Why I’m Traveling Alone
He didn’t understand it. I didn’t expect him too, really. Sitting at dinner that Monday night in April, his murky brown eyes staring at me from across the table when I made an unusual proclamation: That when it came time for me to go back to Israel, I wanted to be traveling alone.
My odd quirks post-divorce did tend to puzzle him; maybe it’s one of the numerous reasons we aren’t friends anymore. But the truth was that sometimes we know what we need better than the world around us does. Sometimes it doesn’t fit in the conventional box of what society tells us to do. And for me, I needed to return to Israel alone, without anyone accompanying me on the journey. I knew it then, and I know it now as I am leaving for my greatest adventure up to this point.
The Israel experience I had at 17 changed my life, although not in a good way. Up until my divorce, it was the painful and most traumatic thing that had happened to me, being torn away against my will from the motherland that I developed a deep and emotional bond with. Despite the fact that I wasn’t alone that day (to which I will always thank Eve for), my experience was individual and unusual. Even on the way home, although I had escorts throughout the journey, I was really alone, not talking to them unless it was something that had to be said.
As if that wasn’t enough, I had to sit and watch all my friends fly back and forth to Israel over the past 15 years as if it was around the corner, traveling and telling stories about all the things I never got to see: Dancing the night away in Tel Aviv, slathering mud on each other at the Dead Sea, climbing Masada as the sun rose over the desert, even shopping in the Shuk. The closest I got was my 45 minutes in Jerusalem. I was happy for them, but inside it was killing me — and none of them knew that.
For most of my life (up until the past few days), few people actually knew the depth and severity of what happened to me. And that man who sat across the table from me at dinner on that April night in Long Beach was one of the few that did.
He should have never known. But that night in St. Louis as he and I were driving through, Eve encouraged me to tell him by showing him that funny picture book I made for her as a gift. When he read it, he genuinely smiled, allowing it to touch those brown eyes. He’s a person that I knew so well that I was completely aware of when he was faking his joy for the cameras and when he was truly happy and peaceful. That moment was as real as anything I ever saw from him.
Maybe he was offended at the idea that I didn’t want anyone to come with me to Israel — not even him, who knew me better than most people in the world claim to and who gave me my life’s other great travel adventure of driving cross country. Perhaps I just came off as my normal eccentric self and he was disturbed as he never saw that side of me before. I will never know.
As we walked back to his car that April night, my hands deep in my black coat pockets and enjoying the quiet that settled over us, he broke the silence with his deep baritone.
“You know, Reina, you don’t have to hide,” he said. “You don’t have to put on a show.”
At the time, I was confused as the weather seemed to change between us. Maybe he wanted me to say what I was feeling towards him, which three months after my divorce had no real words to explain all of it; my very body was incapable of describing every detail attached . Maybe he wanted to me to let go of all the selfish coping mechanisms that I put in place to keep me composed throughout the divorce process, which at the time were probably not the best choices I could make for myself. All I knew was something told me deep inside knew that I was about to lose this important person in my life, and as my feelings for him were in flux this was a scary thought. In my fear, I tried to kiss him, although failing and going for a second hug instead. It didn’t stop the inevitable, though.
It’s been almost two years since that night. I don’t believe either of us were prepared for the tangle of emotions that would happen over the next several months. It was the intensity, despair, confusion and changing circumstances that made us into shattered glass, unable to be put back together again. There were days that I was confined to my bed on account of the heartbreak of losing such an amazing human being in my existence. The honest truth is I still miss him everyday. Although I have reclaimed my happiness and have moved on in so many ways, a part of the joy will always be missing because he is no longer with me.
At that same time, my life was in a perennial state of traveling along a roller coaster: Financial crises that made my very core shake, intense therapy sessions and tears on a fluffy green couch, a tremendous move to a place that was home and yet not. Divorce broke my life, but unlike the glass that was him and me, it was a jigsaw puzzle to form back into pretty pictures with all its special pieces: the embrace of friends, a home to call my own, a very life to claim as mine. It was up to me to do it, an individual process that couldn’t have been done with someone like him around who knew me so intimately, sometimes better than I knew myself. To make a life, you should always know yourself better than anyone in the world.
When I got the call in November that invited me to return to Israel, I cried deeply in gratitude, lying on the bed in my room by myself. As I announced it, there were people cheering both here and in Israel, wanting desperately to take me to lunch, dinner or coffee and offering to let me sleep on their couches. Although they were joyful, just as most of my recent struggles had been by myself, this great sparkling moment was also mine alone, separate from them.
As I was planning to leave I wanted to make sure to extend my trip either on the front end of the trip or afterwards. But as I looked up at the bright blue sky of California January while talking to the travel agent, it was like my very core knew what had to be done: I had to fly alone. I would return with the rest of the group I would be joining halfway through. Even that night back in April two years, I knew that my trip to Israel would be an emotional journey when it would occur; my own journey that others could never own, just like the divorce and rebuilding afterwards. And to do it right meant to do it alone.
My 17-hour flight to Israel was not meant to be with someone. It was meant to be with me. It was writing the words that would express the joy. Meditating about the meaning of this journey in the course of my existence. Letting go of the pain of the past. Remembering the notes of those I love I’m carrying with me in my purse. Thinking of the cute boys I’m going to kiss — because yes, these past two years of being single have made me boy-crazy and somehow I have been able to convince myself that I’ll be ready to settle down after I return from a stream of flirtations halfway across the world. But this is a facet of me, for better or worse, until I find the right one.
If we were still talking, I couldn’t imagine anyone who would be happier about me going to Israel than him. Would he have understood this concept now of traveling by myself now after everything I had gone through? To this day, I’m not entirely sure. But I never expected him too, nor anyone else to really get it. After all, sometimes we have to do what’s right for you, not them. And sometimes that path is meant to be walked by yourself.