Thursday, November 18, 2010

How I almost missed my flight home from Germany

I sit here and think: “has it been a dream?” It could have been… I will not touch, see, or feel these things again any time soon. Not the way I did.
The goodbyes cling to my mind as pieces of something that I never grasped, and just left hanging in the air. My body believes it, my eyes convince me, but my mind is having some trouble telling me that I really am back home. I’m back, but I’m not entirely back. A piece of me got left behind. It was not meant to be this way… I was so happy before coming. My friends could almost swear I had a half-face smile when saying I was going back home, especially after one tough year.
Now that I’m here, everything is like a big illusion. I’m the one out of place; things are not how they are supposed to be. What’s wrong with me? I’m supposed to be so happy. So much I can’t handle it. But for all the sadness I couldn’t feel or show in my pre-return to home, I got to feel it now that I am truly back.
As it happens with most things, it strikes me a little bit later. “Laugh with others, and cry alone” Suat had said. In presence of others I smiled because I was so happy just thinking I was going home. Once in the airplane, and with no looking back, I cried. I cried alone, hoping no one would ask, no one would care. I cried because it was serious now, the fact I wouldn’t see many of these people again, or at least, not any time soon; but most of all, I cried because I didn’t get to have a real good-bye.
It started with a party the night before my flight. We watched a movie, ate pizza, drank a bit (of course we couldn’t get drunk the night before my flight!!) We danced so much, we laughed, took pictures, and had a lot of fun. When everyone left, I did the rest of my packing, last few things I needed to get in my suitcase. Also, I needed to fit the presents: a few kilos of books and chocolate. It took me forever. I couldn’t concentrate. I was too slow. I hadn’t slept, and I didn’t sleep. It was 8 am before I was ready. I had to leave many things behind and throw away a great deal. I was supposed to meet Suat and the guys at 7:30 at the metro stop, but they didn’t wait for me. By the time Juliana, the new Aupair for the Jaecker family and my companion in my last week in Frankfurt, and I got to the stop, there was no one there, and I didn’t have my cellphone. We got to the airport at 9 a.m., and the flight was at 10:40 a.m. Juliana helped me with my luggage; without her I wouldn’t have made it to the airport. I tried to check in and the machine wouldn’t read my ticket. A Lufthansa lady tried to help us with the machine. Then she directed us to another counter. We went to the service counter and the lady there said my ticket was invalid. She told me to go to another counter, to see if they could help me, because she couldn’t do anything to help me. As I hurried to the counter the lady had directed, I saw Suat, with Daniel, Vanessa, Wadan, Sirak, and Carola. Suat came with me to the counter. The man there said I couldn’t fly with the ticket, it was impossible. My ticket was a round trip: Dallas-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Dallas. What happens is, when you don’t take the first flight, the second one is automatically cancelled. I hadn’t taken the first flight, because I was already there… He said:
-          “I don’t know why so many people do that! It is not allowed. No airline accepts that. You can’t fly with this ticket, it is invalid and I can’t do anything with it.”
I only stared. I couldn’t believe it. I pictured Chrisi, my host-mother, who a few days before joked with me about not losing my flight. I couldn’t speak, I didn’t want to. I knew a one-way flight would cost a fortune. Suat noticed and spoke up.
-          “And how much does it cost one-way?”
The man couldn’t believe Suat was asking. He gave him a “are you crazy?” look and said
-          “It’s really expensive”.
-          “Well, how much?” – Suat repeated.
-         ” Three thousand and bla bla …” -  I stopped listening
I didn’t want to know how much it really was. I started crying. Not in a dramatic loud way. I just let the tears fall to the sides of my cheeks.
-          “Is it possible to pay the difference?” Suat asked
The man looked at Suat in disbelief, like saying “you are not the kind of person who could pay the price for this flight”. Seeing the desperation in our faces he finally answered.
-     “Yes, but it would be two thousand bla bla… It is really expensive.” – He looked at us as if we were hopeless.
My imagination was playing with me. I wouldn’t go home now. I could see me going back to my one-year home, with my 3 suitcases. Hating myself, hating the house for being it, and not my home what would stand before my eyes.
I could hear the voice of the man in the background. I saw his lips moving and I understood what he said but I didn’t want it to be true. In his expression I could tell he believed I wasn’t flying anymore. Not today. I could read a big sign on his forehead that said “I feel so sorry for you guys”. I thought of my mom, waiting on the other side of the world. I thought of calling her, saying “Mom, I don’t know how much longer I have to stay in Germany, maybe until I can afford a ticket back”.
I snapped away for a moment when the man asked:
-          “Who’s idea was this? How did it occur to you?”
-          “My parents” – I replied in a low voice, but I couldn’t bring myself to speak anymore than what was asked. I couldn’t even ask for a little mercy.
I was so relieved that Suat was there, otherwise I would have stood there like an idiot in silence. My head spun. I wanted to close my eyes, go to sleep. I wished to wake up in reality, not in this nightmare. “What should I do now?” I thought to myself. Last week, it took forever to get a form from the German Department of Foreign Affairs that allowed me to stay in Germany until August 7th (it was August 6th). It gave me a headache to think I had to go back and say “Emmm… I couldn’t fly home, can I get some more days in Germany?” – Then I would probably get a juicy fine, because my visa was already expired. It had been for four days… that is why I needed the letter saying I still had the chance to be there until a couple more days.
-          “Is there another option?” – Suat demanded. The guy thought about it for a moment. Then he finally said:
-          “I could check in last-minute flights” – He dialed a number and couldn’t get through. Then he said they were always busy and was hard to get a connection with them.
-          “Thanks for the hope”, I thought… He finally got through the line with someone and told us:
-          “You guys are lucky, there is a flight for 377 Euros. Go to this counter at the end of the hall, give them this paper, tell them I sent you. They will be waiting for you.”
-          “Thank you, thank you so much” – I thought I said, or maybe it was Suat who said it. Maybe I just said it in my mind. I was so out of it.
-          “Guys, run! You have to hurry!” – and the man sent us away.
There was a lady waiting for us at the counter. She looked at us as children who’ve just missed a punishment from their parents.
-          “You are lucky. Are you paying in cash?” –  My eyes widened. My heart sank. I had no money. Not even an account I could balance as soon as I got to the U.S. I had nothing. He saved me once again, Suat suggested:
-          “Can we pay with a credit card?”
-          “NO…” – I almost passed out. There was no way my friends would gather that much cash with what they had there. – “Unless it’s from Germany” – I heard myself sigh. I stared at Suat, he said “Don’t worry” with his eyes. Then he turned to Wadan, our friend from Afhanistan. Wadan handed out his credit card. The lady demanded an ID, but Wadan didn’t have one. Suat offered his.
-          “I’ll pay you back” – I said.
-          “If you want to catch your flight, you need to run. NOW! You must leave your card and ID here, but I need you two guys to come back and fill all the paperwork” – and she looked at Suat and Wadan with a menacing look. – “Now GO!!   Straight ahead! Check-in in the shortest line you see. HURRY!!”
Vanessa, Sirak, Daniel, and Carola were taking care of my luggage. I barely looked at them, I was passing out. I was still crying, nervous. I wanted to die. I wanted to wake up.
My hands were trembling before the check-in machine, and it wouldn’t read my ticket again. The same lady who had helped me with the machine minutes before, and had sent me to the “Lufthansa Service Counter” was there. She recognized me, and I tried to explain the story to her (she couldn’t understand why I was trying to check-in again when I should have done it at the service counter, about an hour ago!). She pressed whatever special code was given in my new ticket and finally reached me the boarding pass. I still needed to check my baggage in. I read the last-minute baggage policy and saw that it was 10 kg less than for a normal ticket. I started worrying even more and my headache just grew stronger. I took out a two kilo book and gave it to Juliana. I told her to put it with the other stuff I had left behind, that I was hoping I would get back some day. I could only pray the luggage wouldn’t be a problem. Thank God! The lady didn’t pay much attention to the weight of my suitcase. I saw her make a call to someone from the airplane saying she still had two bags for Dallas. I felt just a tiny bit relieved. She looked at something on her computer screen and after hanging up the phone she said:
-          Oh, one more thing: there is another flight to Dallas with a scale in Boston. It’s a couple hours later, but if you offer to take it instead, you get 600 Euros from Lufthansa. You just have to clear it up at The Gate. But you do need to ask about it, because you are on stand-by, and you don’t have a seat.
Sure, I wouldn’t mind flying a bit later. I would only need to call Mom and say: “Hey, I’ll be there a couple hours later”.
But my head was still spinning. I was still crying. I had put my sunglasses earlier because I didn’t want the others to see me cry. I couldn’t even look at them in the eyes. I could hardly even lift my head up, even now when  it seemed as if everything would be fine, that I would have a little more time, and that I didn’t have to run to catch my plane. All I had to do was just take the next one, and be rewarded for it. I would have the time to say good-bye and thank-you to my friends properly, in peace, calmly. I would hug each one for one last time. I would feel the one year that passed with a different story, by hugging each special friend.
I knew something would go wrong. I knew in my heart it wasn’t going to turn out like I wanted to. Even with the Our Fathers and Hail Marys I kept praying in my head.
Suat was happy, he said:
-          “See, they will reward you for departing later. There is a Muslim saying “There is always a good reward for people who are good”. You see, everything will be OK.
I still wasn’t speaking much. In my head, I said to myself “this is not over yet, we can’t sing victory”. But I didn’t feel like saying it out loud. Wadan carried my carry-on bag at my side.
Once at the gate, we asked about the offer. The man there didn’t know, he said we needed to clear it up with Lufthansa “there” at the counter, which made it sound near. I went through the gate, not taking my bag. I was thinking “I’ll ask quick and come back and get it”. My friends called. Oh yes, my bag. I hardly looked at them, and just grabbed the bag from them. I still had my glasses on. They couldn’t even see my eyes. Those eyes which minutes before had told Suat I couldn’t take my glasses off because I hadn’t done my make-up that morning.
They stood there at the gate, waiting. And I… I left thinking I would have two more hours to say good-bye.
Once through the gate I asked the first person I saw about the offer. She said to ask at any counter. I went through control, fearing I might not be able to go back. But even then, I didn’t dare look to where my friends stood. It didn’t even occur to me. My head was a mess. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t think. At the counter they sent me to the end of the hall, the very end (where the gate to my plane was). As it seemed, it wasn’t true about “any counter”. It had to be “the counter”, and it was really far away. Or so it seemed. The hall appeared to be infinite to me. As straight as it was, it was a maze before my eyes. Colors and shapes were blurry. I didn’t want to do this, to be there. Most of all, I didn’t want to feel this. I felt like play-dough. Someone was messing with me, or messing me up! I was being shaped in so many ways; so many different shapes, maybe to see what I could handle. And I couldn’t put resistance, just accept the pressure coming from all sides. I felt so fragile, but I wasn’t braking. I was whole. Yes sir, I was all there, but being deformed until I couldn’t take it anymore; perhaps until nothing of me would me left, nothing but an unrecognizable shape. I imagined my head being squeezed between two big fingers. They pressed so hard, like waiting for me to give up. My head was about to explode.
It was 10:30 a.m., and my plane was leaving at 10:40. I reached the counter and blurted out the thing about the offer… The lady said it had been taken already. Shit! I had to board now. The picture of my friends popped into my mind, and flooded me with a streak of sadness. But I had known it somehow, and for a few seconds I thought I didn’t care, as long as I got into that airplane. I showed my ticket and my passport. As the lady studied it, the phone at her desk rang. She answered it and said “Yes, she’s in front of me”, and took a quick glance at me. She handed me the phone. For a moment, I thought it might be Suat, asking if I was alright, if I would be able to board.
A female voice was my great disappointment.
-          “Where are your friends? No one came back to pay. You can’t do that! You can’t just fly and not pay for your ticket!” – it took me a minute to react… it was the lady with the credit card and the ID.
-          “They’re at the gate”
-          “At what gate?”
I had forgotten all my German. I didn’t know how to explain it to her… which words to use…
-          “The gate. They were waiting for me. I think they’re still there, waiting…”
-          “Well, they need to come. Give me their numbers.”
-          “I don’t have them.”
-         ” They’re your friends and you don’t have their phone numbers? I don’t believe that.  What kind of friends are th…”
-          “I left my cell phone. I had all my numbers there. I don’t know them by heart.”
-          “How convenient. It’s too weird you don’t have their numbers. Do you know at least your home phone?”
-          “No…” I said. I tried to explain – “I left my cell phone ” -  (and all the numbers with it, and it went kaputt a couple days ago, by-the-way, which was too long of a story and too coincidental…) -  “because I’m flying back home and I don’t need it anymore. I’m not coming back.”
-          “Well you’re not even going to be able to board without a number. I trusted you, I let you go catch your plane and you are not even paying for it…” – She sighed, and then continued -”OK. Hold on. Did you say you lived in Frankfurt?”
-          “Yes, one year…?”
-          “Give me your address”
That was the one thing I knew by heart. I told her.
-          “But if your friends don’t come back, I’m calling the police. I trusted you.”
-          “They will be there. They’ll come back. If you can, please call at the gate, they will see a group of about 6 young people.”
Still, the lady did not sound very happy and told me to hand the phone to the lady at the desk. I did as told and noticed the lady on the line still said something. The desk lady just stared at my clueless face.
Not sure whether I would be home that day, I looked toward the empty tunnel leading to the airplane. Everyone had boarded except for me. I stared back, as if asking “Will everything be OK? Will you let me board?”
The lady finally signaled me to go through. I showed my passport and ticket. They gave me a seat. I was really going through the tunnel, and it was exaclty 10:40 a.m. My seat was already taken, but I didn’t care. I was in the airplane. A flight attendant guided me to another seat, one in the middle.
I sat. I took a breath… and cried uncontrollably. I hoped no one would notice or stare. I didn’t want anybody to care or ask. I feared a flight attendant would come and ask me if I was sick. But I cried in silence and no one noticed. I cried for not saying good-bye,  because I didn’t have a last glance of my true friends, because I didn’t even talk to them that day for being absolutely knocked out of my feet. I cried because they waited there, hoping I would come back to say good-bye. I had stood them up. A voice told me they would understand. Yet still, I couldn’t forgive myself for being so stupid, and so na├»ve. How did I think that once through the gate I would come back? I knew I couldn’t… I knew I wouldn’t…
I cried for the year gone by, for all I didn’t cry before…
My return to home was something I had pictured as exciting, fun, and unforgettable. The only thing I was right about was the unforgettable part. The fun part I even threw away, when I discarded the joke I wanted to play my mother, in which I would wear a blue wig when arriving to Dallas. I would have a laugh while looking at my mother’s confused and surprised expression.
What an excitement…  I sunk in my tears for an eternal moment… until my eyes didn’t sink into tears anymore, but into sleep. I woke up an hour and a half before landing. My mom picked me up at the airport. Everything was still blurry… in my head.
I felt numb. I told my mom the “adventure” and burst out crying again.
The feeling of home did not reach me, but an indescribable numbness came instead, as if nothing had flavor… as if nothing had color. I couldn’t stop thinking about the friends I left behind. I was grateful I was home, don’t get me wrong. I was simply restless. The worse thing about the whole matter is that nothing had really happened to me. I got there. Everything was fine. Everything was normal. I caught my flight.
But something about me had changed and I knew it. This feeling took over me, a feeling that the dream had been over. As if this year in Germany had not passed. Yet I knew in my heart, that nothing would ever be the same again…

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