Saturday, April 5, 2014

36 Hours

Long post here...sorry! I recently had to submit a writing sample with an application. I spent a few days mulling over what I wanted to write about. I eventually decided to write a 'historical fiction' short story about my preparation and flight to Israel three summers ago. So, here's my first short story.


The day had finally come. I felt like I had received my big, white envelope accepting me into the program only a few days ago. In reality, I had been planning this trip for months. My visa was processed, bags were packed, and tickets were purchased. The day had come.

I had never flown out of the country before and my nerves were starting to bubble to the surface. For weeks I had been thinking, “Israel…what am I doing?! I can’t move to the Middle East.” I actively had to push these thoughts out of my mind and remind myself what an amazing adventure lie ahead. Everything was going to be fine. I could do this.

I had woken up that morning at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. My stomach churning, I ate a breakfast of Cheerios and toast. I did little more than nibble at my breakfast as I tried to ignore my apprehension. After an adequate time pretending to eat, I threw my bags in the back of the SUV, buckled myself in, and began the hour-long trek to the airport. The whole ride was an internal tug-of-war that took the form of  an ‘80s rock song: Should I stay or should I go? The closer the airport came, the more frantic I became.

My aunt and I pulled up to the airport. I knew that decision time had come. I took a deep breath and stepped out of the car. My passport was not going to remain empty any longer. I timidly walked into the airport lobby and scanned the crowd for more nervous looking college students. I had met a handful of my fellow travelers the day before at our orientation meeting, but the odds of me remembering any of them under my current duress were minimal. I must have had a look of terror on my face because they recognized me before I found them. Introductions were made, goodbyes were said, and bags were checked.

After going through security, our travel group congregated outside our gate and began the long wait. We had arrived several hours prior to departure to account for any security issues that may arise. We began getting to know each other and shared our nerves. I was relieved to hear that I was not the only one nervous about the idea of living in Israel for the summer. The time came and we boarded our flight to Phoenix. This flight and the next to Philadelphia passed without issue. The hours were filled with more mental preparation and the beginnings of spoken excitement. 

The gravity of my decision did not become real until it was time to board the flight to Tel Aviv. We landed in Philadelphia and checked the boards for our departing gate. Unsurprisingly, our gate was on the opposite side of the airport in a remote terminal. Thinking that I was just going to wait at another gate, my companions and I grabbed dinner and strolled through the airport. When we finally arrived at our gate I was surprised to see another set of security barriers, my first brush with Israel. After what felt like an abnormally long time, our group passed through the stringent security. Seeing this unsuspected security checkpoint made my nerves hit their strained peak. Why was more security needed? Was it really that dangerous? Was it too late to turn around? My Cheerios would still be waiting, right?

I entertained these thoughts until our flight was called; I was about to pass the point of no return. For the second time that day, I inhaled deeply, handed over my boarding pass, and walked down the boardwalk.

As I settled in for the 12-hour flight, I looked around at my fellow passengers. There were old Muslim businessmen returning from a deal in the States, young Israeli children flying home from a field trip, and a smattering of  Jewish college students taking advantage of their birthright trips. It was an odd collection of people, and I was beginning to understand just how diverse my end destination was. My happy farewell to my anxiety came to an abrupt halt when the door closed and we pulled away from the gate. I was committed and there was no going back.

At some point during the flight I fell into a light sleep. The hours drug on, interrupted by the occasional school child being scolded by their chaperone. I had come to a fragile peace with my decision when the captain announced that it was time to prepare for final landing. Any sense of peace and acceptance I had been feeling in the previous moments evaporated. I had spent the whole flight worrying about my fear and anxiety of living in Israel that I could not remember what I was supposed to do at the airport. Our director had gone through a laundry list of do’s and don’ts that ranged from passport control to baggage claim, and I couldn’t remember anything. Reaching through the fog of the last thirty-six hours I remembered a shred of instruction: follow the green dot. What was the green dot? I couldn’t tell you, but I knew I was supposed to go through the door with a green dot and none of the others.

The plane touched down in the afternoon sun and pulled up to the gate. It took me thirty minutes to deplane and find the other members of my travel group. We looked around the airport for the green dot, which was nowhere to be found. Knowing that we would eventually need our bags, we started toward baggage claim. When I thought I was in the clear, we came to passport control. Panic set in as I remembered that I didn’t know what I was supposed to say. Was I supposed to say that I was a student or just a tourist? I knew one of them was definitely wrong, but which one? The line in front of me was getting shorter by the minute and the answer was not anywhere closer.

“Next.”

I stepped up to the window, smiled timidly, and handed over my passport. The official asked me what the nature of my visit to Israel was. My mind went into a sort of frenzy: it was time to choose. Student or tourist?

“I’m touring the country for a few months. I’m just seeing the sites.”

She gave me a once-over, stamped my passport, and told me to enjoy my stay. A wave of relief spread over me. I had chosen correctly. I once again met with my travel group on the other side and headed for baggage claim. We walked through large grey doors and found ourselves in a massive room with ten baggage carousels. I took in my surroundings and looked to opposite wall and there it was: the green dot, our salvation.

We waited for bags to appear and then pulled them off the carousel. We made sure everyone was accounted for and walked towards the green dot. As we passed through, we found our professors waiting for us, just as our director had specified. We had made it. I was finally in Israel. Everything had gone smoothly. The day had finally come. 

2 comments:

  1. I remember this day. Great writing.

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  2. Thanks, Josh! I totally understand the 'write what you know' mindset now :)

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