…Actually, make that title read “…a very unfortunate traveler.”
Things went so smooth up to the part where I reached the gate for my flight from Florida to Newark. A delayed flight that did a little more than make me late for my flight from Newark to London. I unsuccessfully attempted to recover from a cold, but sleeping on an airport floor is not exactly medicinal. Something about traffic control I could hardly understand… “It’s not the airline’s fault,” they told me once I reached Newark. I looked around and felt pity for the few tired faces that surrounded me. “So, why are we not being provided a hotel room again?” The Irish man behind me dropped all the F-bombs I wished I had the energy to scream myself. But his accent did make me smile. It was past 10 pm in Newark; my plane to London was long gone, and I was close to dropping on my knees with my arms open to the heavens screaming a long, heart-felt “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO” into thin air. I could not understand why they cared so little that their customers had to spend the night on a cold, hard floor. My new flight was leaving at 9 am the next morning. I do not know anyone that lives close enough to Newark, and my cellphone’s battery was acting up, giving me about 10 minutes worth of a phone call before shutting dead. There was no way I was leaving this airport without a working cell phone, near midnight, in a place I had never set foot on.
“Is there anywhere I can find food right now?” I was afraid to ask. Everything was obviously closed. “I think there’s a McDonald’s open somewhere near Gate X.” Gate X was about a 15 minute walk, 10 minutes of which I spent crying to my mother on the phone about how the heck I was supposed to spend the night safely on an airport floor, alone, in a world where shooting tragedies and bombs seem to be going off at the most random places. Aha! McDonald’s was open. And all the places in a small food court by Gate X. I counted my money like a homeless person might count quarters and pennies, and shyly asked for a chicken wrap, a fruit salad, and a banana.“Are you open 24 hours?” “Yes, only the places in this food court are open.” And so I found my refugee.
I made my home near a wall plug where I could have my phone on all night long, infinitely recharging and acting up, conveniently located across from the 24 hour food court and restrooms. The tv was on and loud on a news channel, all about Gaza. A couple other lonely travelers gathered around this “safety zone.” Somewhere near 3 am I accepted my circumstances; I realized that I was probably not going to be robbed of my money and passport, nor was I gonna become the victim of human trafficking. I went from the chair to the floor, from the floor to the chair, coughing and shivering, and sending messages to friends who also happen to be open 24 hours for my crying needs, bless them. I was getting sicker by the hour.
5:00 am. Or maybe 5:30 am? It was no use trying to fall asleep. I had clearly rested as much as I was going to, considering the circumstances. I think I drifted off for about 45 minutes, maybe a bit more…but never actually slept. My arms and legs wrapped around my two carry on bags, and my head buried in my happy-yellow scarf. I had survived. I was Katniss in The Hunger Games. I was Cheryl Strayed in WILD. I was neither a victim nor heroine, but a strong woman; I was the soul of an invincible gypsy. All 5 feet 3 inches tall of me standing undefeated and brave. I sat on a table sipping black coffee and reading a book. Sipping, reading, watching, sipping, reading, watching. The airport filled up again, and it was time to get myself together.
My flight boarded on time, but something was off. Maybe it was the stress I had gone through mixed with the cold that had undoubtedly settled into my body. I was anxious to get on that plane. I love flying. I love airplanes. Where did this uneasy feeling come from? Why did I suddenly have to hold myself steady against a chair? Thoughts of a plane crash crossed my mind. Recent news of planes disappearing crept along near my fast beating heart. I made my way past first class, and the echo of the Gaza news from the tv that was on all night resonated in my head as I passed…wait for it…an orthodox Jewish man and 2 orthodox Muslim men sitting near each other. Suddenly, Gaza was not a place far away. It was chairs away from me, and so did the impending death my anxiety fabricated for me. -It must be highlighted, that I am close friends with both Jewish people, and Muslim people, both lovely to me. But these innocent strangers were no sight of relief to my already anxious, world news overwhelmed self – “Are you alright, miss?” asked two flight attendants. Why was I going through this much anxiety when I was doing that one thing I LOVE to do? I thought, “That’s it. I am taking out my Yogi tea for stress relief. If I am going to die on this flight, I will die sound asleep.” I sipped my tea, watching the flight journey on the screen in front of me, wondering at which point of the journey I would consider myself safe again. As I drifted off into a tea induced sleep I made myself come to terms with my death. “I have had a good life. Many of my dreams have already come true at 25, and each person I deeply love is walking this Earth already knowing how much I love them. If I had to go now, it would be alright.”
But the plane continued on a safe journey as I counted my blessings and slept, slept and counted my blessings again. Until we started descending, and the glands on the side of my neck became like hard balls that I swore would burst. The pain made me feel I had been stabbed in my left ear with a long needle. I had not had this problem on a flight since I was about 8 years old. “Excuse me, ma’am…How do I stop the pain?” I quietly cried to the flight attendant. “Just keep sipping water, and try to yawn, if you can. It should stop as soon as we land.” I held my head in my hands, counting down the 18 long minutes until we reached the ground. I am sure passengers around me thought I was having an anxiety attack. But oh no, the pain in my ear was so sharp, and profoundly reaching my every bursting ball-like-gland down my neck that I came to wish my instant death. And so the plane landed, and I questioned whether I’d be deaf the entire rest of my life.
I reached customs, smoothly going through the motions, pretending I was together and poised. I waited for my suitcase, swallowing pain killers like an addict, and I waited for my suitcase. Waited for my suitcase. My suitcase. It was on another plane, the polite British lady explained to me an hour later. Maybe it was good I was kept waiting this long. Now I could finally meet up with my best friend, whom I hoped was still waiting for me outside…The pain killers had kicked in, and I felt mostly relieved, except I was completely deaf of my left ear (p.s. I would remain painfully deaf until the next day).
It was the worst travel experience I have ever been through. I would not want to do it again, not even to prove a point. But when the doors opened, and I saw my best friend, sitting against the railings like a bride who’s been jilted, it was ok. I was glad my left ear was deaf and I could only hear 50% of her scream as she squeezed the sickness out of me. Two years without each other became 2 short days. It was as if no time had passed, and absolutely nothing had changed.