In 2014, Rebecca and her partner John left her lifelong home of Oakland, California in search of a better life. Their journey will take them to the Catskills in New York State, and eventually onto a converted school bus in which they will travel America.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Two Cats, An Airplane, and the TSA

I've landed in New York State and am reunited with John for the first time in four months. The cats and I are recovering. Only now that I have gotten some distance on the flight can I really talk about it.

Lake Michigan's ice floes, outside my plane window.

Above is the one beautiful thing about my flight. The rest was even more of a trial than I thought it would be. Looking back on it now, three things stood out most of all. The constant, exhausting roaring of the plane, the chaos and filth of Chicago airport, and the fact that the TSA almost caused me and countless others to miss our flights altogether.

I left Oakland in the dark. It was before five in the morning. I hadn't slept. I remember being halfway to an anxiety attack before I even reached the airport. I felt terrible guilt over shoving the cats in those carriers, I was scared of what was going to happen on the plane, and of course, I was wrestling with the much bigger question of "will I be able to make it out East?"

I soon discovered however that my ability to make my flight at all was in jeopardy. The airport was very crowded, and despite the number of flights scheduled the TSA had only put one inspector on duty. The woman in question was slow, incompetent and unsympathetic. At one point I remember sobbing in the middle of an anxiety attack with a squirming cat tucked under each arm while she scanned my carriers and then demanded I give up their leashes for scanning as well. They almost got loose in the airport, and by then I was completely falling apart. I stumbled for my plane with all of five minutes to spare, scared cats, chest pains and no idea if my luggage would even make it.

I finally got to the Chicago airport, desperate to get my cats and me some water and time out. Only to discover that the airport pet relief area was outside the TSA security zone. This left me with the choice of leaving my cats in their carriers for the entire damned journey, or go through the line again and risk them getting loose. I had to choose the first. I cried over it. I sat in the waiting area for my next flight and tried to keep myself and the cats together. Meanwhile, raging morons from the ground crew kept going in a nearby restricted access door, setting off the screeching alarms, and leaving us to hold our hands over our ears until a security person got around to turning it off. On average, ten minutes later another group of morons would pop in, hear the alarm go off and walk away without doing anything about it. I waited for an hour and a half that way.

When you have anxiety disorder, the last thing you want to do is have an attack in public. You're scared, you're in pain, you need help, but it's pretty much guaranteed that any stranger you run into is going to treat you like a nuisance, a drama queen and/or a crazy person. Thus making things worse and making it even harder for you to pull out of the attack. So you do your best to hide the hell you are going through. And so I did, and tried to focus my mind anywhere but on what the cats and I were experiencing.

Later, I would pay for it. Later, I would have a day where I had three anxiety attacks in the space of twelve hours, and spend the rest of the day completely exhausted, drained and depressed. But on that day, touching down in New York and carting all my stuff out to meet John and his family, I made it.

Pine Hill's library, the day after my arrival.

Everything since then has been a quiet mix of recovering and slowly pulling together for my next moves. This includes fixing up the room John and I share, getting an income together and handling things like State ID and insurance. I have about a month to get the official stuff done, but I would rather do it sooner rather than later.

Last night John took me to the local pub for their Saturday night buffet. He threw darts while we talked and listened to Bob Seger on the jukebox. We said hello to some of the locals, and I admired the old rifles and cool old ads on the walls. When I woke up this morning, I finally started feeling focused enough to do more than just recover.

But I'm never going on a plane again if I can possibly help it....

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