February 3, 2014
My journey to England started at Kennedy Airport in NYC. Something else also started that day. Snow! Perfect timing. I drove to the airport with my dad. We talked about the city, the neighborhoods my grandparents grew up in, how Queens was a suburb of New York when my grandfather was growing up there as a kid.
“Going into The City was a big deal,” my dad said. He gave me a look. “That was Manhattan. They almost never went. Too stressful.” I chuckled at the absurdity of not including Queens under the catch-all phrase of “The City.”
Even though I was sad that my mom wouldn’t be able to see me off at the airport, I was glad that my dad was there with me. My mom would have been emotional. She probably would have started crying before we left my aunt’s apartment in Inwood. Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad that she was emotional about me leaving. It would’ve been a bummer if she’d shoved my suitcases at me and sent me on my way without at least a few bouts of crying. But whenever my mom cries, I cry, and I didn’t need any more encouragement in that moment.
We arrived at the airport and my dad pointed out a broad-shouldered guy hopping out of a cab in front of us. “Where’s he going?” he asked.
I glanced at the guy, feeling the panic of leaving home suddenly descend on me. “Don’t know,” I said.
My dad poked my shoulder. “Oh come on, you’re a writer.”
I swallowed. “Okay. He looks Canadian to me. Yeah, definitely Canadian.”
My dad considered this. “An athlete?” he asked. “I bet he does luge.”
“Nah,” I said. “Too bulky for luge. Maybe hockey.”
I took a deep breath and stepped out of the cab. Whether he meant to or not, my dad’s little game had done the trick. My anxiety was in check for the time being.
While he went to park the car, I ventured into the airport to check my bags. I became paralyzed about ten steps inside. So I did what I always do whenever I feel like the world is being pulled out from under me: I called my mommy.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do this,” I mumbled into the phone. My mom, in her special mother voice—tender and more reassuring than anything in the world—told me that I could do it. She told me all the things I would do on my way to Bath, England, all the steps of my journey from the airplane to Heathrow, to the train to Bath. Somehow, hearing her talking about it, it didn’t seem so impossible.
After hanging up with my mom, my dad reappeared and we went to check my bags. Then we began to meander towards security. I could feel my panic rising, knowing he wouldn’t be able to go any farther with me. I tugged on his sleeve so he stopped and buried my face in his chest, crying hard. My dad was perfect. He gave me one of his tight, daddy hugs and listened while I verbalized my fear. “I feel like I’ve spent my whole life having a panic attack,” I said. “I never thought I’d be able to do anything like this.”
He told me he was proud of me. That he loved me. In one of the most tender gestures I’ve ever experienced from him, he lifted his hand to my cheek. “You can do this,” he assured me.
I have the best parents in the world.
I hugged my dad one last time before the security checkpoint. He waited until I was all the way through. I waved at him one last time then headed to my gate. I was an hour early. I passed the time talking to my mom and trying not to throw up on the British woman who was sitting next to me.
We boarded the plane on time. As everyone settled into their seats, the captain announced that take-off would be delayed by 10 to 15 minutes so that they could de-ice the plane. Long story short it didn’t take 10 to 15 minutes. It took three hours. Luckily, I had taken a Dramamine to avoid motion sickness so I was basically unconscious for most of the delay. When we finally took off, the flight was pretty smooth considering the fact that we’d taken off in the middle of a blizzard.
We landed in Heathrow at around 11:30 local time. The airport was nearly deserted so it didn’t take long to get across the border and go through customs. By the time I finally caught a taxi to go stay with my friend Ruth in London, it was past midnight. The taxi ride to Hoxton Market cost over one hundred pounds, but I was too exhausted at that point to really care. The cabbie let me use his phone so I could contact Ruth and within a couple minutes she appeared and gave me a hug. I let out a long sigh. The relief of seeing a friendly face after a stressful day that started at 5:30 am was almost overwhelming. But Ruth had me laughing within seconds.
I called my mom from Ruth’s room. As my adrenaline wore off, a wave of exhaustion and sadness washed over me. I’d never been so far away from my parents, from my home. I felt empowered and independent, traveling overseas by myself, but saying goodbye has always been hard for me. Going on Zoloft a little over a year ago helped me get my anxiety under control, but I’m still a homebody at heart, a mush ball who likes to snuggle with her mom and her cat, who loves the little town she grew up in. I cried to my mom and she reassured me for the umpteenth time that day.
When I walked back into Ruth’s room, she patted the spot on the mattress beside her. “Come sit,” she said. I sat. “It’s going to be okay, Magalicious. I promise.” Her uncharacteristic sweetness told me she’d overheard my sob fest. Ruth is a wonderful, loyal friend, but she saves the gentle reassurance for moments when I’m truly freaking the fuck out.
We watched an episode of a web series produced by Jerry Seinfeld in which he picks up his famous friends and takes them out to coffee. It was basically coffee porn with some genuine comedy thrown in. After that, we both passed out.
Ruth left early in the morning to go to her internship and I was left to navigate to Bath. First stop: the coffee shop across the street that had WiFi so I could look up directions to the Liverpool Street Station where I’d be able to get my phone working in the U.K. That morning definitely helped to bolster my faith in humanity. I asked about a dozen people for directions and every last one was friendly and helpful. Each time one of these strangers smiled at me, I could feel my chest ease. I could do this. I was capable and smart and people were nice. Whenever I’m in the midst of a panic attack, I tend to forget that as a general rule, human beings tend to be good.
I made it to the Liverpool Station, got my phone working, and caught a cab to Paddington. The cabbie this time was very sweet. He called me “Love” and waited outside the train station while I ran inside to an ATM to get cash because he didn’t take cards.
I bought my ticket to Bath from a man who was possibly the nicest stranger I’d met up to that point. I told him, “I want to go to Bath.”
“Well,” he replied, “I’m not one to kill a dream.”
I paused, squinting at him a little. I was tired and stressed and jetlagged so it took me a little longer than usual to register the joke. But then I smiled and said, “Can you help me?”
“Thought you’d never ask,” he declared and went about printing my ticket.
I don’t know how, but we started talking about chips versus fries and crisps versus chips. “I certainly think ‘American’ qualifies as a foreign language,” he said. I agreed. The more time I spend here, the more I agree with him.
I caught my train and tried not to pass out in my seat. I had to stay awake so I wouldn’t miss my stop. I closed my eyes—but not before setting an alarm that would go off in a few minutes.
When I arrived in Bath, Emma, a staff member from ASE met me at the station and took me to my flat. She was very sweet and understanding—once again solidifying the fact that human beings tend to be awesome if you give them a chance. I met my roommate Amy briefly, went over a few ground rules with Emma, and then headed off for the first rounds of orientation. I also called my mom somewhere in there and once again unloaded all my weariness and sadness on her. She once again made me feel better and told me I would be fine. (She’s seriously the best.)
After a couple meetings and a quick walking tour around town led by a staff member, I was able to take a shower which worked wonders for my mood. That night, I went out to dinner at a pub called The Raven with my two flatmates, Heather and Amy. Heather had been in Bath the semester before and started to fill me and Amy in on all the insider knowledge.
At The Raven, I enjoyed my first real meal in about two days: sweet potato pie with goat cheese and spinach, topped with a Guinness gravy and a side of “chips”. After dinner, Amy and Heather wanted to stop in at a grocery store. I opted to find my own way home. The walking tour earlier had been rushed and I wanted to linger a bit, meander down the narrow, cobble stone streets and dwell on the heartbreakingly gorgeous architecture, the rushing Avon River, swollen with rain.
I found my way back to my flat with no trouble and after calling my parents, I fell into bed, sleeping soundly until 8:30 when I got up to head off for more orientation.