There is usually a very long road that leads to an airport. I never realized that fact until I had to walk one, in 95-degree blazing island heat with a huge backpacking bag and single-person tent strapped to my shoulders and waist.
"This is going to be great," I thought to myself, "An adventure. A spiritual quest." An hour later that tune died. My back hurt. My feet hurt. Instead I thought,
"What the fuck did I just get myself into?" I was smack in the middle of nowhere on the Big Island Hawaii with no friends, family or cell phone.
A few weeks earlier I was a normal, spoiled wannabe almost adult. I had a job teaching swim lessons that helped me maintain a semi-decent New York City college life of go-to-class-and-drink-at-bar on the weekends. I even had a somewhat stable relationship. And like most kid-adults, I was living at home with my mom.
"I hate that boyfriend of yours," she would always nag, "and you need to come home more often." I had made it a habit to spend most nights at his house, leaving my family of four (my brother, sister, mom and dog) at home without their youngest family member.
"I would come home more if you weren't so annoying," I'd respond bluntly. My mom had a way of screaming, "Thhheeooooo" (short for her nickname for me, Theophania) so loudly from any part of the house that it would startle my dog from his nap, who would then jump up and look around crazily with a lop-sided snout and tired eyes, before finally settling back into his comfortable sleep.
"What, Mom?" I always asked with the most sarcastic lazy tone possible.
"You have enough money to get to school tomorrow?" She would inquire. I was an adult, making my own money, but somehow she always felt it necessary to ask. I figured a roll of the eyes properly conveyed my feelings toward such questions. It didn't matter, she never stopped asking. She never saw me as an adult.
Thousands of miles away, I could finally be. I was finally alone. The plan was to survive with only a tent, a couple hundred dollars and the contents of my bag. The plan was to prove to myself and everybody else, that I didn't need anybody. I was a self-sufficient, self motivated adult.
The first night I spent in the tent I cried incessantly while cuddling a pink fluffy pillow and rocking back and forth like a nut job in an insane asylum. It was dark out and raining and I had walked for hours before settling to camp at a secluded beach not too far away from the airport.
And did I mention it was dark out? Dark like not even a moon in the sky dark. As a city girl, I had never experienced real darkness before. I had no idea I was even afraid of the dark until the sun dipped behind the scenic mountain view, revealing all of the creepiness of night: rustling branches, dogs barking in the distance, the occasional car passing slowly as if a drive-by was about to happen.
At one point, I could have sworn there were whispers coming from a bush nearby. I also thought I was going blind. Eventually I fell asleep in the fetal position after exhausting my tear ducts.
The next morning I was puffy-eyed but still held my head high, determined and undeterred. I hitchhiked across the island, stopping to swim in a nature made hot tub and finally deciding on spending the night on a black sand nude-friendly beach. When the sun set, I cried some more. This routine went on for three weeks or so; sightsee by day, wail by night until I could hardly open my eyes; my back was sore and my feet ached.
One day, I made my way into a grocery store to buy something to eat and, as I entered, I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. It may had been the slight limp, or the fact that my eyes looked like they had been stung by bees -- whatever it was, people were definitely taking notice. A young, well-manicured woman with blonde hair and a huge wedding ring on her finger approached me.
“Jesus told me to give this to you,” she said while extending a $20 bill toward me. How far I had finally come into adulthood; from my mom offering me money to a complete stranger seeing me as a charity case. I was a complete failure. It was time to go home. I asked the woman to borrow her phone instead.
"Theo, is that you?" my mom answered on the first ring.
"Mommy, I want to come home," I finally broke down in tears.
"Come home, baby," she responded. And I was pretty happy when she asked me if I had enough money that time around because I was broke as hell.
When I got to the airport, my mom was there waiting for me. She couldn’t even spot me in the crowd, because I was looking a complete mess. I walked up to her looking at my feet.
“Be proud of yourself,” she said, “I had bets you’d only last a day.” She had a pretty good point. I gave her a hug and we laughed at my hair that had almost turned into dreadlocks.
I left her house a few weeks later, but this time I moved into my own apartment with a comfy bed, shower and lights in every room. She still calls me every other day on the phone.
“Thheeeooo,” she says excitedly on the other line. “I hope you have enough money for food.”
I smile to myself and simply respond, “Yeah, mom, I think I’m OK.”