Newark didn’t seem so bad from the four hours I spent in terminal A. All I really knew about New Jersey was Jersey Shore and the jokes made about the state on any show set in New York. Not exactly a well-rounded perspective. Sure, the airport was a little dingy and the employees were brusque and you could see New York City over yonder, like a gleaming, cramped beacon of wonder and excitement, but hey, Newark seemed okay.
There was something about leaving Newark. I mean, Portland to Newark was fine. It was still domestic, within the continental United States. I could pretend like I was going home to Canada – just a really crappy layover situation where I went five hours in the wrong direction. I am extremely good at lying to myself and not dealing with things until I absolutely have to. So, for four hours, I wandered around terminal A, making laps down each of the hallways over and over and over again. Until it was time to get on the plane.
Somehow it seemed easier to stop this whole crazy trip from Newark because people still spoke American there. I could just give it up right there. In fact, for a brief moment, I thought – hey! I could just spend two weeks here, not go to Great Britain, and then fly back home. And nobody would know! Except for my friends waiting for me in Great Britain, and the lovely employees of terminal A, and everyone else when all of my photos are of vending machines and runways.
I had set a goal for myself before leaving Portland: not to cry in a foreign country alone. I could cry domestically (Canada counted as domestic). I could cry abroad if I was with a friend. And I could cry by myself abroad if the situation warranted it (i.e. mugging, missed late-night bus, extreme injury), but only for an amount of time that was to be determined during the situation.
I was still within my parameters when I almost burst out crying on the airplane, still sitting at the Newark tarmac. The situation related to my seat. I needed an aisle seat. I had specifically picked out an aisle seat. An aisle seat for an overnight flight would make me feel secure. And when I got to my aisle seat, I found a man sitting in it, next to a woman and a small child. My heart dropped. He grinned sheepishly at me, “Is this your seat? Soooo, here’s the situation…” Of course, he was the father, separated from his wife and child. Would I switch seats with him? His eyes, her eyes, the baby’s eyes all pleaded with me.
Like I was going to be the beeyotch that said no? And like I was crazy enough to want to sit next to a one-year old on a cross-Atlantic flight? So of course, I said, sure. And of course, his seat was next to the window. I pushed past the young Indian couple sitting in seats 6B and 6C, and the woman – who was in the middle – said sympathetically to me, “Sitting next to the window is no fun.” Thank you, kind woman, for pushing me over the edge. Tears started seeping out of the corner of my eyes.
But this was a new day. A new experience. A new me. And whereas I would have been sheepish and shy previously, just suffering silently, I couldn’t do that anymore. If no one else was there to stick up for me and to suggest completely obvious common sense solutions that I could not think of because I was too busy being devastated about the loss of my perfect seat, then I’d have to switch off the emotion, dig down deep for that tiny shred of common sense I owned, and be brave.
So, I asked the flight attendant if there were any aisle seats available on the packed flight. Sure, it sounds like the most obvious thing to do now, but it took guts for little quiet, makin’-no-waves Sara to use her voice. She said she’d look around.
Lo and behold, there was one open aisle seat. It was only three rows back from the front of the cheap seats. It was next to the only open seat in the entire cabin. And – AND – it was next to a crazy old man who was convinced there was a draft (I think he was right – or his craziness spread), and so he wore a blanket over his head like a veil for part of the flight. This was the best of all possible airplane-worlds.
And so, this is the story of how I left Newark with only a few small tears shed, already being brave and not turning back. If I had turned back, if I had let myself cry, if I had stayed quiet, I would have missed out. And not just on that crazy guy. Let me tell you – he was worth the bravery. So was everything else.
5/7/11 (Day 1) – Newark, New Jersey, United States of America