Monday, 4:33 p.m.: I am sitting at the McDonalds in the Barcelona airport and the world feels off-kilter.
This is what happened: I walk up to the desk and they tell me the gate closes in 10 minutes. Why didn’t I call the cab earlier? I should’ve done things differently, but I can always run, or beg them to re-open the door, or plead to cut the lines, so panic will wait until those things fail. They ask me if I have some sort of number. I spend five minutes looking for my grandparent's address, assuming that is what they want. I feel awkward and silly trying to locate it by looking up various buildings I know exist nearby, scrambling to quietly sound out and type the names using my Korean keyboard. I finally find it and, feeling accomplished, proudly hand my phone to the agent with their address written in clear text. He looks at it and asks me, No, do you have the visa number to enter Korea?
My gut wrenches. It is like forgetting about a bill, and then receiving the statement in the mail to see that it has significantly increased. My mom mentioned something about needing a visa once. Why did I wave it off, thinking it would resolve itself?
He turns his computer to me to show me: US CITIZENS MUST HAVE AN APPROVED VISA OR K-ETA PRIOR TO BOARDING IN ORDER TO ENTER KOREA.
I need to get to Korea so I can get to New Zealand to attend my orientation so I can then fly to the South Island where I will begin my study abroad semester. Missing this flight would catalyze a chain of unfavorable events. I don’t freak out, though. To do so seems useless, and I understand this is not the type of thing I can fight to win. Mostly, I am disappointed in myself. I deflate, my body shutting down and my brain switching to manual control: This is the situation. What’s the next step? Don’t waste time, don’t waste energy. Ask productive questions. Don’t ask the same thing twice hoping for a different answer.
Personality evaporates from me, and I become plain and straightforward. I ask my questions with no charm or hesitation: What are my options? Where do I go to do that? So this is my best option, correct? Can you repeat that please? My voice is calm; no strain or urgency when I talk, just an utter flatness. My eyebrows stay relaxed and low so if I have to look up, I do so with only my eyes and not my head. This way, I am direct and intentional. Even wandering eyes feel like a waste right now. I listen for full answers, nod only when I properly understand, and give genuine thank yous when I am done.
This is the expression of jadedness. Nothing entertains me; light and color dissipate. I am in a state that I won’t be able to shake. I won't be able to hide this, turn on the pep and positivity for someone on cue. This is me, dulled and spent, unamused and disappointed, with nobody to blame but myself. These are my emotions, ugly and crude, with no place to go.
And so, I am sitting at the McDonalds in the Barcelona airport and waiting. I am waiting for approval of a visa, for the airline to call me back so I can change my flight, for my phone to charge so I can make another call, and most of all, for these intense feelings to simmer down. Give me an hour, and I’ll be fine. All this will have faded into memory, and I’ll be able to joke about it. I will talk casually as if I simply changed my flight and never lost an ounce of faith because I am positive and don’t let things bother me too easily! I am chill and can always bring good energy to stressful situations! I will reject people’s condolences for the trouble and say it was none at all. This will be condensed into a 30-second story with an intro, body, and conclusion. By the time I’ve reached New Zealand, this will hardly be a story at all, simply reduced to “some traveling complications.” I will be cool and collected and back to my energized self.
In the meantime, this is all I know to do: write. I don't mean poetically and reflectively, using this situation to find some profound meaning or as an experience to learn from. I mean writing furiously, recklessly, and emotionally because if I do not, I might cry, or vomit, or scream, or combust. This is where it is all going, in big emotional chunks onto the page.
This is how I cope, and this is me coping. Because when I write as I am now, I do not need to think. This is not a place for me to concisely retell the details of my day, to record so that I remember, and then mark the end of the day’s events with a period. I will not wait until the day I sit at my desk for the first time in New Zealand to open up a fresh page and begin writing with, I’ve finally arrived, and boy, was that some journey to get here! Let me explain… Instead, I will unravel here, lavishly and unabashedly with undeveloped and uncollected thoughts. In that way, this is the place where I can be vulnerable.
What I’ve realized is that there is a difference between being open with people and being vulnerable around them. I believe the former is how we offer the details and stories and sorted feelings of our lives as a way to extend a hand in solidarity or just for entertainment and padded conversation—something I am fantastic at. I will freely give because I am protected by the facts that are true, the events that have transpired, and the conclusions I have firmly reached. I can be open that I didn’t get a visa, missed my flight, and need to get on tomorrow’s or else it means rescheduling two other ones. I can say that Mom told me once to get the visa and that I should have listened. And in conclusion, this was an irresponsible, disappointing, and very expensive mistake. Ask me what happened, and that is what you will receive.
On the other hand, vulnerability is putting pride on the line. It means admitting things I already know are selfish and irrational, and doing it anyway. It is saying that while I am often trying to prove my self-sufficiency to my parents and get annoyed when they undermine it, I still wanted Mom to tell me again and again that I needed a visa. Why didn’t you, shouldn’t you have told me twelve times? I’m still a kid. I love my independence, sighing when Mom and Dad start telling me again to be careful on the subway. I find it amusing to call them at work on a random Tuesday afternoon and show them my view at the top of a mountain I’ve just climbed, or from a hot air balloon, or on a boat with my snorkel gear on, and say, Look where I am! I’ve packed myself up for my study abroad semester by the time they come home from work, and when they ask if I’ve got everything? I roll my eyes at their nondescript question because of course I do. Yup, and that’s the end of it. And yet, in situations like this, I will wish that Mom and Dad were the kind of painstakingly meticulous parents with a list of things to pack, making me bring everything out first to the living room to check off before going into the suitcase.
But who would I tell this to? How could I say that I want them to realize I can manage without them, but at the same time, I guess I can’t, and sometimes I don’t want to. I already know this is not how growing up works; independence is responsibility. Still, this is what I feel, despite knowing differently, despite wanting differently, despite saying differently. These are my feelings, despite, despite, despite. Sometimes, the safest place to reside in, and hide in, is one you must construct yourself. So here, onto this page, I will wish unreasonably, childishly, extravagantly. Here, I will write.