hair. I still have a vivid image of her standing in the bathroom braiding her pigtails the day I left.
I place the photo in the back of the book and begin to flip through the pages. Each one has a different memory attached to it. I remember the day I wrote my French name on the inside cover, Christian. I remember my first visit to the Louvre and the feeling of complete insignificance it gave me. I remember the first time I tried escargot with my neighbor, Roland. I begin to long for my small Persian apartment. I long for the view of the Siene River and the warm French sun. I begin to doze off as I reminisce on my past two years.
The plane shakes and I wake up. As I rub my eyes, I realize I am starving.
I search my bag for some food but instead find a letter my mother sent me about a week before I left France. Her handwriting has stayed the same and always will. It is such a familiar sight, those messy letters strewn across the paper. The tone of her writing makes me feel like a child again; she orders I call her as soon as the plane lands.
Landing. I will have to face everything I was running away from two years ago when I decided to take this trip. I think about my family, their cookie cutter lifestyle. I wonder if anything has changed since I left. If it has, will it be any better? Can I bear to go back if it hasn?t? I know it hasn?t changed. They will always be the epitome of an American family and that has always driven me insane.
Suddenly, I wonder why I am even on this plane. Why did I even decide to leave? A snap back to reality sparks the realization that I am not ready to return. I am not ready to grow up, find a job, find a wife, make a family, make a life. I am not ready to conform. I want the plane to turn around and fly right back across the Atlantic Ocean.
The captain announces that we are beginning our descent and we will be landing shortly. There?s that word again. Landing. I begin to feel a sharp pain in my stomach. I wring my hands and realize they are warm and clammy. What am I even going to do when I step off this plane? I have nothing planned. Nothing to fall back on.
I glance out the window and I see the New York skyline to my right. We will be arriving in Newark any second now. I begin to tremble with fear, almost the same way I did when I was arriving in Paris without a single euro and without a word of French in my arsenal. At least then I knew I was in for an adventure, a real experience that would last me a lifetime.
I feel the sweat growing under my arms as I see the airport runway not too far below us. There?s no turning back now and soon I will be stepping on that dirty New Jersey soil. We are almost on the ground. I clench my fists, take a deep breath, and the plane jerks as the wheels slam against the ground.