Colorado #1: fortunate woman

"Stretch your hands out, spread your feet apart, and look straight ahead."

It was a formality, really. Sure, wand me down. I wasn't carrying anything metal; I know better than to do that in the age of burning planes and buildings. (I only taunt fate in ways that don't matter.) The only metal on my body was the clasp holding my jeans together.I don't like taking my wedding and engagement bands off, but they were in the smallest compartment of my backpack, nestled in with my spare change in the hopes of making them harder to find by anyone who might choose to rifle through my pack. In the dance to prepare for the airport security check, they are the last things to come off, after the watch and the shoes, and the first to be put back on.

They are the only jewelry I wear. It's somewhat reactionary to note that my mother wears rings on almost every finger. Perhaps that's why. Or perhaps it's because I've never really liked my hands, with their functional unpretty fingers and their crooked bones, and felt it somewhat ridiculous to draw more attention to them.

My hands would tell you that I was a woman unusually alone.

My friends would tell you that I do this once a year, and that they don't know why because even I don't know why.

The word 'walkabout' was on my lips as the bored security screener asked me where I was going. I changed it to 'vacation,' a word the rest of the world knows better but which has almost no bearing on why I go.

"Colorado, eh? Going skiing?"

"Nope. Broken enough bones in my life. Spending a week with a friend."

I sat shoeless in my plastic chair while I watched a gloved woman unpack my backpack. Yep, all there - scarf, mittens, headphones, CD player, batch of brownies for the boys, knitting. She frowned at the brownies, but they smelled like brownies, and she put them aside. She inspected the knitting as I gritted my teeth, reminding myself that I'd taken great care to make sure that it would be difficult for my unfinished work to fall off their respective needles.

She rifled my change-and-rings pocket in my pack, and put everything back. At that point the screeners shrugged at each other, almost disappointed that I was carrying nothing contraband or even remotely interesting.

"Can I go?"

"You can go. Have a safe flight."

"Thanks." I heeled my shoes back on, tied my coat around my waist, and put my backpack back on. I walked to my gate, found an empty chair with empty chairs on each side, and rifled through my change pocket until I found my wedding and engagement bands, jamming them quickly on my finger yet again with a sigh of relief.

* * * * *

A plane hop later I found myself disgorged somewhere near a terminal at O'Hare. Instead of a jetway, I realized that the door of my plane opened to a set of steps, which led to a whistling howling outdoors of Chicago cold.

The woman in safety orange pointed us that way, and the race began. End of F terminal. My next plane was where? Oh my. I'd be running. My backpack bounced against my back as I jogwalked down the terminal; anyone with D cup breasts will tell you that they don't run in anything but the securest of sports bras. Running only leads to socking yourself in the jaw.

But I digress.

I walked from one end of the terminal to the other; apparently the shortest route to my next flight was to walk to terminal E, where I could catch a bus to terminal C, where I had just enough time to race down the moving sidewalks, run into the bathroom, deflate my bladder and walk straight onto the plane with about three minutes to spare.

I wrestled myself breathless into my seat and frantically keyed in a text message to Chris, letting him know I'd made the second plane and would, indeed, arrive in Denver after all. I put on my headphones and willed the plane west, unable to knit because my seat light was out, and pondered That Moment.

You know That Moment: the first moment in which the person you're visiting sees you. The moment in which opinions are formed (is she tired? she looks tired. was it a long trip? we'll have to ask her) and questions are answered.

I always take a minute or two to myself to put myself together before The Moment. Tidy my hair a little. Straighten and de-crumb my shirt. Take Airplane Amy and tidy her into the slightly more respectable Traveling Amy.

Of course, it's somewhat difficult to turn yourself into the Respectable Travelling Amy when you've been on airplanes for most of the day and your hair is mussed because you've tucked it under a Santa hat for the past five hours.

I dodged travelers on the way to the Denver airport concourse train, and listened to most of them gabble about how good it was to be home after the holidays. I stared into the back of the train, watching the horizon vanish behind us, and shared my thoughts on how good it was to be on walkabout once again ... with no one. When the escalator brought me up to baggage claim, The Moment found me the smiling woman in the Santa hat, waving to her friend on the other side of the window.

I let Jeff and Jody know I'd made it in safely, and prepared to shut myself off from the rest of my world for one more week.

* * * * *

I think if I actually understood why I go on these walkabouts, I would no longer need them. Every now and then I get the urge to try to explain why I go, why I have to go. I am a fortunate woman; I share love and life with a man I think is extraordinary, and over the past few years we've put together quite a nest of local (and semi-local) friends.

But once a year, I pack it all up in a backpack and walk away. Partly for the scare and thrill that comes from pulling my backpack out of the back of the car and kissing Jeff goodbye for a week. Partly for the thrill of the unknown that comes from the other end of the journey. What will I see? What will I remember when I come home?

Every year I learn something. About the world. About myself.

This year was no different.

Colorado #2 is written and will appear tomorrow.