The looming date to come home was set – January 12, 2013. I had a countdown on my phone just like the countdown I had to go to D.C.
I had got back from Chicago and stayed by myself for several days in the same hotel Steph and I stayed when we first got to D.C. the week prior to starting at GU. I had been visiting some of my friends who were chartered to stay the full academic year. We made the most of this time, we hung out, partied and I soaked in the sights of D.C. – it was like a tourist’s journey in my own home. That’s the way I had come to see D.C. – my home away from home. I visited the Smithsonian, walked the Mall. Made my way down M street in Georgetown, visited my favourite stores. I rode the metro to Arlington and all around the city, I trailed around Chinatown, Dupont and Foggy Bottom. I had attempted to pick up some souvenirs for my family along the way but deep down I knew I’d keep them (not selfishly) for myself, as a reminder of a whirlwind of an opportunity, a sentimental token if you will.
Those last few days in D.C. went by fast. I was half dreading but also pining to go home to the big brown land down under.
When I woke up that final morning, the sky was grey, it was foggy and bitterly, bitterly cold. I was panicked. I got to the airport and was told my connecting flight to Dallas was delayed. I was beside myself. I felt a feeling of foreboding like, “you’re not going to be in Sydney tomorrow.” The flight finally boarded and I was seated next to a really nice man who spent the next couple of hours making small talk with me – I apologised if my responses were somewhat terse or anxious because I knew when I got to Dallas I would have to sprint off the plane to make the connecting flight to Australia.
When we finally landed, I bid my seat mate farewell and legged it off the plane with one passenger remarking, “jeez, slow down!” and I almost sobbed, “If I do I won’t get home to AUSTRALIA!” I made it into the terminal and a bewildered man holding a sign saying, “Ms Turner” with the QANTAS logo on it locked eyes with me. It was in that moment I knew – I had missed my flight. I remember almost falling over running to him. The tears had started cascading down my face before he even opened his mouth.
Despite all of this, I still had a tiny glimmer of hope that he was just waiting to escort me to the QANTAS flight. “Ms Turner, the plane to Sydney has departed already.” I won’t minimise here – I broke down – completely. I was sobbing. I could barely talk – by this time I was so homesick I would have done anything to turn the plane around. It was not to be. The poor man took my phone after I had messaged my Dad with an SOS call.
Given that I didn’t have a data sim card in my phone, my dad had to call me from the surgery with overseas fees. I was hysterical. I was so hysterical I couldn’t speak. (I don’t remember anything about my surroundings or anyone nearby at this stage, I’m surprised I didn’t get led away to a more quiet and private area to negotiate the next steps of my journey home). The kind man took my phone and explained to Dad what had happened. My Dad – my best friend, hero and the one who takes charge in tough situations calmly spoke to the man. “She will need to have accommodation for the night organised and food vouchers. He added, “She will need to be on the next flight to Sydney tomorrow”… (and breaking his calmness), “she is my baby.”
All of the above requirements were met very accommodatingly by QANTAS especially because Dad has been a loyal frequent flyer for years.
I had no access to my meticulously packed luggage but had the foresight to pack my carry-on baggage with the necessities – pyjamas, laptop, sentimental items and personal items meaning I could comfortably spend the night in Dallas.
When transferred to the hotel, I ran a hot bath and cried and cried – I think I cried not so much about the situation but because I was so ready to be greeted by Mum and my dogs in Sydney – I had mentally prepared to walk down the arrivals pathway at Sydney Airport and see Mum after 6 months and be taken in her arms – the kind of embrace only a mother can give. I was so ready to see my brother and (now) sister-in-law and of course Dad who I had seen only a month before. I worried that Mum would be upset that she couldn’t meet me and that the whole thing was a disaster (anxiety doesn’t help).
I decided to use my food vouchers and got something to eat in the bar downstairs and enforced a self-limit of 2 drinks to numb the anguish I felt. When I returned to my room, I fell asleep almost instantly – I think I was emotionally exhausted by this stage.
The next morning, I woke. Another bath, some breakfast, a late checkout time and about 6 hours spent whiling the time away in the hotel lobby with free wi-fi to watch re-runs of Dawson’s Creek lay ahead of me. The hours ticked by and finally it was time to head to the airport.
I passed through security, customs and whatever I had to pass through and promptly ordered a glass of wine prior to the flight at an airport bar. No going back now – this was it – in less than 14 hours I’d be back on Australian soil. I could almost taste the vegemite.
The flight – albeit uncomfortable went by uneventfully and due to the wind currents, flights from Dallas to Sydney have to land via Brisbane. We landed in Brisbane and I switched my sim card back to my Australian card. Immediately I called Dad’s surgery and one of his nurses answered, “EDDIE!!!!!!! YAAAAYYYYY,” then promptly put me on to Dad. “Welcome (almost) Home, Darling.” he said. The first thing I did was actually buy some deodorant from the newsagents in the terminal with the $5 note I had hung in my dorm room in Georgetown. American deodorant is trash by the way.
After re-boarding the plane in Brisbane it was a quick 1 hour flight down to Sydney. I passed through customs and of course was met with my next hurdle: luggage collection. After about 10 minutes and no more bags on the carousel I learnt that my luggage was missing – because of course it was. After filing a missing bag report, it was time to walk through border control. My heart was almost leaping out of my chest because I knew Mum was literally 20 metres away from me at this point. I had an easy walk through with nothing to declare because after travelling with my father, I learnt one thing: trying to declare anything at Sydney airport is not worth it. Don’t bother bringing anything back you’d need to declare.
I walked down the arrivals hall and searched for a familiar face in the crowd. It always makes you feel like you’re on stage when walking down the arrivals hall – you keep your head down if you’re not expecting anyone to greet you and make your way effortlessly out of the airport terminal. I spotted her. “Mummy” I mouthed with tears streaming down my face. My beautiful Mummy. Her eyes widened and I’ll never, ever forget that moment of recognition, “that’s my baby”. I folded into her arms and put my head in the crook of her neck like I did when I was little. She smelled heavenly. She held me tight and said, “it’s ok, you’re home now my darling.” and we held hands the entire way to the car where my two stinky dogs waited for me. “MILLIE!!! LUCY!!! IT’S BIG SISSY!” Tails were wagging, they were fighting for prime position on my lap to greet me. Mum held my hand most of the way home.
We drove home and Mum put the sun roof down whilst we drove over the Harbour Bridge. I could smell summer on the breeze, I saw the Opera House and the sparkling harbour and Manly Ferry, I saw the trains on the bridge and all of a sudden the past 48 hours of my life melted away.
I came home to a massive bunch of flowers from my brother and Kate.
I jumped onto my bed and snuggled my dogs.
I came home.
On a side note to this post, it turns out to be almost 95% accurate that my colleague, Chris (a retired Qantas pilot turned wardsperson at my hospital) almost certainly flew me to or from America.