I’ve always had good luck with flights, more or less. But in 2016, I was grounded
On January 1st, 2016 I was in the U.S. (Jersey City, to be exact), with a simple and straight-forward plan to stay in one place for a couple of months. I could have travelled longer with the money I had, but my South American backpacking trip had made me realize that I wanted more than to see the world. I wanted to see it with someone, and for it to have meaning through new sets of skills. I would concentrate on a career, family, and relationships despite a New England winter.
My family was growing up. All of my siblings were out of the house, and my parents' priorities were finally allowed to shift. They were going out more, and wanted to reconnect with me as a friend. My siblings were either in or just out of college, asking real questions about their lives and realizing how important we all are to each other. My friends were getting married and starting families that I wanted to be there for. And then there’s Chris, my Tinder date.
Chris and I connected immediately, and became important to each other during difficult times. I was failing in my new career and trying to find decent housing in New York City while he went through medical issues he didn’t really want to confront. And while our personalities, sense of humor, and love for life matched up perfectly, we had led distinctly different lives. There I was, confused but content after having travelled thirty countries, loathing my time spent in my hometown while Chris had made a fulfilling life right where he was born. He grew up in New Jersey, went to college in New Jersey, got his first apartment in and then stayed in New Jersey while he commuted to a steady job he’d had for years.
Despite myself, I found I was working less and planning longer term. I usually volunteered to work on films while serving tables, which meant nights and weekends. I found myself asking to work slow Tuesday lunch shifts so Chris and I could spend time together when he got home from his 9-5 job. I turned down work opportunities so my family could all be in one place for the weekend. I was staying put--in New Jersey--despite the freedom to leave at any moment. And despite a shrinking bank account, I found myself content.
It wasn’t long before Chris and I gravitated towards adventure. We went hiking, camping, surfing, and waterfall rappelling. With our few vacation days we went swimming with sea turtles, drove go-karts around tiny islands and discovered jungle waterfalls. We even slept in a "borrowed" tent for one night. By August, we found ourselves on a road trip to Montreal, Canada. I gleefully dusted off my passport and went off to scale the sides of mountains, kayak, and explore old cities. One drunken night, Chris and I got so excited about the future that we purchased flight tickets from Malaysia to Australia. Which makes no sense. The following morning, in the unforgiving sun, Chris and I had a real talk about what we wanted from life, and we decided it was finally time to change things up.
But much like bumpy weather mid-flight, you can’t ignore doctors. Chris was told he’d need to address his medical issues immediately. There was a solution, but it would be expensive and would require three months of recovery. It would be January before we could even think of leaving. The year of 2016 would be over and I would still be grounded.
But here’s the thing: despite wanting to leave, despite having a ticket to Australia (from Malaysia), there was no question I was going to stay in New Jersey. I would stay at my shitty job, move back to my hometown, and still be incredibly happy that I could be there for someone I cared about during difficult times. Chris would be giving up his apartment he’d had for years, leaving a safe and steady job with benefits, and starting a life with a girl he met on Tinder. I was no longer one person, doing whatever I wanted, when I wanted. Last summer I had gone to South America on whim, travelled as long as I wanted, and yet still felt like something was missing. On a couch in my hometown, with a boyfriend recovering from surgery, we watched The Price is Right together, and I was happy.
Now that is not to say that 2017 is going to be more of the same. We’ve already started planning our next flight. By February we hope to be working on a farm in Europe through a farming program called HelpX. We’ll be pulled back to New Jersey (again) for a wedding in the spring, but then we’ll finally be off for Australia.
That’s the plan anyway, provided there’s clear skies and sunny weather ahead. This year has taught me that plans don’t always arrive on time.
Here’s the thing about being grounded. If you’re not whisked away and swept up in the skies—if you’re stuck in one place with rain pounding down on you—things still happen. Maybe you open that book you’ve been planning to read, maybe make some phone calls and catch up with friends. Maybe you spend time reflecting on an important issue you normally wouldn’t, or bond with other passengers as you wait to find out the new gate. You may not be on a beach, but maybe you are where you’re supposed to be.