The Place I Left Behind


There’s a feeling that smothers you when the place that you would choose over any other place in the universe and the place that you are in are one and the same. It’s only ever touched me once in my life, but I think I’m lucky to have had even that. That feeling is dangerous. It swells and rages, subtly, like a wave that you don’t notice until it crashes on you. And that frightens me, because now, I’m just waiting for it to hit.

When I felt that feeling for the first time, I didn’t realize what it was—but I do now. When I look back, I can see the wave growing and forming, slowly chasing after me. So I wait.

But this wave isn’t the only thing I’m waiting for. I’m waiting for my flight to begin boarding, and I’m not sure which one is truly inescapable: my flight, or the impending swell. One may help me escape from the other, but I don’t know which would be worse.

I stand from the uncomfortable airport bench and walk through the terminal. I’ve got ten minutes to change my mind and decide to face that swelling wave, instead of the overcrowded Boeing 717.

I walk past gate C17, where passengers line up to board a plane for Austin, TX. Gate 16: passengers boarding for New York. Gate C15: passengers waiting for a plane to Atlanta. Gate C14: passengers boarding a plane headed to Seattle. And that’s just the beginning.

I could be on any one of those planes. I could be waiting to get on a plane to London, or stepping onto a plane headed for Myanmar. Or Israel, or Burma, or Hong Kong. But I’m not. I’m moving to Chicago, because life left a message on my cell phone, telling me that it had found a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and that I should take it. My life even booked my flight, and found an apartment for me, while I scraped the bottom of my mind for the last few excuses. I tried to call my life back and explain that although flexibility and spontaneity washed through my circumstances, there was still some part of me that was chained to my hometown. But when I returned the call, my life never answered, and so I left a message in reply. I’m not very good at leaving messages, and after stalling and stuttering, I found myself saying that I’d follow.

Seven minutes now, until my flight begins to board, and my mind races through all of the ridiculous places in the universe where I could be. Jamestown, New Zealand. Taitung County, Taiwan. The Sahara Desert. Galax, Virginia. The middle of fucking Antarctica. I walk past a ticket desk, and almost step right up to ask the nice lady how I might actually get there, but I don’t. I just nod and smile and keep walking.

Five minutes. I turn around and walk back to my gate. I sit down.

The boarding begins, and I courageously grab my luggage and my backpack and my pillow and step forward, my boarding pass crimped between my teeth. I shuffle my luggage and hand it to the flight attendant, who smiles and takes the pass from my crowded fingers. The scanner beeps. She hands the ticket back to me and says ‘Enjoy the flight.’

I step into the jetway, and onto the plane.

I’m not longer waiting for the wave to hit me. I’m still not sure whether a crashing wave or a crowded Boeing 717 would alter me more permanently. Of all of the places in the universe that I could have been, there was only one place where that feeling flooded over me.

It was the place I left behind.