It was a gray, rainy Wednesday morning when Amanda came to my apartment to help make sure I was ready to go—she being a seasoned traveler, and me having never been out of the country before. I had been up for hours already, unable to sleep, and had packed and re-packed my backpack at least half a dozen times. I’m one of those people who needs very little in reality and yet, when faced with the prospect of travel, feels compelled to pack everything I own, just in case; not an ideal compulsion to have when you’re about to embark on a backpacks-only trip.
One of my roommates worked nights and had only gone to bed a few hours before, so we did our best to stay quiet while Amanda gave my backpack a once-over, only removing a couple of my just-in-case concessions to paranoia. My other roommate tiptoed out of her room, wrapped in a comfy sweater, grinning from ear to ear through her sleepiness. She had set an alarm just to see me off on my adventure.
The excitement in her ecstatic smiles and whispered well-wishes sent up a little plume of excitement in me—I think it was the first real, physical sensation of excitement I’d felt about the entire thing. After a year and a half of constant crushing disappointments, heartbreaks, and emotional trauma, my soul was a little shell-shocked, I suppose. It was hard to get truly excited about anything anymore.
But now…my roommate got up early to wish me well; she was excited on my behalf; my parents had called and said they were going to meet us at the airport to see us off. This trip was actually kind of a big deal…and it was real.
At that time, Amanda and I lived only a few minutes away from each other. We left my apartment in the pouring rain and drove back to her house, where her mom was waiting to drive us to the airport. Amid the family’s plethora of cats, Amanda divided bags of trail mix she had made between our two backpacks, gave me the extra electronics converter and rain cover, and the three of us loaded into the van.
There was some disagreement on the drive as to whether the garage door had been closed when we left their house. I had nothing to contribute to that conversation, because I had absolutely no memory of even seeing the garage door. My mind was wholly preoccupied—but not with Ireland. Oddly enough, Ireland was a blurry indistinction far in the back of my mind. Front and center was the obstacle that stood in the way: the actual journey to get there.
It had stopped raining by the time we reached the airport. My parents and sister were already there waiting for us, and kept us company while we tried to get our tickets. The ticket printer was out of order and, after spending several minutes our trying to get it to print, it decided to print about eight copies of our tickets, egregiously misaligned with the perforations on the paper, and unusable, so we got in line for the ticket counter. A polite businessman was trying to make a phone call, and allowed us to go in front of him. I couldn’t have communicated how grateful I was, in my stressed state of wondering what horrors awaited us at security.
Shortly after 9/11, Miss Peggy, the kindergarten Sunday school teacher at my church, flew to the west coast to visit her son. The security personnel had confiscated her comb because it had metal teeth, and searched her because she had been carrying a “potential weapon”. If muumuu-wearing, flannel graph-wielding Miss Peggy was a threat, I reasoned, I was probably a full-blown terrorist in the eyes of airport security.
And I had never flown anywhere before, so I didn’t know what to expect beyond what I had seen when I came to this same airport to see Aaron off on a business trip. I didn’t like the feeling it had given me, watching him stand shoe-less in the X-ray machine, arms above his head—a strange sense of angry protectiveness as if he’d been taken prisoner by someone. Would I feel like a prisoner when I took off my shoes and stepped into that machine?
After entreaties to take a million pictures and have an amazing time, and hugs all around, we took our leave of our families and headed into the security gates.
I was a wreck. What if I had inadvertently packed some “potential weapon” in my backpack? They couldn’t confiscate jewelry, could they? Should I have left my engagement ring at home? What if I was actually on a terrorist watch list and didn’t know it because I’d never flown before now? Every incriminating thing I’d ever searched on Google suddenly came to hover in the background of my thoughts as I carefully took off my shoes and jacket, reminding myself not to make any sudden moves lest some security guard think I was about to attack.
I tried to imitate Amanda’s carefree manner, the casual way she tossed her shoes and cellphone into the plastic box and strolled through the X-ray machine, pausing for the bar to scan past her and then stepping out the other side, unfazed. I suspect I was a failure, but I made it out the other side of the X-ray machine, anyway.
Amanda’s backpack was flagged, and I felt inordinately relieved that it was hers, not mine. Somehow the idea of the seasoned world traveler having some small thing amiss in her bag (it turned out to be the way her electronics converter was situated between her bags of trail mix) while the rookie’s bag got through just fine, made me feel immensely better about this entire trip, which by now I had half-convinced myself was a terrible idea altogether.
With both our bags cleared and our shoes and belts back on, we stood on tiptoe and craned our necks to see over the security gates and return our families’ enthusiastic waves, then turned our backs and made our way into the terminal.