I left early yesterday morning for the airport, a small black coffee mug of skim milk to wash down the cold leftover pizza I ate for breakfast. Ate, but actually savored, since cold pizza is ambrosia, and I know I won’t be enjoying good cold pizza (or milk) for quite some time.
The mood in the car to the Philly airport was quiet, tense, everyone holding back those sloppy, tearful emotions. I was checked in and ready to board by the time Meghan and Dad had parked the cars; and just like that, I was in line, and the family was gone. I asked everyone if we could say goodbye at security this year. Last year, the goodbye involved gate passes for the entire family (except, almost, Patrick, who had gotten himself flagged on a terrorist watch list), and it was a long, exhausting goodbye full of tears and loving salutations (what is the opposite of that word? I can’t recall, but it’s exactly what I want to use right now). I watched the family disappear slowly along a floor escalator as a short woman in security checked my boarding pass. “Aww,” she sympathized, “you going back to school?” She glanced at my ID, trying to keep eye contact.
“No,” I said, politely, tersely, “going to China. For a year.”
“Goodness!” she replied, “to do what?”
“Teach English. I did it last year, but …”
“Well, you’re family there, they, they love you a lot.”
“I know,” I said, voice breaking. “It was … harder last year … but …” and the words wouldn’t come.
Going back the way I came in, Philly to LA, LA to Guangzhou. The excitement of the coming year is dulled by the stress of returning and the desire to stay. Last year, the night before I left, Deirdre asked me why I was going, and all I could say was, I had to. Last night, Deirdre called me, and as we talked, I realized this wasn’t something I had to do anymore. Tangled somewhere in the loss, the separation, the difficulties that lie ahead, I know that this is something I want to do.