Here I am at the Bucharest International Airport in Romania, about 250 miles away from my hometown and in half a day I will be thousands of miles away from my family. This is my first time flying and I am traveling alone. The airport terminal seems small and overpopulated but the surrounding areas and runways seem endless. I try to organize my thoughts but I can barely hear myself think over the sounds of commotion and disorder coming from the frantic flyers. I take a seat in front of the busy terminal, getting excited and scared at the same time. I know some things about planes and how they operate but not enough to rid me of the knot in my stomach. Some would refer to this knot merely as butterflies.
After pacing up and down the main floor a few times, I finally gather the courage to walk away from the sweet smell of pie, panettone and coffee coming from the nearby cafe and make my way towards the terminal. I aggressively move past the crowd of people who seem systematically confused. I curiously observe them try to make up their minds about which queue leads where, which worker is most worthy of their attention, and how they can maneuver themselves amongst this chaos in order get to their terminals the fastest. As I step towards the help desk, I hear announcements in languages I can barely recognize, I see people hugging and saying their goodbyes, and I see a stream of movement of people tugging along luggage larger than their own bodies. All of this made my head spin faster than leaves caught in a tornado.
Avalanches of thoughts are beginning to blanket my mind but I push them aside. I don’t want to have any doubts that could alter the decision that I’ve already made. It was a tough decision, one that was going to turn my life upside down. I was about to start a new life in a foreign country, thousands of miles away from my birthplace. Leaving everything behind was not an easy task. I had to say goodbye to my family, my friends, and to all the wonderful experiences I had back home. I reassure myself that I am here in the airport for a reason and I must go on.
As I approach the help desk, I started to feel disoriented. Everything feels surreal, almost dream-like. I begin to question myself. Am I really in an airport? Am I really ready to board this plane and embark on a journey that will change my life forever? All of a sudden, I feel very lonely and afraid that I will not overcome these irrational feelings. If these feelings are going to accompany me for the next 14 hours, I will be a nervous wreck by the time I get to the USA. I ake a deep breath and give the passenger beside me a warm smile, hoping for a little conversation.
I am at the counter now getting my boarding pass. As I unzip the pocket of my carry-on bag and reach for my boarding pass, I realize that I should cherish every moment of my journey. I don’t need to panic but I do need to fully live out this moment and appreciate its worth. As I realize this is no longer a fantasy, I hurriedly shuffle my feet towards the gate. Before I know it, I am in the plane.
Friendly flight attendants direct passengers to their seats. I feel lucky to get a window seat, which makes me glad because I can see the outside of the plane now. I am looking around for a better view of the interior of the plane and the people with whom I will share this flight. Then I notice that, except for the flight attendants, nobody has smiles on their faces and I wonder why is this so. The seat is as cold as ice against my back and my short-sleeve shirt wasn’t helping. My mother was right, I should have worn my sweater instead of placing instead of storing it in the overhead luggage compartment. Despite my surroundings looking new, shiny and in place, I don’t feel very comfortable. Some of the passengers look nervous, and other seem to be at peace with themselves. From my perspective, people are unusually quiet and minding their own business, except for the drooling baby in front of me crying for his mother’s attention. A female flight attendant walks to the auditory control board and pushes a button, which initiates the video playback of instructions designed for the case of an emergency evacuation. The serious message sends a chill through my body and vivid images through my mind. I silently curse my illustrious imagination as I watch the man in the video blow up his hypothetical life jacket. In my head, I picture myself helpless as the plane splashes into the ocean and water rapidly fills the seats. At this point the butterflies I felt earlier in my stomach felt more like a mixture of deer, buffalos and rodeo-bulls.
Finally, the plane is ready for takeoff. The noise from the engines is progressing from a humming to a deafening roar. The plane rolls along as it tries to catch the speed necessary for takeoff. I feel adrenaline pumping through my body. Fear and excitement engulf me, reminding me of the first time I rode a bike. The plane leaves the ground and shoots like a bullet through the sky. I feel like only my outer body is following the motion of the plane and all of my internal organs have dropped somewhere on the ground. I look out the window and see my city float away before my eyes. I feel like the plane is at an awkward angle but deep inside I know this is a normal procedure required in order to get the proper altitude. I remember how my favorite cartoons depicted takeoffs and it did not seem to be funny anymore. We reach the clouds and their pure white color and fluffiness brought me a feeling of calm. As soon as we were above the clouds, the plane returned to its horizontal position.
Everybody in the plane lets out a sigh of relief. I immediately realize that it wasn’t my organs but rather the fear I was experiencing that stayed on the ground. It wasn’t my outer body but rather my excitement and anticipation to arrive that soared with the plane. I remember all the things I learned about American culture. I remember the funny conversations I had with my Romanian pen pals in the USA and the things I wrote to him in English. The pilot managed a successful takeoff. A split second later I realize that I was too a pilot. At this point, I knew that my takeoff would be successful as well.