“I’m nervous,” he said.
I knew then. I had wondered before, but in that moment, I just knew. Still, I forced myself to ask, “About what?”
“Nervous about going on the trip with you.”
In the long pause that followed, I felt the ground shift beneath me. There is a sixth sense about these sort of things when they happen, the dread of knowing the inevitable has arrived and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, you can do to prevent it or even push it off for later. I had despaired, especially in the last few days, what had been wrong and suddenly all of his recent shiftiness and hesitation and avoidance made more sense.
So I took a deep breath and made myself ask, “Why?”
It wasn’t about the trip, in the end. Of course it wasn’t. He had known before it was time for us to book tickets before the prices shot up; he had known for who knows how long but apparently hadn’t been able to bring himself to be honest with me until push came to shove. When I booked my solo ticket later that day, tears dripping down my face and into my laptop keyboard, I thought to myself that maybe, by the time the trip came around, my heart would be a little less broken.
But I was still going. There was no way I wasn’t going to go.
* * *
I called my brother that day, after I was left on my own and before I booked my ticket. I had already gotten two weeks of leave from work approved; now I had to figure out how to fill that time on my own. “Can I stay with you for a week?”
He seemed surprised I hadn’t already asked, but offered me a place to stay and promised he’d show me around. Not that I really need showing around in Shanghai, as I can get around on my own. My language skills may have become rusty, but I still know enough to get by. I’ve also been to Shanghai numerous times, so I’ve done all the touristy and famous stuff. What I really wanted to do this visit was just to spend time with my brother, and see the day-to-day of the life he has built for himself there. I wanted to meet his coworkers and his girlfriend, and explore the far-flung corners of Shanghai I never got the chance to see as a tourist.
“That’s fine,” he said when I pitched this to him. “We can go away for a day trip, too. We don’t have to just stay in Shanghai.”
That was settled, then.
* * *
Next, I called my mother.
“How long are you staying in Hong Kong?” I asked her.
“I hadn’t picked a date to leave yet.”
“Can you stay the full week? With me?”
My voice caught on the last two words, and even through our patchy Skype connection, I knew she could tell I was trying so hard not to cry.
“Of course, honeybun.”
That was settled too, then.
* * *
My first flight leaves tomorrow morning, bright and early. It’s never a straightforward itinerary when flying halfway across the world, and to complicate things even further, I’m going to multiple cities. But I am an old pro at these long haul flights, and it’ll likely do me some good to be disconnected and off the grid when I’m up in the air. My luggage is packed and my work phone is switched off. I have two weeks of solid vacation time where my only concern is to spend time with my mom and brother and extended family and put everything behind me. I’ll worry about what happens when I get back, when I get back. In the meantime, I am going to savor every minute of being on my own and choosing what I want to do for no one but myself. There’s a beauty in independence and going solo, and I’m determined to rediscover that.