“I don’t have to…”

The captain finishes his announcement over the loudspeakers, and we all begin uprighting our seatbacks and stowing our traytables. I look out the window, the pale gray blanket over northern California thickly and softly extending to the horizon. Considering the view, I go over my mental checklist.

My layover is several hours long, and I have to collect my overstuffed suitcase and check in at the China Airlines counter. There are three or four other items on my to-do list, none of which will be difficult, but I’m looking forward to putting a crisp mental check mark next to each item.

We’re now within the grayness of the blanket. I put away my iPod and stash my backpack under the seat in front of me. Pulling out my itinerary, I check the time of my next flight: 1:05am. I land in Taiwan at 6:00am local time. Oops. I told my family the wrong arrival time. I’ll have to let them know. I have plenty of time to do so before my final flight – it’s only 6:00pm now.

Sun strikes my face, and I peer out the window. It’s beautiful. The Bay Area is awash in golden light, stray clouds are nestled in the hills, the water below is sparkling and blue. Downtown and the Golden Gate Bridge are visible up until the plane reaches South San Francisco and the scene north curves out of view.

The thought flies through my head before I can form it.

“I could live here.”

Several hours later, after rescuing my graffitied green suitcase from the carousel, visiting a bookstore, eating a large dinner, and catching up on several episodes of Modern Family, I’m standing in the large hall housing the international check-in counters. The building could be an airline hangar. It’s fairly quiet as I search out the China Airlines counter.

My backpack is, as I’ll find out later, twenty pounds of dead weight, and I’m suddenly struck by just how tired I am. Exhaustion threatens to take over, and I feel alone – not lonely, but alone. Thoughts are drifting around my mind, and without a large crowd to drown them out or music blaring from my headphones, I pay attention to them.

Just a half-day ago, I said goodbye to my grandfather for what’s likely to be the last time ever. I grin as I think about it, since the running joke in the family is that Pop Pop will outlive us all. His surprise 90th birthday party was yesterday, and he grinned like a little boy when he wheeled himself into the room.

After this flight, I’ll be back in Taiwan. That thought numbs my heart a little, and I start missing my family and friends all over again. I shove that thought to the back of my mind, where it festers.

I pass another United Airlines counter. With my credit card in my wallet, all I have to do is walk up to one of their counters, slide the card across to the agent, and ask for a one-way ticket to Dallas. It would be easy.

I don’t have to go back.

It’s my life. The twists and turns are up to me.

I don’t have to go back.

But I do. And I did.

And so now, here I am, back in Hsinchu, still sorting through my thoughts and trying to regain my footing. Life feels a little off right now, as though my center of gravity has gotten lost in the shuffle of 32 hours of travel, and I still haven’t found it. I keep stumbling around, bumping into my fears and worries, but no bruises so far.

I’ve been thinking about San Francisco and Austin, where I lived before coming to Taiwan, a lot over the past few days. I never thought I’d want to return to Texas. I don’t have to go back.

But what if I did?


      1. No need to be hasty in deciding, or even to pick one place as being final.

        Have you been out to this part of the world?

          1. Dubai’s more fun to see, and you’d get a free tour guide, so let me know if you ever make plans to visit!

    1. Last time I was there we went to Half Moon Bay – I loved it there! We’ll definitely have a playdate again. I like SF too much not to come back!

  1. It was so good to see you in Indy, Mandy, and to be able spend time with you and the family. Pop-Pop was so pleased with the surprise and in having all of his family there to celebrate his 90 years. You and Madeline are a joy to him.

    Of course I’m being selfish in hoping that you return to the states soon. Although we’ll still be miles apart, having you somewhere in the continental US just seems to make you closer than your being on the other side of the world! Did you know that I was born in San Francisco? Mom and Dad were married in San Rafael, CA, and lived in SF while dad was stationed in the Army prior to going overseas. Mom absolutely LOVED it there and prior to my being born in 1944 (ouch!) she worked in what was either an aircraft or ship-building factory. Maybe she was the original “Rhoda (Rosie) the Riveter!” Anyway, once Dad went overseas, Mom and I came back to TH and that’s always been home for me. Sounds corny, but she actually left her heart in San Francisco! (That’s a famous Tony Bennett tune which I’m sure you don’t have on your I-Pod!)

    You’ve already experienced more at your young age than I ever did! You obviously inherited the “travel gene” from your Grandma Rhoda and especially Aunt Di who can make a “trip” to the local Walmart an adventure! I have no doubt that you’ll always have that same zest for travel — that’s incurable!

    Keep playing those “What If…” games. You’ll figure it out and I have no doubt that you’ll make the right decision for you.

    Aunt Norma

    1. The trip to Indy was hectic, but it was really good to see everyone (save for Jennifer). Sorry again for not seeing you at the end of Pop Pop’s party!

      I remember Gma Rhoda telling stories about living in California. I’ve always felt drawn to NorCal, and all the friends I have who moved there tell me I’d love living there. Seeing San Francisco from the plane as we landed was one of those “a-ha” moments where I just felt drawn to it. We’ll see what’s in store. Maybe I’m meant to follow in Gma’s footsteps!

      And no worries – I know the Tony Bennett song you referenced 🙂 I think you’d be surprised by what music I have on my iPod!

      1. Awww… I ❤ you. I wasn't worried about you loving me, how could you not? Haha… 😉 It made me miss home more.

        And, that was a fabulous dinner! 😉

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