1 – Liberation
On the morning marking my eighteenth birthday, I sat where a determined sunrise blazed through the windows at my back, splashing a rosy, sherbet orange across a terminal buzzing with energy. It was a day to commemorate adulthood and freedom, a reminder that anything is possible, a bookmark between predictability and a future filled with unknowns.
Don't come home, Father had warned. Not until you get your head on straight. Of course, his idea of a properly aligned spine meant my willingness to be his drone. Follow in his footfalls straight to Berkley where I'd swallow a degree in law, be close enough for him to breath down my neck and witness every probable fail.
Not a chance.
Despite the numbing effects of a very proficient air conditioner, John Wayne airport was electric with vying emotion. Every individual seemed to vibrate with fatigue or excitement or dread at where they were headed, and I was no exception. Anticipation mingled with the fear of it – an understanding that transition accompanied trust. None of us could etch our future into stone and make it absolute. We were taking chances and hoping for the best.
"Where are you going, Dear?" The worn voice came from two seats down where an old woman hunched, needle dancing in her hand. Blue curlers peaked from under a flowered head scarf.
I wasn't keen on conversation. It always got me into trouble. Led to questions that led to answers that made Daddy-Dearest pull me out of the Parker's mansion because I'd pissed off his biggest client, the newly widowed billionaire suspected of feeding arsenic to her late husband. And someone needed to tell her it wasn't food.
"Um, Scotland?" My answer came out sounding like a question because I wasn't even sure she was talking to me. She was watching the weave in her hands. Might have been the crazy old woman who didn't realize she'd walked to the airport instead of the bingo hall. The one who spent most of her time alone, talking to her cats.
"Ah, Scotland. Beautiful place, if you like the rain. Visiting family?"
"No, going to college."
"Oh, which one?"
"St. Vaschel," I answered.
She looked off into space for a moment. "Hmmm…"
"Have you heard of it?"
"No, no, I don't think so." She shook her head.
So I told her the single detail I knew about the place. "It's an old castle on Westray Island."
"A good school?" she inquired.
"Sure." Did that matter? It was far, far away. And did I mention it was in a castle?
The woman nodded, leaned forward to adjust the bag of yarn at her feet, freeing a new length of red string. Then, as most old people do, she dove straight into a genealogical monologue. "All the young people heading off to school. My granddaughter's about your age. She's a sophomore at Western this year. I'm making her this hat. One of those beanie things all the hippies are wearing up in Washington…"
Her voice droned on and on about James graduating Cum Laude, and how Jeremy, who was his twin, by the way, had only barely made it through because he wasn't as smart and needed a soccer scholarship, but everyone was oh-so-happy for him anyhow, because he really did try his best, the dear heart! I nodded during all the lulls, sipping my Caramel Macchiato and toying with the strap on my purse. Little metal tags clinked together with the vibration of my anxious hands. It reeked of calf-skin and La Mer. A farewell gift from Father who thought money was love. And maybe it was, maybe it proved the work he did to provide for me. But it wasn't time.
He spent his days in court, his nights seducing potential child-brides, leaving the drivers and maids to raise me. His personal interests might have interfered with sheltering me to the point of creating a social pariah – but oh no. I'd become the responsible outcast who never violated bedtime, the girl without a single friend, the daughter endearingly named Victory – no joke. It was the mark of my unpopularity during all of high-school where, with the exception of Math or English or History, I'd never spent more than an hour with anyone on purpose.
Except for Jane…
Strange how she'd appeared seemingly from thin air, or maybe bequeathed by my Fairy Godmother, during the peak of my desperation…
The day was nauseatingly sunny and a little too near graduation for me to breath. I stepped through the doors into a library that echoed with abandonment, walked briskly toward my favored table, and began leafing through college grants. I was searching for what would rescue me from under my father's thumb, a serendipitous omen. One that specified a privileged brat and her silver spoon... None of them applied.
My dreams of escaping Newport Coast were dying a slow and painful death when in walked Jane. Jane with her long, magenta hair and confident stride. Jane with her elegant French accent and coveted manila envelope.
She'd barely introduced herself when she handed it over. 'C'est pour toi. Is a full ride to the University of St. Vaschel', she told me. 'You will have to, how you say, apply? But is basically a sure thing.'
I took her offering the way a starving person might grasp a piece of bread. Asking no questions, suspecting no ill motives. It was a gift – no more, no less – albeit too good to be true. And there was a chance that I'd be asked to pay for it in blood, but what worth having is ever without a price?
'Is alright. I know you need. You look… désespéré. But aren't we all.'
Her last words trailed through my head, perhaps the words of an apparition. During the following months, Id caught no glimpse of her in the hallways, the library, or even crossing the stage at graduation. Maybe it was coincidence, or maybe it was downright strange. Then again, all miracles appear that way, and I ended up exactly where I wanted: Awaiting my flight to a faraway place – independence.
"Are you okay, Dear?" The voice pulled me from my reverie. A hand touched my arm.
I looked over to see the old woman watching me, expectant.
"You must be nervous," she said with the wink of one faded eye and the assumption that I would respond in affirmation. "Leaving home and all your classmates?"
Sure, all those droves of people desperate to befriend me? A father who'd disowned me? I could have told her the truth, but who does that? When people ask how you are, you answer, fine. It doesn't matter if you're having a bad day. Or if you're dying, you suck it up. Nobody rants about their life to the bubbly barista or their local banker or the woman sitting next to them at the airport. It's rude.
Plus, there was the ghost of Father's voice… Good manners are the pedestal of our society, he'd say. Over a glass of Col Solare. Just after lying his face off and telling me he would of course attend my track meet. Tactfulness is kindness.
So I fibbed with a nervous smile.
"Well, you'll be alright." She patted my arm with her wrinkled hand and its intricate map of veins. Then she went back to her hat. "Change is a scary thing. But remember – bravery isn't fearlessness. It's doing the right thing in spite of our fear."
A robotic voice announced the arrival of flight U24-24. A new herd of people flooded the terminal. Then after, when the tearful hugs and hellos were over, when the crowd dispersed, the old woman was gone.
And I was alone.
Fortunately, the next broadcast was for BA709, LAX to Glasgow.
That's us, I told the butterflies in my stomach, hastily grabbing my things and catching a sight of my shadowed reflection in the window. I'd chosen a black, cashmere sweater in anticipation of Scotland's gloomy weather, a new pair of flared jeans, and high-heeled leather clogs by a new designer – everything from Rodeo Drive. Dark hair hung in whirls down my back. Hazel eyes, slightly bruised beneath from a week of sleepless nights, stared back at me. Excited, hesitant…
Are you sure? They seemed to ask.
Sighing, I tugged my purse up over my shoulder. "Absolutely."