Ditching the Clinical Strength

The minute I click “Confirm my Purchase” I feel the familiar wetness and prickling sensation. Suddenly aware of my armpit stubble, I shift my shoulders uncomfortably to subtly deliver air to my underarms. It helps a little until I glance back down at my computer screen: “Purchase Confirmed. Flight itinerary below.” Another surge of moisture and with that, I think, better upgrade to clinical strength.

It lives in my top drawer until packing day comes. With shaking hands I place all these unfamiliar gadgets- a Swiss army knife, a fast-dry towel- and ill-fitting but practical clothing inside my backpack. I stuff wool socks and iodine tablets into the leftover gaps until the seams nearly burst. As I yank the zippers shut and tug the drawstrings I feel the sweat beads form under my arms. I eye the overweight pack as I inhale deeply and reach for the clinical strength. I roll on the solid and take another slow breath.

The next morning I shove the backpack into the trunk of my dad’s minivan. I call my mom at work from the passenger seat. It’s a bright morning in early January. Blinding sunlight pours through the windshield and I get a little dizzy as I say goodbye to my mom. I hang up and a surge of heat hits me. From the heat or the goodbye, I don’t know. I twist in my seat to unearth the clinical strength once more.

Only a few tears escape when I hug my dad at airport security. Standing in the metal detector, though, with my arms held up above my head, my eyes sting. Once through the checkpoint I try not to look back at my dad waving quietly from the other side, the safe side. At my gate I peel off my layers, meant to save room in my pack, as my armpits and lower back dampen. I sit down in a heap of flannel and fleece before I sweat (or cry) off the last swipes of mascara my lashes will know for four months. Once again I dig up the clinical strength.

We arrive well after midnight to an all but deserted airport. The dash to baggage claim is a zombie apocalypse, dozens of exhausted travelers scrambling to the front of the customs line. I hesitate and hang back, anxious to delay entry to the first foreign country I’ll know. Once I’m through it’s nearly two in the morning. Someone is supposed to pick me up but the driver I was promised is nowhere to be found. The international arrivals gate clears out until I’m the only person left, save for a custodian or two. I lay my backpack across a bench and sink into a seat. Nervous? A bit. Afraid? I suppose. But I can’t exactly go back now. Left with no other options, I wait. I breathe. I bask in the uncertainty and the dampness of my palms. I’d better get used to it. And thirty minutes later, a harried-looking man scuffles through the door with a ragged piece of paper in hand: Katherin. Close enough. I speak no Spanish and he, no English so I don’t know why he’s late. I don’t know where he’s taking me. But I follow him outside where the humidity immediately draws tiny pearls on the back of my neck. I relish the rush of heat. I get in the car with him take off into the warm night.

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