12.14.21: Airport Thoughts

Updated: May 4

I find myself in a familiar place: the women's restroom in the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, late afternoon, with headphones in but no music playing. I'd been listening to an episode of Emma Chamberlain's podcast titled "getting back on track," but, gripped by a sudden urge to relieve myself, was forced to close my laptop and embark on a small quest for the nearest bathroom. I took a longer, more meandering route than intended. I'm in the process of going home.

This was my first flight experience since March 2020. Prior to college, I hated flying– not so much the plane itself, but the human zoo that is the airport. Space, manners, and certainty are in short supply here. The air is manufactured with a certain heavy dryness making it nearly impossible to get comfortable. Inside is stale; even the food seems to be coated in thin plastic. I began to experience a specific fear (only applicable here and in Manhattan) that I'd inevitably run into someone I know and be forced to engage with them, meaningfully, because we're the only other people we know. It's never happened (here or in Manhattan), and because of that, I haven't been able to let it go.

The American Airlines employee asks us to 'cram' our bags into the overhead compartments because it's Christmastime and everyone is a pilgrim. No worries there– I was forced to gate-check my bag in Columbus for $30 and the cost of my internal sanity. I'd left my apartment at 9 am, arrived at John Glenn International by 10:30, peed immediately (I drank a juice and iced coffee for breakfast), tried to check in at the wrong gate, fumbled through security just for the TSA agent to confiscate my water bottle, spent 15 minutes waiting for a Starbucks latte I ended up disliking, had the bag fiasco trying to board, apologized my way into my window seat, landed in Charlotte, then spent $13 on two tiny fruit cups before turning around and seeing a whole wall of premade sushi rolls. At this point, though, there wasn't much I could do. All day, I thought I was just about to cry, but nothing came out. At that point, I didn't think anything ever would. I imagined my family and friends seeing me like this– unbearably anxious, disheveled, making every rookie mistake a contemporary traveler could make. Embarrassed and upset, I boarded the Hartford-bound aircraft.

I made it to my parent's house, and I'm reflecting back on this voyage from my childhood bedroom. Traveling is a historically anxiety-inducing experience (for me) because it almost always places me at the mercy of others. I, unfortunately, have a knack for playing the victim. It's a pattern I haven't been able to break. As a teenager, my mom used to pick me up from boarding school. Every exit included a graceless temper tantrum, and every drive back incited a minor meltdown. Emotional maturity was not my strong suit.

I'm 21 and graduating college in the spring. I don't have a job or apartment lined up. I'm really not even sure what I want to do. The other day I asked Google if "fashion anthropology" is a degree I can get (it is– in London). I'm not even sure what I would do with that. My mom asked me why I want to move to New York City if I'm so afraid of other people. The answer, truly, is "I don't know." It's just the only goal I've ever kept for longer than three months. Outside of a studio on the Lower East Side, I'm not too sure what I want. I'm not even sure what I like. For someone who prioritizes certainty and safety, my lack of a five-year plan is a bit out of character. Grad school? Maybe. Professional dancer? I'm doing my best. YouTube personality? Sounds nice in theory, but I don't think I have what it takes.

Basically, I lack the confidence it takes to truly desire something for myself. Every small instance of adversity or change I experience seems to serve as negative reinforcement: I'll never be good enough to make it; I'm just an idiot child; I can't do anything right, etc... and that's just ridiculous. I'm obviously competent. I do have goals. I have (mostly) educated opinions. I got a raise at my job that I genuinely enjoy. I'm spending Christmas with my family who loves me and has actively supported me through all my fleeting phases. I'm a person, goddamnit, and that's really all the proof I need to know that I can make it in this rapidly-evolving world. I did ZOOM BALLET CLASSES on my parent's PORCH during COVID in 2020!! I can do ANYTHING!!

But humbling moments, like almost pissing yourself (twice) in a public airport because you couldn't find the bathroom, can often make us (me) feel like we're just babies whose bodies are legally old enough to drink. Sometimes I like to believe I'm a God. I am not. I forget things frequently. I trip. I cry when I get angry. I stumble over my words. These are very human traits I expect myself to be above, and for what? Why? To whom is that fair?

A therapist once told me that when I impose these blatantly unrealistic expectations on myself, I need to shift my perspective and ask, "do I hold this expectation of others?" It's that classic tool used to combat negative self-talk. Sometimes, you have to ask yourself "would I say this to someone I love?" I surprise myself with how cruel I can be, not just towards myself, but others. When I expect myself to know everything, to be "right" and "perfect" all the time, it creates this odd dynamic where I end up privileging certain behaviors and traits in others and decide that these people belong on the little golden pedestal in my mind. It's not fair!! It's mean!! It serves no one!!

I now know this behavior pattern holds me in my little miserable safe space, preventing me from designing a life I want to live. It keeps me isolated, scared, and dependent– three things I really don't want to be. And like my mom always told me, once you know what you don't want, it's easier to decide what you do. For example, I don't want to pee my pants in Bradley International. Therefore, I will not drink green juice and three cups of coffee before my flight back to Ohio.

Happy Holidays and, as always, thanks for reading. You're a real one. Comment where to look for cheap apartments in New York City.

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