Isabella Osorio

I hate airplanes. There’s something about crossing the threshold from the jet bridge into the cold body of the plane that feels like signing my own death certificate. As soon as I cross that gap I’ve put myself at the mercy of the pilot. How am I supposed to feel good about that? I don’t even know that guy. Personally, I feel like my reaction is appropriate, and it’s everyone else who’s being entirely too cool about spending however many hours in a thin tin can 30,000 feet in the air. The point is, for a person who hates airplanes as much as I do, I tend to end up in them quite a bit.

June 2018 – Dublin, Ireland

The morning air in Ireland is muggy and cool, I can feel the hair at the base of my neck begin to curl in the humidity. 36 hours, four airports, and three iced coffees later, our group had arrived at our first stop in our journey across the pond. The lush green hills and grey skies feel alien in my groggy state, and I feel bad that I can’t appreciate them better. The equally beautiful hotel, situated right on the water, also escapes my notice that first day.

            My teacher, a stout, short-haired woman, who is entirely too cheerful this early in the morning, squeezes my friend and I together for a picture. I make an imperceptible attempt to smile until she leaves, still feeling like time has thickened into some kind of quantum jelly around me.

Our group files into neat lines for the hotel breakfast. The idea of eating anything after the winding bus ride makes me slightly nauseous, but I get in line anyway. A woman with a

hairnet and warmly crinkled face offers me a knowing smile. I guess I must look as tired as I feel.

“Would you like some bacon?”

I glance down at the dish in front of her. I would’ve called it ham, not bacon. I thought she might have misspoke, or maybe I was so weary I had started to hallucinate ham for some reason. Then I realized it must just be a cultural thing.

“No thank you.” I reply

“You’ll have some bacon,” she decides, shoveling ham onto my plate.

I had the bacon.

After nearly 48 hours of being awake, I collapse onto the hotel bed, cursing the Northern hemisphere because why on earth is the sun still out at 8pm? With the green landscape still in my mind’s eye, I drift into a dreamless sleep.

June 2018 – Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset, England

The town of Glastonbury is small and quaint. Despite the impressive architecture, charming storefronts, and beautiful weather, almost no one is outside when we arrive. There’s some old ruin, probably of great historical importance, that we’re here to see. But the town itself has a presence that makes me want to take a beat and soak it in. I find myself at a park bench near a bus stop, feeling the sun shine and watching a group of pigeons fight over the remains of a french fry (chip, whatever). Shops with old-fashioned window panes line the cobbled streets.

Straight ahead of me I can see the other tourists milling around an old castle with crenelated archways. I watch two of my friends make wide gestures as they pose for a picture, like they’re

picking up the castle. The distance dwarfs their image and muffles their voices, absently I find myself thinking that this must be how mothers watching their children at the park feel. A great fondness for an  otherwise mundane action. The scene is so peaceful and warm that I almost fall asleep sitting up. I nearly jump when I hear a voice to my right. Not one of the other tour group members, but an older woman dressed in a floral patterned blouse, veined hands folded over  a gold cane. I realize she’s just asked me a question.

Am I American? I guess the ‘I Heart London’ T-shirt gave it away.

I stutter out an answer.

A follow-up question.

What do I think of Mr. Trump?

I’m not exactly sure how to answer this one. My mind struggles to think of the answer she wants to hear.

“I don’t think much of him.” is what I end up saying. At least that’s true. I expect her to ask me to elaborate, or offer some kind of assent or dissent. Instead, she reaches into a basket beside her and hands me a single perfect peach before getting on the arriving bus without another word.

July 2019 – Seoul, Korea

Namdaemun Market is one of the biggest open air markets in Seoul. Knowing that fact and seeing the place in person were two very different things. Stalls selling every kind of street food imaginable line each side of the road. The sounds of food frying, people haggling, and children begging their parents for something sweet all meld into a delicious chorus. I’m joined by two girls I came to call my friends. One from France, the other from England. Getting dropped into a foreign country on a study abroad program will force you to make friends pretty quickly.

Just the week prior we’d been forced on a trek around the city by the French girl, Hanna, who had gone to every cafe she could find to buy a baguette only to carefully list all the reasons why they weren’t very good. My complaints about how ‘You don’t have to buy every baguette you see just because you’re French.’ had been met with a frighteningly serious ‘Yes I do.’

As we wander through the market, we eye the signs posted on the front of each stall for words we recognize. Our teacher had given us a list of popular snacks to watch out for in a kind of scavenger hunt. We slowly weave our way through the aisles, eventually forgetting about the scavenger hunt entirely in favor of buying whatever piques our interest. Near the end of the road there’s a dumpling stall we decide to stop at. Hanna orders for us, producing six steaming dumplings with a greedy smile. When she goes to pay, the man running the stall tells her something too quickly for any of us to understand. I catch the word for “dumpling” and nothing else. At that moment our teacher walks by, “He gave you an extra one so you can split them equally.” she calls over. “Ohhhhhh,” we all say in unison. We turn to thank the man, who only smiles warmly in return. The gesture lingers in my mind for the rest of the day.

July 2019 – Sinsa-dong, Gangnam, Seoul

“It’s Minji’s last day here.” says Bill.

I turn around, “Really? For how long?”

He shrugs his shoulders, “I don’t know, apparently she only works here for part of the year, The summer– I think.”

The woman he’s talking about, Kim Minji, is our vocabulary teacher. A young woman I remember for her wide-eyed attention at every single story a student told her. There was also her forgetfulness. She had once told us a story about leaving her laptop at a cafe, and the very same day left her purse in the departing subway car. The day we learned words related to body parts, she showed us a music video that consisted of a single sustained shot of a shirtless man singing in the rain. You know, for “educational purposes”. The whole class had struggled to contain our laughter, watching her transfixed on the video. She had a habit of clasping her hands together in excitement whenever a student got a question right, smiling so wide you’d think one of us had just told her she’d won the lottery. She was really nice.

“I got her something.” Bill, a boy from California, holds up a pink shopping bag I hadn’t noticed. I can see the words Olive Young written on the side, a popular discount makeup shop.

“What is it?”

Bill scratches his chin, “Well I didn’t really know what to get so I asked some of the other teachers. They all said ‘a car air freshener’—like three of them!” He shrugs, “I don’t really get it, hopefully she likes it.”

When our teacher comes in that morning, her usual frantic whirlwind energy following her, we all wait in anticipation for her to open the gift. It seems she didn’t expect us to know she

was leaving, much less buy her a gift. She opens the present with a series of exclamatory noises and wild hand gestures. I guess car air fresheners were really trendy that season. When she pulls Bill into a tight hug I can see tears in her eyes.

Summer 2020 – Home

My mom pulls me closer into the worn blue hammock in our backyard. We stir our coffee in tandem, enjoying the last remnants of the spring air before it becomes far too hot to be outside this long. I hope, in the silence, that she won’t wonder how I’m doing. I feel frightened of a future I’m not sure will come. Like I am slogging through my youth, rather than grabbing it with both hands. I want her to tell me things will turn out ok without me having to ask. How could a home you’ve known all your life seem colder than any number of places in the outside world?

I hold my memories close to my chest, tuck them away where no one can see. I keep them where I can think about them on a quiet night, like they might somehow be tainted if I think of them too often. For the first time in my life I find myself wishing I could board an airplane.

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