Homecoming (Part III)

This is part three of a story the first and second parts of which you can read here and here, respectively.

How is it possible that I do not have a ticket home, or to Kansas City, the closest thing I have to home at this free falling stage of life? The airline ticket agents sure don’t know. All they know is that we’re in May and the month on the ticket I’m holding is July.

I imagine how I must look to them. Bewildered, sweaty, limping as I jerk an army green duffel bag and a ripped open tote around the ticket line. Is this the kind of thing they see every day? I decide that it is.

The exchange at the mercifully empty ticket counter is long enough for me to piece this puzzle together. This was the plan, back in January, after I had surprised absolutely no one by proposing to my college sweetheart during her one visit of the year: get married in July, the month before she starts medical school. Because my volunteer posting is supposed to last until August, I’ll need to get permission to leave early, and I’ll need to stay as long as possible. So leave a week before the wedding date? Sure. I made the arrangements with the denomination’s travel agent for an early July flight from Belfast to Kansas City, a mere formality to precede the nuptials that would inaugurate the rest of my life.

That was not such a great plan, it turned out. March was long. April was longer. My fiancee was planning a wedding by herself, preparing for medical school, and beginning to wonder if this plan was not in fact a terrible mistake. So an April ultimatum: come home early or this wedding can’t happen.

Done. I would abort my international experience to romantically ride home and save the wedding. I made the call. A May flight, the travel agent thoroughly annoyed.

Is that why the domestic leg of the trip was never changed? Was I being shown a lesson: the whims of your romance, ultimate as they are to you, do not merit the shuffling and reshuffling of international itineraries?

“Sir, you will have to buy a Chicago-to-Kansas-City ticket,” the agent tells me. “There are still seats available on this flight,” she adds, indicating the time on my irrelevant July ticket. Of course these flights are all at the same time, regardless of the day. Of course the world is mechanical and predictable. This is the truth greeting my heroic spontaneity on a muggy May afternoon in O’Hare.

How? How am I to purchase an airline ticket? I’m days from turning 23 and have spent my first full year out of college as a volunteer, making no money, actually borrowing other people’s money for the privilege of living abroad while my fellow graduates have been getting jobs, even starting families. I can’t buy a plane ticket. I can’t buy a hamburger. Those are adult functions, and I am no adult. I am a child playing grown up–I will take a flight; I will get married–, ticket-less in the airport as in life.

To be continued. 

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