The journey to Dublin was, in and of itself, an exciting thing. I felt at once independent, brave and anxious. Before I even departed for Europe, here are somethings that happened that I want to remember:
My morning started as most of my mornings have lately — sitting on our perfectly antiqued blue-grey Adirondack chair with a cup of fresh, hot coffee. Except today, I was joined by two stuffed, pinky-purple, duffel bags, stacked one on top of the other with my favorite old embroidered shoulder bag leaned against the side.
Today I would leave for a semester in Dublin, but that fact still didn’t seem true. I said goodbye to my mom as we both fought back tears. My dad drove me to the airport.
The hardest goodbyes were the ones I said to my grandparents. Over break, I have been spending a lot of time with them, helping out here and there and just soaking in their love and kindness. The Sunday afternoon before I left was bittersweet. We brought over Protzel’s for lunch before the big football game — Tom Brady and the Patriots versus my Uncle Tunny’s Ravens.
After our meal and most of the game, my grandparents grew tired. Darkness approached and I hadn’t packed a single thing into my suitcases, much to my OE’s chagrin. When it came time for me to go, my grandma, frail and lovely, pulled me close and assured me she wouldn’t say goodbye. She told me to have the best time of my life, and to not worry about a thing. She also told me, precisely as a grandma would, that my mom would show her all of the emails I sent to her — so I didn’t have to bother sending them to her separately. My grandpa, who I thought was asleep, opened one big blue eye as this all was going on. He hoisted himself up in his recliner, all smiles, and gave me a hug and kiss. He told me he loved me, but most of all to have fun, and he said it with more the sincerity and love I had ever felt from anyone before.
So, trying to resist the desire to sob, I returned home to the task at hand. I’m the joke of my family when it comes to packing, because have this way of packing everything I can squeeze into my bag — only to forget a majorly crucial item. And today, the pattern persisted. As my dad pulled out of the driveway, I hurriedly told him to stop as I realized I had left something behind. It just wouldn’t have been right if I hadn’t managed to forget the most obvious thing on my packing list: my coat. My biggest duffel wouldn’t even squeeze into my dad’s trunk, so we had to settle on the back seat.
I felt a little silly when I asked my dad to walk me in, as if I had never traveled on my own before.
“Let’s see if the old man can still do it,” he said, as he heaved the strap of my big bag over his shoulder. He strained to carry it to the gate, and mumbled as we went back and forth to find the right counter.
After we rid of the big one we rode up the escalator towards security. Hints of a familiar tune came through the din of the airport.
“Is that ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow?’” I asked him. He answered yes with a smile.
“It’s a good sign,” I said, finding myself silently wishing they would prove to be true.
This song was particularly appropriate for two main reasons. A shy young girl who loved dogs and musicals, I’ve always fancied myself Dorothy’s long lost sister. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” thus pretty much became my song when, maybe four years old, I sang it at a talent show in a tutu, trying to do somersaults while holding my microphone in front of a cruise ship audience. Secondly, the message “Over the Rainbow” seemed to speak to the voyage I was about to embark on. Unsure of what lay ahead, I was certainly off for an adventure far away, much like Dorothy’s to the Land of Oz.
There is something really special about new beginnings. That feeling that you get when you have a totally fresh start is rare and lovely. It was a dark, gloomy day in St. Louis, but as the plane rose over the clouds, it was sunny and blue. My true lack of expectation for what was to come was freeing, and treasured that feeling. Along a soundtrack of Nina Simone and Neil Young, I sat peacefully during the first leg of my journey.
As we landed in grey, industrial Newark, a wave of lightness overcame me. And I was ready.