To be honest, I am not sure why I don’t write about this day more often. In the grand scheme of things, this day isn’t much different than other days spent traveling, yet there are very few days that impact my life in such a profound way, and the 18th of September is one of them.
I woke up in my childhood bed; the queen-sized, princess fortress that I transitioned into at three when I out-grew my crib. Since it’s over twenty-one years old, it’s been beaten down and seen better days. I remember ripping out one of the lacey details of the headboard, after swinging from it, and walking shamefully into my family room to show my father the damage. The broken eyelet wood carving lived behind my bed, for what must have been 5+ years, until I discovered wood glue in the homes storage cabinet and fastened it back to the bed––I will never understand how no one thought of that fix before me.
Since then, my mother surprised me with a mature makeover to the room. Where my she and my father fixed up the broken bed frame (which happened because of years and years of jumping up the pile of mattresses that still to this day hit above my hips) and gave it a fresh coat of paint, in order to hide all the markings that my dirty, destructive fingers left behind.
I had spent the week packing and unpacking the two suitcases that I had stuffed full of everything I thought I would need for the three months I would be away. That included a Costco-sized tub of Jiff Peanut Butter, Lush Shampoo and Conditioner bar that was supposed to last the entire time, an assortment of sweaters, Peter-Pan collared shirts, dresses, jeans, and leggings. I packed two pairs of penny-loafers, my Doc Martens, actually make that two pairs of Doc Martens, and god knows what else I packed because most importantly I held on to my emerald green Lands End peacoat as my parents drove me to Reginal Southwest International Airport.
I am sure I was anxious. I am almost every morning before a flight, not because I am scared of flying, but I am nervous about missing a flight. Because of that I always ask my dad “what time should I be there if my flight is at xx: xx” and whatever time he says, I add anywhere to a half-an-hour to an hour onto whatever his time was. For example, my flight is leaving at 15:30, which means boarding will begin around 3:00 and my dad gives himself 30 minutes for security, so that means he thinks I should be there around 2:30, “with plenty of time,” so I say we get there around 1:30 or 2:00pm.
We said our good-byes, and I watched them at the top of the terminal continuously wave as I snake through security and glance back up at them. I passed my tickets and my passport to the TSA agent and placed my carry-on suitcase and duffle-purse on to the x-ray machine carousel, leaving my coat in the muted gray, plastic bin and stepped through the body scanner.
No beeps? Smooth sailing. I wave a final goodbye to my parents as they were practically out of sight and then notice my bag is pulled for inspection. “Do you have a candle in here miss?” I freeze, I am a lover of all things candles, but I don’t recall packing any as I am technically not allowed candles. Confused, I say no, “Anything, pillar-shaped?” I shake my head no, but he carries on with the search. After a few moments of digging inside my precisely packed bag with his neon blue gloves, he pulls out my peanut-butter. “This is considered a cream or liquid, and it over the three-ounce limit.”
It was the first defeat of the day, how would I survive in England? I heard they don’t have peanut butter!
I said a traumatizing good-bye and called my parents to let them know they confiscated my peanut butter. “Oh, Hannah,” my mother confessed, ” I had no idea you packed it in your carry-on, I would have told you not to.” To which I replied, “Yeah, but I had a weight-limit on my checked bag, I figured it would weigh too much.”
Leaving behind my peanut-butter and defeat, I boarded my first flight to Chicago O’Hare Airport, an airport I have flown to practically every year since I was nine months old. I knew the airport like the back of my hand, so I thought, but our flight was a bit delayed when it came to arrival, so I ended up speed-walking the length of the airport, worrying I would miss my connection. I was so frazzled that I actually went in the wrong direction first, and then had to run back the way I came to find my gate. When I got there, the gate lice, I mean the people who stood around waiting for the gate agent to call group 3 before she even announced priority boarding, were swarming the perimeter.
I boarded and took my spot on the plane. It was a two-three-two plane, and I was in the aisle of the three-seater center. It was dated like I stepped into the nineties and they replaced the telephones in the seat with little monitors for watching television. It was my first international flight, but I had been on flights with Direct TV before, so I wondered what was to come of this adventure.
As more and more people funneled in, I notice the seats to the right of me were remaining empty. There was one man, most likely in his early to late twenties that caught my eye (I wish I had my journal in New York because I know I wrote about him on the plane). He took his seat in the rows ahead of me, but I was wishing he was the one sitting next to me. As the flight-attendants sweep through the cabin for a final check, I see him stand. He was five rows ahead of me, and the man next to him stood as well. He clenched his backpack in his hand and walked up to my row. “Mind if I sit here?”
I was excited about having a row to myself, but at least it was the cutest man on the plane that wanted to share my lonesome row with me, plus we both had a middle seat to leave our stuff in. We talked for a little bit of the flight. He was a Ph.D. student heading to an environmental engineering site in Sweden, and suddenly my “study abroad story” felt so insignificant, however, wherever this man may be, I wish him the best considering he asked the flight attendant for another breakfast for me since I was asleep.
It was an eight-hour flight, they played a rotation of movies on different channels which meant if you picked one and finished it, odds were the next channel you flipped to would show you either the end of the movie, or you’d have just missed twenty-minutes of the beginning.
We landed around 5:55 am, and of course United flew into terminal 2 of Heathrow, but I needed to make my way to terminal 5. I opted to stay at the airport until noon because our study abroad program arranged for a bus to take everyone to their flats. Lo and behold, six hours turned into not leaving the terminal until 4:00pm, but first I needed to navigate the miles of tunnels underground between terminal 2 and our pick up spot of terminal 5. Of course, I know now there are free shuttle trains for travel between Terminal 5 station and Heathrow Central station (terminal 2), but I ended up walking a vast majority of it somehow.
Even though I spent the entire day at Heathrow airport, I managed to meet some of my roommates, fellow classmates, and made friendships that have lasted longer than the majority of my college acquaintances. I had no idea what lessons I would learn from my study abroad time, and I can’t wait to fully articulate what September 18, 2015, meant to me, but I know I am forever indebted for my decision to hop on a plane and spend the remainder of 2015 living in the United Kingdom.
Because most importantly, as I drenched my body in the vibrant, emerald green colors of my Lands End peacoat while the plane touched down in London, I felt like myself for the first time.
Three years before London, together, my mother and I picked out this jacket during a winter sale on the Lands End. I bought it for my first year in Colorado, where I was going to make a name for myself. But when I arrived, I felt like I stood out in the Patagonia Disneyland that was Boulder, so I never wore it. It was in London that this coat became my favorite item to own, something that felt like a true identifier of my heart, and I wore the emerald green with pride. Now, I find myself gravitating towards the color because I can’t help but connect it to pure happiness––which may be why my regal reading and writing armchairs in my apartment are a similar color.