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“Now boarding Flight 1203 to London-Heathrow,” said the jarring voice of the flight attendant over the intercom. She looked so distraught, but I don’t think I’d be too thrilled either if I had to roam around a plane full of needy passengers with possibly contagious diseases. I turned to my mom and looked at her hard, so that she could tell how nervous I was, even though she probably already knew. Every mom has this way of knowing, like ESP or something. My dad, sister, and little brother were all there as well, but I was only focused on her. In fact, there were probably hundreds of people passing by us, but they were all one massive blur -- I might as well have been looking through a telescope with the lens on my mom. I was trying to memorize her face – to absorb every freckle and how short she looked compared to my dad. I didn’t want to forget the bright blue color of her eyes and how simply looking at them could comfort me.
I walked forward to give her the last hug I’d give her in almost thirty days. I was only in fifth grade, and I knew only one of the other kids boarding the plane with me – Adam Levitt* – and he wasn’t exactly my favorite person in the world. My mom began to get sentimental; smothering me: “Oh honey, I’ll miss you so much! I love you, baby!” I didn’t mind what she was saying, but it wasn’t helping me to detach or prepare for the embarkment I was about to undertake essentially alone. She handed me my hot pink suitcase wordlessly, with a forced smile.
As I walked towards the gate, I imagined myself stepping towards my future – full of excitement, adventure, and mystery.
“Ready for the best four weeks of your life?” said Becky with her high and chipper voice. It was like she was promising that these would for sure be particularly spectacular weeks and that I wouldn’t forget a second of it. Becky was my leader, so I had been seeing her at meetings every other month, but I didn’t actually know her. I nodded my head politely, with only partial assurance – I knew that I wasn’t ready for this, but at the same time I knew that this would be the best month of my life, or at least of my childhood. It was in that instant that I knew that I would have to do something for the first time: trust someone who hadn’t yet earned my trust.
I continued on to the gate where the flight attendant took my ticket and tore it casually. When she handed it back to me, I felt a little offended that it wasn’t more ceremonious. To me, this was the beginning of the rest of my entire life, but to her, I was just another ticket stub. While I was walking down the jetway, the already small tunnel suddenly felt much narrower, and my feet quickened with the wheels of my suitcase humming behind me.
Moving to my seat towards the back of the plane was like being a car with an accident in my lane during rush hour – it took ten times longer than it should have. I was so jumpy and shaky because of how anxious I was, that every solitary thing that happened was snatched up quickly by my senses. Every move was enlarged and elongated. The old woman in 12B’s perfume filled the whole plane with its peppery overtones, like potpourri. Finally, I arrived to my seat. I slid my bag under my seat, and looked around. Much to my chagrin, I looked to my right, and next to me was none other than Adam Levitt himself. Naturally, I smiled gently and sat down with my face forward, and slipped on my headphones. I wanted to shut off everything that had to do with going to England for the time being, and just relax. I had at least ten more hours to think about homesickness, Adam Levitt, and everything else that could go wrong on the trip. But even if it was just for take-off, I’d be inside my own head and only thinking about the next song on the playlist.
OK, Natalie, I told myself, just zone out. I clicked my iPod on and scrolled down to the playlist I made a week before, and then closed my eyes. I heard intricate guitar and a man joining in later, “Hey there Delilah, what’s it like in New York City…” Dad always sings this song. Quickly, I flipped to the next one. “Well I’m going home, back to the place where I belong, where your love has always been enough for me…” I shut my iPod off. I want to go home. What am I even doing here? I’m not ready. Clearly, “zoning out” wasn’t working for me.
Not even twenty minutes into the trip, I was crying. Wow, I thought, that’s just like me, to be the first and only one crying. I was determined to suppress every doubt that I had. So by instinct, I pulled out the notebook that I labeled TRAVEL JOURNAL in thick black marker. I began to pour onto the page. My pencil flew so fast; it was like my thoughts were being transferred directly from my head to the page:
“I’m so scared. The plane’s taking off and I can’t turn around anymore. This is really it. I’m really going to England. I want to be changed by this newly found independence, but I think it’s hard to change when you’re so afraid. I don’t even know why I’m so afraid, because I don’t even know what to expect. Maybe my overactive imagination is what’s actually frightening to me. I want to see mom right now more than anything”
A tear hit my page, so I looked around to make sure no one saw. No once was watching, but when I looked at Adam, I saw that he was getting a little weepy himself. I laughed quietly, in spite of myself, and then quickly prayed that he didn’t hear me. After all, I was crying too.
At that point, I softened towards him. Something about seeing him in his round glasses and buttoned-up maroon polo, with his lanky arms on his face made me feel sympathetic. It felt good that I wasn’t the only one who was upset. In retrospect, the person that I really didn’t want to be with was the person who unintentionally taught me the first lesson of self-sufficiency: when you want something, you have to go for it with no regrets, and with full force. The thing that bothered me about Adam Levitt was that he seemed so timid and unmotivated; and when I was crying, I was being what I didn’t want to be – like Adam. It was then that I realized that I wanted to prove that I could do this. I wanted to show everyone that, even if it was just for the next thirty days, I could have courage; that I was going to make something beautiful of my life; and mostly that I was going places, and nothing was going to stop me.
*name has been changed