It was the morning of the 25th, the day I was leaving for Northern Ireland, and I was running around trying to get all of my stuff to cram into my already-exhausted suitcase. About half an hour before my mom and I left for the airport, I weighed my bag and realized that it was 10 pounds too heavy. My roommate Julia came over to my house to give me a card for our best friend Susan, who I would be staying with while I was in Ireland.
“Julia,” I said, nearly hyperventilating, “I don’t know what to do! My suitcase weighs 60 pounds!”
Julia then took the situation into her own hands and rearranged my entire suitcase (I love her), stuffing random clothes into my carry-on and forbidding me from taking my shampoo, conditioner or body wash. The next time we weighed it, it was 48.5. It would do.
My mom and I then drove to the Charlotte-Douglas airport, and after driving around for half an hour trying to find the entrance for the parking garage (it has been closed off, let it be known to all in the Charlotte area), we finally resorted to daily parking and had to take a bus to the terminal.
I got checked in, said goodbye to my mom and went through security, only to find out that my flight, which was supposed to leave at 2:45 p.m., would be delayed. Apparently there was bad weather in Newark, JFK and La Guardia, so I was left to twiddle my thumbs and talk to a nice British couple next to me while we waited for the latest update from New Jersey.
Our flight was finally called at 8:30 p.m. and there was much rejoicing. I sat next to a lovely Irish-Catholic woman on the plane named Sharon. 60 years old. Bangs curled under. Bright red lipstick and long, red nails.
We talked about “Catch-22” and global awareness for a fair amount of the flight. She told me about her husband of 30 years who had died 10 years ago of cancer, and that towards the end “he was just enjoying getting up and hearing the birds sing.”
My carry-on suitcase was stashed farther back on the plane, so once we landed, I pushed through the crowd to grab it, and was then stuck behind several people. Sharon shouted back to me, “Becca, sweetie, are you okay?” She then hollered at everyone, “There is a young woman with a connecting flight trying to get through!” Needless to say, I got through.
It was crazy in the domestic terminal in Newark. The entire airport had been closed down for two hours because of weather, and people were lying on the ground looking dazedly at the ceiling. Everyone looked homeless and sad. Honestly, traveling is not a pretty thing at times.
Fortunately, my flight to Belfast had been delayed, too, so I was able to get to the international terminal with an hour to spare. I sat down and struck up a conversation with an Irish guy who’d also had a crazy day. We never exchanged names, so I will refer to him as “Airport Friend.”
We finally boarded our plane and I sat next to a woman who I soon found out had been a book editor. I asked her who the most famous person she’d edited a book for had been and she said, “Oh, probably George Bush Senior.” WHAT?! Apparently she had edited books for his wife before and that she had talked him into writing an autobiography, too. They had worked together, compiling letters and eventually creating a book. I looked it up. It is a legitimate thing, and it is titled, “All the Best: George Bush.”
This woman was so cool. Now that she has retired, she’s become an insane jet-setter. She told me about a cruise that she went on to Antarctica where her boat was surrounded by whales. They were playing with the bow of the ship and swimming close to the surface. The ship captain had described it as “whale soup.”
I couldn’t sleep on the plane, as per usual, so I started “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” but we landed before I could finish it. As far as I could tell, the guy I was sitting next to (not to be confused with Airport Friend) was paranoid of physical contact, because every time I accidentally bumped him with my knee, he flinched and turned towards the wall.
We finally landed in Belfast, but there was too much cloud cover to see much of anything when we were descending. Apparently my suitcase didn’t get the memo that there would be a party going on in Ireland, because it never showed. Neither did Airport Friend's bag, so we went to the desk and had to fill out some forms and describe our luggage.
I then decided that I should call Susan to tell her why I was so late, assuming that they were in the waiting area looking for me. So I used Airport Friend’s iPhone and rang her. Susan answered and sounded really surprised to hear my voice. “Oh is that Becca?” she asked.
“Yeah!” I said. “Where are you?”
“At home. Where are you?”
“Uh, the airport…”
“Oh is that today?!”
So Susan and her parents headed for the airport while I received a complimentary toiletry bag from the airline, said goodbye to Airport Friend and sauntered through the dark customs room where no one was. I almost walked down the emergency stairwell in my delusion before I emerged into the welcoming area.
Belfast International Airport is the biggest airport in Northern Ireland, but it is tiny. Not more than 50 people walked by in the 50 minutes I was waiting in a bistro.
I woke up, curled in a chair, with Susan’s body in my face. We embraced as best friends are wont to do when they haven’t seen each other in two years. I said hello to her parents, Wendy and John, who of course apologized up and down for the misunderstanding. I assured them that I found it quite funny, and we drove back to their beautiful old house in the town of Dromore, which is about an hour outside of Belfast.
“We think it would be best if you tried to stay up until teatime,” Wendy told me with her voice full of concern. I told her that I would try. And try I did. In fact, I was feeling great for the rest of that afternoon.
After drinking some delicious tea and eating some welcome cake that Susan and Melanie had made in anticipation of my arrival the “following day,” Susan, her sister, Melanie, and I went for a walk.
We ended up tramping through the Bailey’s muddy barley fields, swaddled in fleece and our feet shod in “wellies” (boots). We had to stay on the lookout for cows. I locked eyes with one across the fence and, I swear, it looked right into my soul.
We then came back for tea (dinner) and after a family devotion time, which the Baileys do every night, I headed to bed to sleep off nearly 30 hours of semi-consciousness.