I had two full days left in Scotland after I dropped Carrie off on that dark, early morning. I spent a good bit of it with my friend Katherine, who would be in Edinburgh for a few days after my date of departure. Katherine was a great friend to have in the city because she knew it like the back of her hand. She had invested a lot more time in getting to know every corner and cranny of Edinburgh than I had, so she directed our walks with the ease of a local, and we talked about everything all day long, walking through every inch of the space.
We got dinner together and spent the evenings at the park in the Meadows, where I had taken Carrie. I noticed when we went to certain parts of the city, the memories Carrie and I had made were attached to the places. Memories of Cat, Hannah, Morgan and I were also there. Each place or point of interest was tagged with a feeling, and usually a person. That is when I knew this city had become mine, and that I’d always know my way around, and remember it forever. If I am ever to return to Edinburgh, I will walk the streets with confidence, like a woman who has lived in this city.
The flight from Edinburgh to London (Heathrow) was very early in the morning. That was one part of my travel home that was pretty depressing for me: I was not able to say goodbye to my city during the day. However, the sun had been on its way up because of the northerness of Scotland. Despite the early start, I watched the sun show its head as I waited in the tiny Edinburgh airport, knowing I’d not return, possibly for many years.
It was a quick flight to London. I noticed a lot of young, professionally dressed people sitting around me in the flight. I wondered what it would be like to have to take an airplane commute to a conference, meeting or to work every day. That makes my two minute commute to work at home seem like an absolute blessing now that I think about it.
Heathrow was not all that confusing for me. I had to take a train or two to get to my terminal, but I had some time to spare before boarding my second flight. I sat in front of the countless huge screens with all the listed cities planes were taking other people to. Watching flights depart made me really sad; I can’t help but feel like I am completely insignificant when so many people are circulating around me, going away to so many beautiful, astounding places in the world. I had my carry on propped in between my knees, and I nodded off a few times while I waited for my terminal number to pan across the screen. My brain hurt and my heart was violently on the move behind my ribcage.
The flight home was effortless. I got a window seat, and I sat beside a really sweet African American woman who told me, “Honey, if there is anything you need, you let me know!” I finally watched the newest Star Wars film, and my mom had recommended Brooklyn, which I fell in love with. I drank a lot of tea and felt like it would make me feel better if I drank the red wine they offered me with my lunch. It came in a little bottle, along with the freeze-dried and densely packaged food. I wanted to feel full, so I ate it all without thinking too much about it.
The pilot told us we were passing over New York, and I looked down on the land that I had resided on all my life, up until about five months ago. I strangely felt detached, like I didn’t belong there. But where did I belong? I came to the conclusion after a lot of thought and writing about it, that maybe it was okay that I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I had left pieces, big and small, of my heart everywhere. In every country, or with every person I had grown to love while on walkabout. Maybe it is okay to want to exist without being tied down to a particular nationality, language, or homeland. For now, I don’t want to be just one thing; stereotyped by where I happened to be born or what language I was raised to speak.
We touched down in Dulles, and I got through security without any issue. The man at the desk who checked my passport asked me how my time away was. I didn’t know it then, but this was the first of many times in the coming weeks, months, and perhaps years that people throughout my life would ask me this. The difficult part about this question is this: How do you begin to describe and tell someone about this awesome experience, in two or three sentences? Describe the last few months in two or three minutes, without sounding like a run-of-the-mill, self-absorbed study-abroad student. You don’t want to dominate the conversation, but people also don’t seem to care or pay attention past a certain point in the narrative. I cannot successfully sum up five months in three minutes, much less if I want to fully describe the golden-tipped spires of Praha, the beauty of the view of Bilbao from a mountaintop, or the staggering tortoise of the Grecian oceans.
I found my red and black checked bag without too much difficulty, pulling it from the moving belt without knocking anyone else’s over. My last moments alone were experienced with the utmost clarity: I walked heavily down the gray hallway, feeling the weight of the time away from home crashing in on my lungs, my eyes dropping from being up all night. I knew those were the last moments of my time being abroad, these were the final seconds before I wouldn’t be on walkabout any longer – and then I saw a yellow sign with my name on it, and there my mom and dad were, waiting in the line with other strangers, waiting for me to come through the doorway.
The last month being home has been almost literally a whirlwind. Carrie and I jumped right back into our serving jobs at the local café down the street from our house. I have seen and revisited the friends and friendships I had to sort of put on hold while I was away. I started driving again, on the “right” side of the road, and a new but also familiar schedule and routine has made itself present in my life. That is honestly the hardest part, though. I think Paulo Coelho said it well (and better than I could, at present):
“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.”
Of course I like predictability and stability as much as any other human. And I think it is definitely healthy to have a daily or weekly routine that helps keep the person productive in their work and drive. This is my dilemma: I just came back from this amazing experience that only I can really understand, because I am the one that it happened to. I am forever changed because of what I dared to do. Sure, I can share as much of the details as I can, and maybe that is enough for some. But I find myself resisting going back to the old routine, the old way that I used to get things done, because I have experienced more, and have been changed to a great extent. I am not the same person I was before, even if I appear to be. That is what confuses people, too, when I describe myself as a changed person. I don’t look much different to them – I may be paler from the lack of vitamin D in Scotland, I may wear the same clothes and speak the same language and work the same job. It is inside that is changed, and that is not so easily “seen” or explained.
Carrie has been my rock. She and I have been processing a lot of the post-experience experience together. So many details, moments and memories come back to both of us at random times, many of which I haven’t put down in this blog. Carrie and I can ease right into talking about travel seamlessly, which I love. Though we had vastly different experiences and went to different places in the world, we have an understanding that is rare and genuine. We are both sad and happy to be home, excited about what lies ahead while also constantly reminiscing about what remains in the past. Many walks-and-talks and wine nights on our porch swing have eased some of the heartbreak we have been feeling over being away from our adoptive cities and friends we had to leave behind in Europe.
My reflection is this: just like the way in which I possess a deep and passionate faith, I have experienced a small piece of the world, which is inside of me. I appear normal and ordinary on the outside, but I am not what I seem on the inside. Neither is anyone who has traveled, or honestly just experienced life in any simple form. Pain changes people, loss or joy or love changes the way in which people think and live their lives. These things come to everyone, too. You don’t have to travel to be changed, but I will not walk away from this experience and say that I was not changed by it. I was, and it has been so good.