"How are you doing today?" asked the TSA agent as he took my boarding pass and ID.
My voice shook: "I'm...okay." I hoped he wasn't interpreting my obvious anxiety as malicious intentions toward my aircraft.
"BYYYEEEE AUDREEEEY!" My mom's voice pealed over the security line, and a wave of heads turned, searching for the origins of the barrage. I waved vigorously, glad that my family was too far away to see my eyes welling up.
I wiped my face and hoisted my violin onto the conveyor for the X-ray scanner. A well-intentioned, portly businessman chuckled sympathetically. "Is this your first time traveling by yourself?"
If you only knew, buddy. (That's what I wanted to say.) Instead, I forced a smile and a "No." I hoped the gesture, albeit subtle, would relay the anticipation, eagerness, terror, sadness, and sense that all was beyond my control that I felt simultaneously in that moment. I could have told him about the mixed emotions that bubbled up as I parted ways with my family and friends to start a year of travel to places farther flung than anywhere I had ever stepped foot before, but I'll assume he picked up on all of that from my curt "No." He was possibly even relieved that I spared him the tale, inevitably full of self-analysis, tangential self-analysis of the self-analysis, and statements like "...but at the same time...." He was probably grateful, and if he doesn't realize the favor I did him in the security line, well, at least I'll know that I paid it forward today.
I'm on the plane now, reflecting on my final hours at home in Austin. There wasn't much time for reflection this morning--my family is chronically late for important engagements. I'm actually pretty punctual on my own, but put us all together and you get what my best friend Rebecca has long dubbed "Wozniak time." The more high stakes the engagement, the later we show up and the closer we cut it. I think this has to do with the fact that we thrive under pressure, and the promise of missing one's flight certainly comes with an adrenaline rush. "Wouldn't want to peak too soon," my dad says. I think our lateness, especially when it comes to getting to the airport, also speaks to the fact that it is a lot easier to be stressed about logistics than to confront the true sadness of parting. It's a coping mechanism, if a risky one. Anyways, I dawdled the entire afternoon, until it was half an hour past when we should have left the house and I mentioned to my parents that we should probably be leaving now. "I thought your flight was at 5:30, not 5!" my mom exclaimed. My dad had made a beautiful early dinner that we now had no time to sit down and share, and I felt like the world's biggest jerk to be ruining it by procrastinating until the bitter end. Luckily, we're no strangers to combatting lateness; like a well-oiled, food-tossing machine, we threw the sea bass, steak, salad, and ratatouille in the car and hit the road. Thank goodness for those Texas toll roads where people start beeping at you for driving too slowly if you're going less than 80 MPH. My mom asked my sister about how she was doing on her college applications and calculus self-study, my dad balanced the plates, and I stared at the open fields of hay bales and oil rigs that we went zooming by. It could have been any normal day.
UN-PACKING LIST, or, what didn't make the cut (excerpted)
The "good" violin. I am fortunate to have inherited a really wonderful violin (lovingly named Clifford after the great-grandfather who first played the violin). Needless to say, while it would be wonderful to go on tour with Clifford one day, what with the intense climates of some of the places I'm going and the risk of traveling alone with an instrument, this is not going to be the year. Instead, I am bringing a student violin and, thanks to my violin teacher, a carbon fiber bow that will not be subject to warping or being mangled by a TSA agent searching for ivory.
Every pair of shoes I own. Those of you who know me well will know that if there one thing I can't get enough of, it's shoes. And not just any shoes--I like to dress uniquely, and I love shoes that are bright, unusual, make people do a double take and/or question my ability to dress myself. Over the years, I have acquired shoes without heels, red rhinestone "Dorothy" shoes, platform Mary Janes that I have convinced myself are high fashion, all of which I wear with regularity. However, with great footwear variety comes great weight in one's carry-on, and Rebecca, best friend and packing consultant, capped me off at four pairs.
"Can I bring five?"
And so it was with a heavy heart that I bid farewell to my favorite pair of shoes: a pair of sapphire blue wedge heels emblazoned with a Superwoman-meets-Minnie-Mouse red plastic bow and translucent rainbow plastic heels swirled like a unicorn horn. I surprise myself with how much I wear them, and it's impossible to have a bad day in these shoes--after all, you're basically channelling the positive forces of Minnie, Superwoman, and a unicorn all at once. Nonetheless, it is for the shoes' own benefit and mine that I am not trotting them off to the streets of Urumqi. I will wear them daily in spirit, right?
In case you're curious, the shoes that are taking the next step (hehe) are:
1) Running shoes--for every activity that exceeds "walking"
2) "Hiking heels"-- aka wedges with durable faux suede (?) and elastic straps with rubber traction on the bottoms. These shoes are like roaches after a nuclear apocalypse, as they have withstood two summers in China and lived to tell the tale
3) Black shiny oxfords--they go with everything I brought and can be dressed up/dress something else up
4) Gold and black woven flexible flats with industrial rubber traction soles. Business on top, party down below...or maybe vice versa? See function description for "black shiny oxfords"
Old Spice Pure Sport deodorant -- I think this stuff is what handsome smells like, and I have my own bar because sometimes I want to smell handsome, too. To me, the aroma itself suggests incredible sexiness. However, I worry the Indonesian mosquitoes will think so, too.
Ugly comfy cargo capris. "They look really touristy," said best friend Rebecca.
An under-the-skin GPS tracker implant. I tried my very best to find some sort of device that parallels the collars and tags they use to track bats, whales, and turtles, but despite my mom's wishes otherwise, I don't think that these have been approved for human use.
Beta blockers for flying. Although I have been on dozens of planes throughout my life, this last year I developed a bit of a fear of flying (specifically, takeoff and turbulence). I think this unease was the joint result of flying on a really shaky Chinese regional flight that I was convinced was going to crash, the whole Malaysian Airlines debacle this last spring, and the general emotional stress of travel. At its worst I was having anxiety attacks on planes and contemplating whether it would be feasible to avoid all air travel in my Watson year (that is, commuting between four continents without any planes). After looking into the possibility of taking a cargo ship across the Caspian Sea and reading up on instances of piracy in Southeast Asia, I realized that my flying anxieties were severely inhibiting my ability to travel spontaneously and frankly, live my life. I have worked on coping methods like making sure I breathe when the plane starts to move, and acknowledging my distress rather than trying to suppress it. Also, reading really boring books and listening to Baroque or Classical music seems to work pretty well, too. My mom talked about trying to get beta blockers in the case that I am really, really uncomfortable while flying, but a) I would like to think that I can handle facing my fears without chemical assistance, and b) I forgot to ask her for them in the scramble to the airport.
It's now firmly the evening, and the summer sun is setting over the pearly clouds as I speed away from home and on to my first exotic destination: Detroit. Just kidding, it's just a layover, but in fact I have one more week stateside before I truly launch into my solo year. I'm making a quick East Coast sojourn to see a few close friends and mentors, and then will be flying straight to Hong Kong just in time to catch the muggiest, hottest time of the year. I am absolutely excited.