Although I consider myself a realist, I have to admit that I have had a bit of trouble wrapping my head around the news that Cara was headed to Afghanistan to take a teaching position. The night she broke the news to me, it simply seemed unreal. Maybe it was because her big announcement neatly coincided with the final weeks before her brother’s wedding. There was a lot going on.
Once the distraction of the wedding was gone, the whole situation began to feel a little more real as she shopped for appropriate clothing and headwear, got her visa, took care of her immunizations and began the anti-malarial medication. Realist that I am, I tried very hard not to think about it and to simply savor the weeks before she left.
I was under the impression that she would be leaving at the end of the July, beginning of August, so I felt like I had a comfortable cushion of precious time to avoid thinking about it. But suddenly, she had flight information and she was leaving on July 12th. It was getting harder not to think about it.
Cara had left to spend her last night in country with her brother and new sister in law. They planned a small party for her Friday evening, and they had volunteered to get her to the airport on Saturday. I could not leave until after work. I did not pull into Blandon until 2 AM, missing the party all together.
As exhausted as I was, I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed and listened to the far-away sound of a train whistle. Apropos to absolutely nothing, I found myself remembering a line. “Signs that might be omens say I’m going, going” I could only think wistfully of gentle songs about people going to Carolina in their minds.
As late as I’d gotten to bed, I was up early the following day. I did not want to miss a moment with Cara. We had a leisurely breakfast with lots of coffee, but way too soon, everyone was getting their showers. I was doing a last minute bit of hemming for Cara when she walked out in her tunic, folding her hijab. It was a moment of sickening clarity. I found myself thinking, “This has begun to feel really real.”
We all helped Cara double check her list to make sure that she had everything in order for her flight out. “Don’t touch anything!” she snapped. “Let me do it myself, so I know where everything is.” She went through her paperwork several times before feeling confident that she had everything she needed. She efficiently gave Dylan last minute information about her car which would be left in his garage.
There was a brief lull in which we all looked at each other, and then it was time to load her bright blue suitcases in the car for the 2 hour trip to the JFK airport. It seemed ridiculous to leave at 3. Her flight did not leave until 11 PM, but she needed to clear security no later than one hour prior to departure. She also needed to get her boarding pass, and to check her luggage.
So many variables. One car accident on the way could snarl traffic for hours. One hiccup in the paperwork could lead to delays in checking her luggage. Overweight luggage could cause further problems. Yeah, buddy. Leaving at 3 seemed like the smart thing to do. If we got there way early, a leisurely supper would be nice.
Dylan’s GPS gave step by step directions in the hoarse voice of a serial killer. I was very glad that I was not driving. New Jersey people seemed to drive with their horns and their finger. New York traffic was hectic and bumper to bumper.
There wasn’t a lot of talking going on in the car. It wasn’t just the traffic. We were all thinking. I, for one, knew that if I began to talk about Cara’s departure, I’d be crying. I also knew that my tears would trigger a chain reaction.
Of course the trip took longer than we expected (lying GPS!). Our leisurely supper turned into a rushed one. Before I knew it, we were at the airport. I watched guards armed with machine guns walking around, and I found myself thinking, “This is starting to feel really real” I did not like it.
Brianna called to say goodbye. William got on the phone to tell Cara that he’d seen a video of a plane that lost its wing. He felt strongly that Cara should go to Afghanistan in a dump truck. Tim said goodbye. Cara began to get a little tearful, and predictably, so did I. Cara said goodbye and then, just that quickly, she was walking towards security. We could not follow. We stood at the gate and watched her go. She was crying. So were we.
The trip back home was even quieter than the trip to the airport. NYC traffic was still busy (does it EVER stop?) and it was dark enough that we weren’t able to see the NJ saluters. (Why will these people not let you merge?) I sat in the back seat and I studied the ‘super moon’. I wondered how it appeared from a plane winging its way across the Atlantic Ocean. Cara texted one final time: “In flight movies are Harry Potter!” A good way for her to pass the time on that 13 hour flight.
Cara has been in Afghanistan for two days now. Earlier this evening, she called me, via skype. She is still trying to get over jet lag, and was wide awake in the middle of the night. In the background I could hear the 3 AM call to prayer being broadcast across the city. I listened to her describe her apartment, and I could imagine her in it, wearing her foreign clothing, with her sweet and quiet maid pattering about.
I have a daughter who is a teacher in Afghanistan. It is real to me now.
Getting comfortable with that reality will take a while longer.