Monday, July 6, 2009

But why? Why would you do that?

I have this memory of me standing in the airport in Milwaukee back in 1986.  My mom was there, and my brother, and I was about to get on a plane and fly to Africa.  I'd never been out of the country.  I'd never, in my more-or-less adult life, been on a plane.  But there I was, backpack over my shoulder, passport and tickets in hand, bag of Twizzlers packed somewhere handy--there I was, about to get on a jet and fly off for what would eventually become a thirteen-month trip.  I was twenty years old.  My hair was longish (pre-mullet style, known as the "soccer cut" back then; very 80s, very chic!), I weighed all of 160 pounds (at 6-2).  I listened to U-2 and had an earring.  I thought I was awesome.  And damn, was I smart.  Smartest dumb-ass kid to fly out of the midwest in ages.  I might as well have had a sign on my back:  "Mug him.  He's easy."  

I couldn't wait to get on the plane.  And my mom, she was crying.  Why was she crying?  Didn't she understand how cool I was?  Didn't she get how much fun this was going to be?  I was going to Africa!  I was gonna talk swahili!  I was going to impress the world with my hard-earned, life on the suburban streets, only fools listen to Bob Seeger wisdom.  Damn, woman, can't you see that?  

Of course, she knew what she was talking about--or crying about:  I was twenty, skinny, dumb, her youngest son.  In the next two months I would get lost at two airports (actually, that was in the next 36 hours), get some kind of disease that would require tylenol or have me sweating in bed every night for the next two years, sleep on a jail-house floor or two, almost lose my virginity (I know:  20 and a v-chip holder.  How sad is that?) to a comely belle from South Carelina (three syllables, not four), climb Kilimanjaro, tossing my Oreos the whole way, almost ride a motorcycle across Tanzania, subsist on nothing but bananas, canned fish, and beer for an entire weekend, lose 30 pounds off my already bony frame--and all of that just in Africa.  After that I'd head up to Europe and tick off more posh brits and leaderhosen-wearing poseurs than you can shake a pint glass at.  I'd trade on the black market in Russia (who didn't, back then?), fall in love, like, 23 thousand times (who doesn't, at 20?), start a rock band and sign with a major label (okay, that part's a lie) and spend all of dear mom's retirement money (sadly, true, that bit).  

Anyhow, she knew what the hell she was doing, shedding tears on my Bon Jovi t-shirt as we stood there by the airport gate, waiting for my boarding call.  I was a confirmed idiot.  I had not a clue.  I just did it.  

Fast forward 23 years.  Six weeks from tomorrow, I'm getting on an airplane again, in Milwaukee, and heading off to Hong Kong for a year.  I'm 43 now, married, with three kids--all of whom are coming with.  The oldest is 8.  The youngest is 2.  

Knowing what I know now, why would I do that?  

Note:  This blog is a personal blog and in no way reflects the views of the Fulbright Foundation, Hostess Cupcakes, or any other body or person or organization who are near and dear to my heart.  

No comments: