The Point of No Return

Well at least, for a year.

MY PARENTS TOOK ME to the San Francisco airport on January 17, a Saturday, so I could catch the flight to Hong Kong. I was so nervous. Even though I had traveled overseas alone before, through Hong Kong, New York and Paris, this was different. I worried every few minutes or so about every detail like a consummate neurotic, from how I would fill out my customs form when I landed, to whether I had enough cash in Hong Kong dollars, to whether my taxi driver would be able to find my hotel all right, and how I would be able to set up phone and Internet access, and then if I couldn’t get connected to the Internet or call anyone, how utterly, totally, completely lost I would feel in a foreign country. After checking in at Cathay Pacific, where a surly attendant told me to lighten my carry-on baggage under the weight limit, thereby forcing me to empty out the contents in public to other duffel bags while she watched in impatience, my mom, dad and brother sat down with me for a cappuccino just before the security gate. My heart beat fast and I felt like I had to pee while I sipped my espresso, as if I needed another stimulant to jumble my nerves. When my family walked me to the security checkpoint, it looked like a walled city, fortified with glass panels separating the queue lines of weary passengers from relatives and friends outside who stood around longing to be with the travelers but could not. The crowds parted to let boarding pass-wielding passengers walk through the center, like a religious procession. I dragged my carryon suitcase behind me down the aisle, wishing I could say something smart but ended up only saying something trite — “see you in one year!” — before my family each hugged me goodbye, and when I turned my back on them I felt a tingling sensation like I wanted to cry, because I knew I couldn’t promise I’d be back for a while, but I didn’t have time for that as I walked through the security gate, carrying my plane ticket to a new and exciting future. When I looked back, just once, I couldn’t see my family anymore, and I knew this was the point of no return.