I held the pink, laminated reusable boarding pass in my hand, rubbing my finger over its bubbled edges. The weight shifted in my backpack as I re-situated it on my shoulders and picked up my laptop case. I handed my paper ticket to a woman behind the metal fence and walked along the concrete to the plane’s steps.
No security checkpoint and no overhead storage bins awaited me. My ears would not be alerted by an announcement that the plane was about to lift off. I could reach into the cockpit and touch the pilot. I could hold hands with nearly everyone on the plane without having to leave my seat.
Though it felt like the 1940s, it was 2015, and I was leaving the place I’d learned to call home.
I was saying goodbye to an island whose people, simplicity, and natural beauty I’d come to love.
And yet, at that moment, I wanted to be away from people, floating on a cloud among the birds of the sky. I wanted to be free but have all the answers, I wanted to feel loved and worthy and adored, and I wanted the fissure in my heart to be miraculously healed.
As the plane took flight, I leaned against the thick, sweating window glass, trying to become invisible. I didn’t want to look outside because that meant accepting the daunting truth that those turquoise blue waters I’d come to know would no longer be present in my daily life. I didn’t want to look down because then I’d see that I was moving away from those white sand beaches of quiet isolation, not toward them.
I didn’t want to look out the window because then I might see my reflection, and that would feel like staring into the face of someone I didn’t know.
Instead, I closed my eyes tight and hugged my backpack to my chest, trying to shield my face from the other passengers on this 14-seater plane, trying to hide my pain. But the tears falling down my cheeks coupled with my silent sobs gave me away to the man sitting across the two-foot aisle from me.
Wordlessly, he removed a tissue from his bag. I was burying my brokenness into the nylon cover of my travel backpack when he tapped me on the shoulder. I raised my head a couple inches to see the tissue dangling by my cheek.
The stranger on the plane smiled at me.
Without saying anything, I took the tissue and wiped my eyes and runny nose. I crumpled it into a ball for later use and then made eye contact with the man. My lips turned up ever so slightly, a genuine smile but one that took effort nonetheless.
The stranger on the plane nodded his head and turned to look forward, giving me privacy to process my feelings.
His kindness reminded me that I am not and should not feel alone in this world, and that I am also allowed to have my feelings–no questions asked.
I didn’t know that the next two years of my life would be the hardest two years of my 29 years. I didn’t know that they would also be the most rewarding.
I didn’t fully understand all that I was leaving behind, that it was a testament of self-love to jump headfirst into this new unknown–lost, scared, confused, sad, lonely, depressed, anxious, and in that moment, so very broken-hearted.
I didn’t fully grasp that taking this first step on the next part of my journey would, in time, prove to be one of the most valuable and meaningful chapters of my life.
It took me two years to recognize that abandoning the island life to chase opportunities in the city was one of the most courageous things I have ever done. Two years and I realized that leaving that island home–one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done–was also one of the most loving things I could ever do for myself.
I am not, I was not fearless. But I did stare fear in the face while navigating an increasingly rocky path to become the incredibly self-aware woman I am today.
If you asked me if I’d do it all over again, I don’t know that I’d say yes. But if you asked me if the loneliness, heartache, and utter confusion were worth it, I’d look you in the eyes and tell you that believing in myself and knowing who I am and what I want in life is my biggest achievement, and I have those feelings to thank for that.