My decision to go see Cyril was rash and not well thought out. I tend to make irrational ‘love life’ choices, so this seemed to be fitting. I remember calling my mom and dropping the news by saying, “Mom, I going to France to visit a friend I met a few years ago, I know this is unordinary and you will have a lot of questions, but relax I’m not meeting a random.” At this point in my life, my parents harvested a lot of worry for me, basically, they couldn’t ‘check me off’ their internal list, which compares me to my two brothers, who are both in committed relationships with good support systems. I had my dog, which I was perfectly happy with, but regardless of my contentment to my four-legged friend, it wasn’t a family system fitting for my parent’s comfort level, so naturally, they were worried I was going to France. It didn’t matter; I was going regardless of what my parents’ thought.
The day I booked I my ticket was one of the most exciting days of my life, only surpassed by the day I got accepted into graduate school, or maybe the day my divorce was final. Those two are tied for first place.
Even though I was ecstatic, I couldn’t tell anyone and by anyone I mean Facebook. So badly, I wanted to advertise my future journeys for my entire world to see and be jealous of, but I had to keep this information within my inner-circle of friends and family, for two reason: 1) I was still living with my ex-boyfriend and wanted to spare him any additional pain, as I’m the one who broke it off with him, and 2) I believed if I said it out loud, it wouldn’t come true. I guess I’m superstitious that way, but I wanted all things to be in my favor, even the universe. Okay, there is a secret third reason I didn’t want to say anything. My break-up with my ex-boyfriend, and current roommate, was getting messy. He intentionally violated our only rule, which was not to bring anyone over to the house, so I wanted to make sure I had some spare ammunition in case we started firing at each other. This news, will certainly, make some holes.
All drama aside, at this point in life, so much was changing: I was, just recently, openly gay, about to start graduate school and reuniting with old friends, none of which I thought I would ever do. The night before I booked my ticket, I looked in my bathroom mirror and said, “When life gives you second chances, I have to take them”. At that very moment, I started thinking over the last four months, and without knowing it, I had been unconsciously accepting my second chances. Several months prior, I reconnected with an astringed friend, Beau. I guess I could count getting a second chance at being single; I jumped at that opportunity, so going to France didn’t have to be a big ordeal, did it? While still staring in the mirror, I allowed myself a few moments of excitement, and then plotted my story, which wasn’t a stretch because it was the truth, kind of.
I told everyone we met in a coffee shop, and then I raved about his confidence when approaching me, and my eagerness that was masked with wariness. Supposedly, we exchanged email address and not phone numbers, which secured my apprehension to this strange man. The reality was we only exchanged emails because of how we actually met, craigslist. For some reason, although I fully appreciate craigslist (all murderous and perversion aside), craigslist comes with a nasty fist full of stereotypes and mistrust, mainly because there is interaction with complete strangers, which typically makes the general population uneasy. I fully support the use of extreme caution, but I thought Cyril was different, so we met in person. This happened years ago, and we’ve kept in touch since.
Needless to say, my parents bought the story. They had several questions, and even more worries, but I was good manipulating conversations, so it was easy for me to appease their apprehension. With parents and friends marked off my list of people to tell, I was ready to travel to France! I was ready to rekindle a relationship with Cyril. I was ready for a life chance, which I felt so lucky to have. Now, I just had to wait four months.
I said, “Self, I have to wait?” Myself was very reassuring by saying, “Yes, just wait and get excited.” Okay then.
I told my friend, Vanessa, “I’ve never been to Europe. How did this happen? This was a bucket list item, but I never thought I’d be spending my 26th birthday (December 9th) in France!”
From the day I booked my ticket in mid-August, my entire body surged with pure joy and curiosity, which I had to quickly suppress. I was a small business owner, which comes with many perks, but many downfalls. Like, not having an IT team to call upon when I’m having computer issues, which is very often. In addition to my business, I was a graduate student, which consisted of reading, classes, studying, weekly breakdown, then repeat. Along with school and work, I had a pesky ex-boyfriend, current roommate, to constantly deal with. Frankly, I had a lot to deal with before I left for France. Maybe it was a good thing I had four months to get myself together? Either way, I worked until the very last minute.
After I finished my last exam I had 24 hours to wash clothes, deliver my dog to my brother’s house, pack, say my goodbyes, and then write my goodbye letter.
When I leave for vacations I always realize how morbid I am. I’m always convinced it will be my last time seeing my friends and family and without my loved ones admitting it, they are also morbid by their actions. For instance my parents were making such a big deal about my departure. The day I left, my dad took off work to surprise me for lunch, with my mom. On one hand, I was excited to have such a loving father that would go out of his way to show me affection, yet on the other hand I thought it was ridiculous. I was only going for 15 days, which I didn’t consider to be a long length of time. Apparently, to my parents that was a different story. We ate at a local southern-style restaurant that my parents frequented. In fact, they attended this eatery so often that it wasn’t uncommon for the chef to send free appetizers, or for them to order something that wasn’t on the menu. To say they were regulars, is an understatement. They had assigned seats; most of the time across the room from someone they’ve known for over 40 years.
As we entered the restaurant I knew I had to leave my embarrassment at the door because my cool, hip, parents were about to turn into boastful, obnoxious, parents that yell at track meets and fight at PTA meetings. As soon as the waitress came to take our drink order, which happen to be an old family friend and wife of the head chef, it started.
My mom said, “Lisa, did you know Garrett is leaving for France in a few hours?” How in the hell would Lisa know that? In fact, why would Lisa even care?
Lisa responded, “I had no clue, can I get your drink order?” Lisa’s friendly, waitress, smile went from normal… to well, normal. She didn’t care, but did that stop my parents from trying to get a reaction? Nope.
The next victim was a contractor that often worked for my dad. My dad said, “Mike, you remember Garrett? He is leaving for France today and he is the first one of us to go to Europe.” To my surprise, Mike seemed very interested, even though he wasn’t very knowledgeable about regions as big as France. Normally, I would insert a smart-asstic (my mom definition for being a smartass and sarcastic) joke, but I appreciated his enthusiasm, after all, I was secretly proud to be the first member of the family to go to Europe. There were a few other incidences that occurred with more waitresses and random customers, but I didn’t care. I was fairly comfortable with being embarrassed by my mother. I will never be able to forget how she used to yell my name in every dressing room; demanding for me to show her the clothes I’ve tried on. I would back into the far corner thinking that she would give up and leave me alone. It never happened, she only got louder and one time, started knocking on different stalls. Even, at the grown up age of 25, she still did this. So, lunch with my parents was a success. Even if they were sending me to my death, at least I would have felt their love one last time.
I arrived at the airport an hour and a half early, which was completely unnecessary. I typically adore the Baton Rouge airport because I think it’s one of the cities best-kept secrets. About fifteen years prior, the Baton Rouge airport was outdated and had very expensive fares. Today, it is newly renovated and has comparable fares to other large airports, such as the New Orleans International. However, unlike New Orleans International, it is rarely crowed and is very easy to navigate through. Another positive for me was that I’ve never had a delayed flight leaving Baton Rouge, until now.
At this point in my life, I wasn’t a stranger to the airport. Since I was in 9th grade I loved traveling and took every opportunity I was given. However, even with my years of experience, I wasn’t seasoned in international traveling so my ability to schedule a reasonable layover was weak at best. Also, I was naive to the fact that flights weren’t just constantly cycling back. I had this idealization that if I missed one flight, or it was delayed, I would be inconvenienced then take the next one. Simple. So, for my flight to France, I scheduled a 40-minute layover in Houston, never once thinking that it was a negative thing.
After I made it through Baton Rouge’s efficient security I grabbed a seat at my gate. I was one hour early. I waited patiently, while reading, and before I knew it, it was time for us to board, yet no one was moving. I thought, “well that’s weird, how come everyone is staying seated?” Then I noticed that our plane wasn’t at the terminal. Great, no plane means no boarding and no boarding means late for Texas. “Okay, I’ll be fine no worries”, I told myself. Everyone was being very clam; maybe the airport changed our gate? So I go stand in line. This, typically, goes against everything I stand for, because I hate “those” people who get easily agitated and make a spectacle of themselves by loudly asking something along the lines of: “why didn’t they make an announcement? WHAT IS GOING ON?” But today, I was one of them. In fact, I was the loudest one of them all. It reminded me of a time when I was 6 years old. My grandmother took my cousins, around similar ages, and me to a local party/pizza joint to enjoy the afternoon; but we ran into some difficulties. Apparently, someone rented out the entire building for their child’s birthday party. I can still envision my grandmother banging on the locked doors, demanding to speak to a manager. By the end of her conversation, my two cousins and I were bumping elbows with the fellow partygoers. My family created a nickname for my grandmother’s pushy demeanor: “Geraldine-gene” --- Her name being, “Geraldine” (Jerry for short) and the term “gene”, for obvious reasons. That day at the airport, my Geraldine-gene was prevalent.
The line was long and as I got closer to the information counter, I noticed the employees were placing passengers on other flights, because ours was delayed. Occasionally an employee would yell, “If your connection leaves at 4:00pm, please be seated you will make your flight.” Slowly people in the line began to shout out random times to avoid having to wait. After a few random shouts, a customer service employee announced that if your connection leaves anytime before 3:00pm, please stay in line. Perfect. My connection was at 2:45.
Once it’s my turn at the counter, which consisted of one male and one female representative, I politely gave the female representative my boarding pass. She then looked at me and said, “You aint gona make that flight.” At this point, I have never dealt with missing a flight, but I figured I would be a few hours late to Texas, and take the next flight to Paris. Everything always works out; I was disgustingly positive about the entire situation. However, after a few moments of silence passed, I asked the representative what’s going on. She responded, “Well, I’m looking for another flight”. My face was smiling, but my mind was cussing her out. One of my biggest pet peeves is when customer service representatives are rude to customers. I believe being accommodating and friendly is a prerequisite for this position, but apparently I’m mistaken. She then looks at me and says, “Nope.” I think, “What does that even mean?” She didn’t say, “I’m sorry sir, there are no connecting flights”, or “You will be slightly delayed and I’m sincerely sorry for your inconvenience”. She simply said, “Nope.” I had it, so I responded, with a big smile on my face, “That doesn’t make any sense, and please do a better job of communicating”. Granted, I would probably respond the way she did if I had a customer like myself, but fuck, she was, what I thought, the only thing standing between me and France and I was willing to take any causalities as long as I got to my destination. She then responded with, “Nope, you can try again tomorrow.”
I stood there, flabbergasted, blankly staring into her eyes. Somehow, I managed to choke out, “I don’t come to airports to try again later, I come to leave”. Well, that statement got the attention of the male representative. I’m not sure if he was trying to calm an irritated customer, assist his employee or if he thought his “maleness” would somehow diffuse the situation, either way he inserted himself. After a very quick review of “all” my options, he said, ”You can take the original flight, but you won’t make it.” I begrudgingly responded, “I’m feeling lucky”. He said, “You won’t make it”. I slowly looked at him with the biggest fake smile I could produce and said, “Thank you for all of your assistance today.” I got my boarding pass from the female representative and reclaimed my seat by the gate, thinking, “don’t mess with a gay man trying to get to Paris, it will not be pretty”. Then for the remainder of my wait, I pondered if the Geraldine-gene was a gay gene, and what my grandmother’s” inner-gay name” would be. I eventually settled on Frank, the short Latino, with a big attitude, who wears half shirts and too much cologne.
It was not to my surprise that I was the very last seat on the small jet to Texas. Which meant I would be the last to exit and the one with the shortest layover. Great.
Thankfully, my flight attendant wasn’t aware of my discourse with the representatives, so I was moved to a seat in the seventh row and, upon landing in Texas, she urged the passengers to allow passengers with a short layover to exit first. This of course, did not happen. The moment the seatbelt signal was release and we were free to roam about the cabin, everyone shot up. At this point, I had 7 minutes to make my flight to Paris, if I didn’t make it; I’d have to wait until the same time, the next day. Good thing Geraldine (AKA me) had just finished a half-marathon a few weeks before, because I had some running to do.
It didn’t matter if you were young, old or handicapped, you were most likely being pushed out of my way. The entire time I was racing through the airport, I couldn’t help but imagine the scene in “Home Alone”, when the entire family is franticly running in the airport. I was Catherine O’hara’s character, Kate McCallister, and my invisible family consisted of my hopes and dreams, the idea of France and the smartass customer service representative back in Baton Rouge.
I impatiently shoved people out the way when I tried to view the information prompter to see if my gate information was the same, but it didn’t matter. The screen was too confusing and I am too dyslexic for all those numbers and departing cities. I just said, “fuck it”, and kept running. I figured since I’ve been this risky, thus far, I will just chance it. I was constantly checking my phone to see the time and with one minute until departure, I took off in a full forced sprint. Since September 11, 2009, I’ve heard you’re not supposed to run in airports, but again, who cares?
In my last stretch of a hallway before the gate, I seriously began to rethink my wardrobe choice. I thought I would have a celebrity moment when I got off the plane in Paris, with my new sexy “man bag” my mother had gotten for my birthday, and cute hipster clothes, consisting of skinny jeans and a v-neck long sleeved tee. Well, in order to pull off such a spunky outfit, I needed layers, which wasn’t very suitable for running for 7 minutes straight. So by the time I came barreling around the corner to see if my flight has departed, I was drenched in sweat and breathing heavily.
The interesting thing about international flights is that once you enter into that area of the airport, it’s like you’re already in that particular country, more specifically a weird assortment of several different countries, including a weird hybrid American mix. Well, this weird American hybrid was rude and frantically attempting to board the aircraft, only to be violently rebutted. Immediately, I thought, “Damn, I missed it”. Then I realized that my flight hasn’t left yet. “I made it, I freaking made it”, I thought. It took me 7 minutes to maneuver myself through crowds and transit systems to make it to my gate, and it took me 0.7 seconds to become cocky. I wished so badly that I could call the airline representatives in Baton Rouge and tell them to “suck it.”
Thirty minutes later, as I was settling into my seat, as small-framed, French woman came bouncing towards me, “Bonjour”.