Traveling solo? Your stuff has to fit in the bathroom stall with you. You carry everything. You juggle everything. And you sit alone in the terminal and feel your solitary status settling around you; you may, perhaps, feel it more if you're someone who has always felt somewhat apart.
If I say that these trips were difficult, it would be an understatement. If I also tell you that I hated flying ... HATED it, loathed it, and used to count on the Wasband to hold my hand during takeoff and landing to help me through my terror, maybe you'll begin to understand that I was not only troubled in the airport but also on the plane... And in the solitary cabs taken to single occupancy hotel rooms ... And in my attempts to explain to coworkers who were heavily into matrimony that I was not only divorced (the shame!) but lacking in prospects.
I did not feel okay on these trips, but I kept making them. I had to. I started to learn things, like which terminals had good coffee, what time was good for going through security, what was the easiest thing to wear/ carry/ leave behind. How to hail a cab. Which hotels were the friendliest. Which airlines supported single girl traveling and which ones were a pain in the ass. How to converse with complete strangers. How to deal with Red-Eye flights. How to avoid questions about my relationship status in meetings with my boss.
I learned to cope.
But coping isn't being okay. Coping is faking okay. Coping is wearing a mask of okay; it's making it work so that you don't have to lock yourself in a bathroom stall so that no one can see you crying in frustration and brokenness. Coping is good? It just shouldn't be mistaken for being okay. It's a stepping stone on the path to okay.
Here's the moment I knew I was okay: I had flown from Salt Lake City on yet another red eye and arrived at JFK at about 5 AM. As I am not a person who sleeps on planes, I was exhausted. My flight from JFK to Raleigh, NC (home!) left at 7:45.
I got a coffee. I drank it. I got another coffee. I drank that. At 7:45 we boarded.
The pilot calmly informed us that we were 20th in line for takeoff.
We sat on the tarmac in the summer sun. And sat. And sat. I flipped through the in-flight radio stations and was listening to top 40 and staring out the window, earbuds in, watching the scenery inch past as we slowly got closer to a takeoff I was impatient for. I was bobbing my head and singing along to Rihanna's "Umbrella" when it hit me:
I was fine.
Not nervous. Not sad. Not scared. Not coping. I was well and truly fine, even if my taste in music was questionable. I was good. I was better than good. When we finally took off? I was giddy.
I don't know when I went from doing okay to BEING okay, but I know the moment I recognized it.
I'm telling this story now because I know that I have friends who are doing okay. It's my hope for them -- for all of us, really, who have ever struggled -- that they'll soon have a moment where they will be completely okay, where they recognize it and celebrate it and want to sing out loud, no matter what the song is.
We all need to be able to sing.