(circa mid-September 2016)
I didn’t want to cancel my flight to the USA.
Wednesday, I packed my suitcases and checked in online, changing my seats to my lucky numbers. Before going to bed, I opened the link my dad sent me to my first checking account. Oh wow. It’s happening. I felt a knot in my stomach. Please let me sleep well tonight. This night, of all nights, please let me sleep.
The next thing I know, I’m waking up and vomiting. Freezing, I stumble into my parents’ room and beg them for their warm, fluffy comforter. I go back to bed crying. By the morning, I’m oscillating between a raging, sweating fever and uncontrollable chills.
When I’m very sick, I have some strange dreams. For a few years of my childhood, I always had the “ping-pong” dream. I would be playing ping-pong with a tree, the ball going ever so slowly, spinning through a dense purple and magenta haze as I felt myself grinding my teeth. This time, my dream is that my body is part of the tangled heap of sheets and blankets piled over me. I am the entire surface of my bed, oozing through many thousands of layers of cave, forming stalagmites and stalactites between eons of linen and polyester. I’m a fossil, a shell.
I wake up on Thursday morning. My dad is feeling my forehead and giving me a glass of water. My ears are ringing and my head is unbelievably dizzy, rotating and swinging like a clay pigeon slightly too heavy on one side, out of balance as it falls down and down and down. I briefly wonder where the ping-pong ball dream went, so I can fire something at the falling bird and smash it out of its misery.
My mom walks in. “Are you going to be able to fly today?” she asks.
“I think so.” I reply.
“Okay dear. I’m worried.”
I sleep the rest of the day. The thought of food makes me sick. I can barely get up to get water, and, when I do, I feel like the pressure in my head is going to make me faint. Purple stars obscuring my peripheral vision, I have to hold onto walls and counters as I crawl back towards my bed. Ms. Susan checks in on me from time to time. My parents come home at intervals throughout the day, asking, with more doubt each time, if I’ll be ready to fly. I’m so glad I packed everything yesterday.
My mom finally says, “I don’t think you should go dear. There’s no way you’ll make it. You’ll be miserable, trust me.”
I trust her.
“Do I cancel your tickets?” my dad asks the next time he appears at my bedside.
“I guess so. I don’t know. Will you get a refund? Yeah – I guess so.” Just like that. Done. Finished. Oh god.
I sleep for twenty-eight hours. What would happen if I just get dressed, roll my bags down to the van, drive to the airport and tell them it was all a mistake, that I need to get on this plane? But that’s impossible unless I want to pass out in Frankfurt, or, worse, before making it through Immigration in Washington D.C. I would wake up in an airport infirmary that looks like a holding room, my luggage probably gone to infinity and beyond. It wouldn’t be my dad feeling my forehead. Is this some sort of omen? I half-expect to hear of a tragic plane crash. But I don’t. (Which is good. Maybe I jinxed a crash by thinking about one.)
Finally, I realize that this debilitating fever might be a turnaround moment for my gap year. I was stressed about going back to America, about whether we could afford another trans-Atlantic trip right after the summer, about whether I would fall into materialistic incantations. But all of that is washed away in one unexpected bout of illness. No matter how weak my body feels, how depleted, I feel rejuvenated. I am not in control. I don’t have to be. It is not always my responsibility. I was a hairsbreadth from making this journey. I was ready to leave. I did my part. Now, I have time to do what I do best in decision making – pick up the pieces, improvise, and come up with a resourceful solution. The knight is in my hand, and it’s my turn now.
Sometimes things happen, and it’s no one’s fault. It’s a stop on the railroad tracks. You don’t get to decide where the stop is, but you get to decide which direction comes next.
I get to figure out if I’m the kind of person who stays and waits for The Plan due to a sense of loyalty. Or, maybe I’m the type of person to grab onto an alternative railroad car and see where it takes me, an almost-bride on top of a caboose, gown oil-smeared and billowing in the wind.