It Becomes Real


I’m home for Thanksgiving, sitting on the sofa editing some work. Dad’s in the rust colored Lazy-Boy and Mom’s on the red leather sofa. They flank me. I’ve given Dad the spiel, told him where I’m headed, yes, I’m selling my car, of course I’ll get travel insurance. But Mom wasn’t there for that conversation. She settles in. I’m navigating through African safaris online.

“What are you looking at?”

“Safari trips in Africa.” I can feel her brows raise beside me on the sofa. It’s like lifting up the Berlin Wall. I sense it, but I don’t give in, don’t yield to the suddenly charged air in the room.

“Oh, where are you going?” I name the far-away countries, sprinting right through Rwanda so she doesn’t have time to think about the Hutus and Tutsis. It will be hard to remind her that that genocide occurred back in 1992. Her baby was only 12 then. Then, the litany of questions that Dad has already run through. Yes, I’m selling my car. Yes, I’ll get a car loan when I get back. Sure, I’ll drive a Pinto. Of course, I’ll find a property manager. No, Shana’s not going with me anymore. Heavy pause. Pregnant pause—longer than if I told them I was pregnant. I knew once Shana met Jim, she wouldn’t go with me, I said. And actually, truth be told, I continued, I’m excited about going alone. No compromises, no arguments, no making sure you’re not stepping on someone else’s toes. I’m excited. But my mother isn’t. No, she isn’t, she confirms. Did I mention I was going to Rwanda?

This conversation with my parents, coupled with the chat with my Principal: Oh, I don’t care if you’re going. I’m leaving, too. Make sure you fill out the correct forms. Don’t say you’re traveling. They’ll never grant you a leave of absence. Tell them you’re going back to school. Sure, Larry, school of worldly vagabonding. The seven month To Do List, including drafting a living trust, shooting myself up with vaccinations, checking out loans, querying friends and co-workers for money which they might otherwise dole out to me in the form of a bridal, batchelorette, wedding, baby shower. Cough it up, suckers. You got a ring. I’m getting the world. All this is making the trip very real. I lay awake at night dreaming of the dirt in Africa. It will infiltrate my ears, my eyes, the folds of my shorts and my skin. No white shirts, the guidebooks all say. Scratch the white tank top off the packing list. Emails about volunteering in Nepal and visions of being ambushed in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, as tourists and their guides were in 1999, float lazily behind closed eyelids. One year of airplanes and no long-term friends and a crappy pillow. And I’ve talked about it forever. Talked, talked, talked. Now I was doing it. I’d told my parents. Made an itinerary. Priced out flights. Decided I’d have to get a loan. It was worth being poor for a while. This is worth it, I tell myself, every time I watch a pregnant colleague rub her jostling belly. I’d take out two loans to do this. Nine loans to see the world before—if ever—my belly pooched with another life in it. I’d see the world before I brought something into the world. Do something for myself—live for myself, for the world while I could.
It’s another late night of daydreaming under the comforters. I wish I could just fall asleep already. But now I’m thinking of Australia in December, the warm beaches and the glistening sun. So San Diego. Maybe a crush will meet me there. We’ll dive the Barrier Reef together, recline on long white towels sipping frozen daiquiris while our toes play in the sand. He’ll say he’s missed me. I’ll say something witty. Something he’s longed to hear from me since I left seven months earlier. I’ve missed you, he’d say again, roll onto his side into the sand, grab my hand, profess his love.
It’s far-fetched, I know. I’m even a bit repulsed by it. And he has a girlfriend. But I’m a writer and my mind hatches plots faster than Al Queda. The scenario is not impossible, I know. Just highly unlikely. Is this why I want to go? So I’ll be missed? No one is going to profess their love to me at any point, I’m well aware, but I get to thinking about what my best friend, Heather said. You’ll be worse than married, she’d said over the phone after she told me that another of our friends bit the dust—pregnant not even six months after her wedding. And Danielle will come back from her trip engaged, probably, she’d said. Good thing we’re both single and I have my period, I said. But you’ll be gone, she’d said. Won’t even be able to call or see you. But I’ll be back, I said. In a year. And they’ll never be back from the dark side. Married till death do us part. And they can’t get rid of the kids till they’re eighteen.
But she was right. I was leaving it all.


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