by Maureen Elizabeth Magee
“No, Dad. I won’t do anything foolish. Yes, I will be sensible.”
I sank into the airplane seat with relief. The decision had been made, fears conquered, and all the loose ends of planning a solo traipse around the world were tied up. I was a sensible woman; middle-aged, newly divorced and quite practical. Although some argued that quitting a management job to travel for a year was not practical. And others added that selling my home in order to finance the trip did not fall into the category of judicious. And many, many people pointed out that attempting to give up my five-star princess habits to travel on a shoestring was just asking for trouble.
I buckled my seat belt. None of them could find me now. No more concerned pleas or pointed observations about my lack of travel experience. It was just me and this Air New Zealand jet - a magic carpet – about to rescue me. Rescue me from . . . from what? Just what did I need rescuing from? A normal life? A practical life? A sensible life. A ‘follow-the-rules’ life that had recently let me down.
A low rumble of power hummed through the plane and the flight attendant began to make her announcement, pulling me away from the past. The past didn’t matter anymore. The reasons for my break-away trip didn’t matter. Only the accelerating whine of the engines mattered. It was all out of my control right now. I was tethered to nothing and that was a surprisingly comforting thought.
From the moment the idea entered my mind, it took me only four months to get ready. Sell my house, give notice at my job, pack up everything into storage, and “plan” a trip. The planning started out analytically, with an atlas and a highlighter. Several stressful days later, I found myself sitting on the floor surrounded by maps, guide books, airline schedules and a calculator wondering where the fun was in all this planning. It seemed ludicrous to apply such a buttoned-down method of escaping my buttoned-down life.
A shiver ran through me as the October winds picked up outside my house and some early snowflakes chased after the gusts of dead leaves.
Snow. In October. It was too depressing, even for Canada. If only, I thought – if only I could stay warm for a whole year.
I believe they call it a light bulb moment.
And so the complex itinerary devolved into a simplistic skeleton; fly to New Zealand in January, because it would be warm. Wander throughout Australia and the Southeast Asian heat until May and then proceed to a pre-determined tour in Japan (where I would stay warm by biking). Head West on a cozy train through China, Mongolia, Siberia and Russia until I reached Europe in the summer.
The world cooperated as I made my arrangements. My battered old Volvo flat-lined and was declared unworthy of resuscitation. So my to-do list became shorter as I now had no worries about where to store the old buggy while I was gone. I jimmied the heavy keys off my ring and handed them to the tow truck driver.
On my last day of work, I smiled as three office keys spilled into my replacement’s hands. The key ring felt insubstantial.
Where previously I had always found my keys by their important rattle and weight, the ring now disappeared regularly into tiny recesses of my bag. The one house key slid wildly around the heavy-duty hoop as if looking for its friends.
The movers came and went, taking with them all my belongings. I locked the door, and then slipped the lone key off the ring. The key went through the mail slot for the new owners, and I stared at the empty ring in my palm. I felt as if I were a hot air balloon, with the last rope of responsibility cast off.
I may have thrown over all responsibility, but as I sat on the plane, I rolled the empty key ring around my finger and silently promised my father that his daughter had not divested herself of common sense.
The plane lumbered down the runway and lifted off and I picked up the airline magazine. It fell open to an article about something called bungee jumping. It was January, 1989; I had never heard of this sport, invented and practiced only in New Zealand at that time. The top photograph showed a lone man perched very high on a bridge over a river. His arms were outstretched to the horizon. The next photo was that same person midway through the air in a swan dive; in the last photograph, his body was dangling upside down, suspended from a long rope tied around his ankles. His head brushed the water.
I stopped breathing. The key ring dropped out of my hands and fell under the seat, rolled behind me and disappeared along the length of the steeply pitched plane.
What a completely amazing thing to do! How exhilarating would that be? How . . . sensible? I stuffed the last thought, and noting Queenstown on my map, I closed my eyes to inhale deeply and resume breathing.
Maureen Elizabeth Magee is a Canadian writer, currently working on a book of short stories. Her short short, “Jumping the Bull” (first published on YourLifeisaTrip.com) won the Summit Studios 2012 Grand Prize and will be published this October in an anthology of adventure/travel stories. www.maureenmagee.com