I clutched my navy blue American passport in my hand, along with my customs declaration, as the United flight I was on braked hard as the wheels hit the runway.
My heart began to race. Even faster than it had raced the entire 10 hour flight back to Washington, DC from Frankfurt.
I hadn’t slept on the plane for more than an hour. I watched sadly as the flight tracker passed over Europe, the Atlantic, Canada. And when we finally were over American soil, I had to lift my shade and look out at the ground passing quickly below me.
Shade of greens and browns, laid out like a patchwork quilt in bad colors drifted underneath me.
A wave of thoughts began to scramble around in my head as my 200-day journey began to wrap. As I looked out the window, there was no rush of pride to be back in my country. There was no rush of excitement to see the farms on the ground. There was just … panic.
Turn this plane around, immediately. I don’t want to do this.
When the plane pulled into the gate at Dulles, I could feel my face go white.
Back back back. America.
I closed my eyes, letting the memories from my time abroad rush over me one last time on my trip, then I grabbed my bag and exited the plane.
I followed the throngs of people to the “mobile lounge” that takes passengers from the international gates to customs.
I was deafened with the sounds around me.
Phones ringing. Conversations into handsets, Blackberrys, iPhones.
“Yeah, I will e-mail you in a minute.” “I just landed, am looking at my inbox now.” “It was a long flight, I will be to the office soon.”
Oh. My. God. What are these people doing? Had I been one of those people before my trip?
I sat and stared, thinking there was no way in the world after leaving Europe I would want to tarnish the memories by picking up a phone and talking Real Life. In fact, the last thing I would have wanted to do was look at e-mails, talk shop. I wanted to savor every minute detail of my time there. The places. The beauty. The people. The LIFE that pulses with such electricity, passion and love that makes nearly every other experience dull in comparison.
Here, work is the life. Here, people don’t stop to sit outside and drink a coffee for an hour. They don’t …
My palms grew sweaty as I walked towards customs. The chorus of cell phones ringing, the chatter of people talking into them … I began to get dizzy. I began to feel like I was in a movie and the camera was slowly spinning in circles around me as I grew faint.
Breathe, D. Breathe.
I stood. Spinning. Spinning. Spinning. Taking deep breaths as the panic began to set in to my body.
I walked up to the customs official and smiled the best I could as he thumbed through my passport, looked at my declaration card.
“Well, ma’am, you certainly have done a lot of traveling,” he remarked. “What on earth kind of job do you have?”
“I don’t,” I said shakily, trying to stand straight, imagining my parents waiting for me upstairs, forcing the thought of my travels being over out of my jumlbed mind. “I mean, I write, but it wasn’t my job.”
“You are very lucky,” he said, smiling, stamping and handing my back my most treasured posession.
I stood at the luggage carousel, anxiously tapping my foot, waiting for my brown backpack to swing around.
I used to hate that backpack. I would long for the days when I didn’t have to strap it onto me, carry it, walk up stairs with it. But now, seeing it filled me with such an overwhelming feeling of love. That brown backpack came to symbolize my journey. It had been with me all over the world, and now, it was time for it to retire.
I snatched it up quickly and strapped it to my back. For the last time.
Quickly, I made my way upstairs to the restaurant where I was going to meet my parents — the same place we said goodbye in March, the same place we met for dinner a year earlier when I told them of my plans to travel.
I looked around at everyone in the ticketing area.
I wanted to yell. To scream. To tell everyone the reason, at that moment, tears were falling from my eyes was because I had just arrived back to America after the Trip of a Lifetime.
Instead, I continued walking, scanning the faces of people nearby for my parents.
Then, there they were. Sitting down next to a window.
My Mom and Dad.
They saw me at the same moment, standing up and smiling.
And, then I couldn’t see. Tears clouded my vision. I felt their arms around me and just let go, sobbing in their arms.
“Welcome home, D,” they said through similar tears and sobs.
“Hi,” I cried, clutching tighter to them, wanting whatever it was I was feeling — sadness for missing Grandma, sadness my trip was over, joy to see the people I loved — to evaporate into thin air.
Dad grabbed my backpack and together, he, Mom and I, walked out into America.