The morning I left Fukuoka I was nervous, but only slightly. Going to the airport to board a flight to Seoul felt like just another leg in the journey. Maybe it was the hangover dulling my senses, but despite my mind knowing that this was the end of my trip my emotions were playing catch up. And man did they catch up.
It happened when I was waiting at the gate in the Seoul airport (such a nice airport) and the destination name came up on the screen: LOS ANGELES. Oh my god I’m flying to Los Angeles. California. United States. My mind went into a tailspin, my heart started pounding in my chest, which felt like it was supporting the weight of a 300-pound man, and my eyes welled with tears.
“What have I done? I’m still in Seoul, I could just walk out of the airport right now. I don’t need my luggage right?” The loudspeaker announced that boarding had begun for a flight to Amsterdam. “I’ve never been to Amsterdam, that sounds nice, maybe I can sneak onto that plane instead.” Wanderlust combined with panic and every fiber in my being wanted to go the opposite direction of Los Angeles.
I took a few deep breaths and tried to calm myself. As boarding began I sat frozen in my seat, waiting for the seemingly endless line to die down (it was an Airbus with 80 rows, so boarding took quite a while). The screen flashed FINAL BOARDING in bold red letters. The line was down to a trickle that ended next to my seat. It was time.
I gathered all my strength and told myself that it would be ok. I was making the right decision. The world was not ending, it would still be there when I returned one day.
Despite the fact that I was on the most luxurious flight of my life, I couldn’t sleep more than an hour out of the total 10, something that was now very out of character for me with my vast experience of sleeping on all manner of transportation. It could have been due to the fact that this “overnight” flight was really “day to night” in Japan time, but I think my mind just couldn’t shut down. Finally the plane switched to morning mode and I watched out the window as we approached and flew over the city of Los Angeles, a place I had known well before, a place I almost moved to instead of traveling, that I now looked at as a stranger wondering how I could have considered such an exchange.
Stupefied is probably the best word to describe my expression as I walked through LAX, from picking up my luggage and going through customs to checking it in for my domestic flight to Phoenix. English was everywhere, I understood everyone, and everyone was so surprisingly friendly. I underestimated my countrymen’s kindness.
Waiting in LAX I turned back on my cell phone service. I called my mom. I was on American soil. I promptly received emails from a few family members welcoming me home and being thankful for my safe return. I was suddenly contactable at all times. I turned off my phone and napped for an hour on a bench in the terminal.
I slept the entire flight from LA to Phoenix, a necessary nap before the long night ahead. When I arrived in Phoenix a whole new nervousness took over – I was about to surprise my best friends. Only Kwaz knew that I had landed in the Phoenix airport an hour before everyone else and was hiding in baggage claim. I saw my friends come down the escalator, quickly grab their bags, and head out the door to drive off in Jen’s car. So, heart pounding, I walked out to meet them.
The minute they turned around I knew I had made the right decision. The shrieks, exclamations of joy, plus the occasional expletive, and endless succession of hugs were so much more than I had imagined. I thought back to my reasoning for coming back now instead of waiting until the summer when I had to be in Vermont – that since I had to come back anyway I might as well do it in a fun way – and mentally patted myself on the back for making this decision.
The thing is, I didn’t leave the US to run away from my life there. I had a fantastic life. I just wanted to enrich it, see more of what was out there, and grow as an individual. But I had plenty to return to, and these girls and the weekend that ensued were a huge part of that. The panic that I experienced in Seoul quickly faded into a memory. I was back, at least for now, and it was time to party.