I hadn’t flown in a while.

I used to feel so much anxiety about flying–not so much about the flight itself but everything else: the getting to a place and rushing to be on time to the airport, worrying about a missed flight, the tension of parting, the dread of returning back to college and another semester ahead–those were the things that gave me anxiety.

It brings back memories of late lunches with my family, often the good Southern California Mexican food (real chile rellenos!) at some restaurant on the way to Ontario airport. Then there was the return trip to campus from Oakland airport, boarding the connector bus to the train, and all the while the loneliness slowly dripped in just as the students slowly trickled back to town. I would lose my thoughts in wondering who the next roommate would be and when I would finally be able to see the familiar face of one of my few very close friends.

As I arrived at SFO for my next journey, the strangeness of it made me feel as if I had been airdropped into a foreign country: my confidence dropped to the level of a lost child. I felt unsure in my actions, questioning the logic of it all, feeling I had stumbled into a mad tea party. I was lost among the sea of connections around me, struggling as some poor insect that has become entangled in a spider’s web.

There were so many changes. Hell, before I even got to the airport, things were weird: a QR code for a boarding pass? Did I print out the right thing and really check in for my flight? Standing in the cavernous void of glass and steel with the cold emptiness of a cathedral, I felt like some stranded, orphaned waif.

What the hell is pre-check in and the TSA priority program, and where are all the signs? There seemed to be a gross assumption that everyone knew the routine, and I anxiously, nervously watched what other people were doing. Do I still remove my shoes? Wait, so some people don’t have to remove their shoes? Do we still use these grey bins? Do I need my ziplock bag out in the grey bin or keep it in my backpack? What can I keep in my pockets? And what the fuck are these giant human canisters?!

I had never seen a body scanner before. I suddenly felt naked just knowing I had to step inside. My nerves were rattled. Clearly I wasn’t the only one traumatized and confused by this unexplainable chaos–the guy ahead of me forgot his laptop bag next to me as he placed his other things on the rolling table for the scanner and got in line to be devoured by the human x-ray machine. I had to hold it out for him and call his attention to it. I could see the nightmarish lockdown that could have ensued if he hadn’t claimed it and left it unattended near the grey bins.

The TSA agents treated me like an idiot, but there were no signs anywhere on how to proceed when they motioned for me to step inside the scanner.

“Nothing in your pockets!” she barked at me.
“Not even my boarding pass and ID?”
“Nothing! And take out that hair tie!”

I take it out and hold it out towards her, baffled.

“No, not me,” she huffed impatiently. “You hold them in your hands, and you aren’t standing correctly. Get in the correct stance with your feet!”

(I am pretty sure she wanted to say “you fucking moron” in that long pause of hers, but I assume a government-planted chip in her brain exercised the self-censor at that point.)

I wandered away, collecting my things and shaken. As I ttied to make sense of what just happened, I realized how long it had been since I had flown: 7 years. How old it made me feel. Spelling it out versus staring at the numerical representation made no difference in the effect it had on me. Seven years! 7 years! It hit me like some rude awakening, a midnight earthquake jolt: the dread and fear and panic rolled into one. It was longer than any romantic relationship I’ve ever had. I feel old.

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