It shouldn't be surprising that tension was high in the house last week. Everyone's feelings were swinging from excitement to sorrow, almost on an hourly basis, our hearts at the ends of pendulums suspended by taut heartstrings.
A few times, the strings broke. Tears, anger, frustration, withdrawal if it happened on the downswing; bouts of laughter, impromptu hugging, jumping up and down on the upswing. Then practicalities would set in, and we were back at work.
It is work, packing one's life into two suitcases, a carry-on, and a laptop bag. There were last-minute shopping and bank runs. The traveler, Virgo that she is, packed and repacked days ahead, wisely weighing her luggage to avoid extra fees. Her father, ever the problem-solver, figured out a way for her to handle the luggage on her own at her arrival. Her mother was more worried about making memories with favorite family meals and a girls' night out. Her brother joined her on Pokemon hunts and video game playing, both of them staying up past their parents' bedtimes.
Friday came quickly. We were out the door on time, and arrived in Houston a few hours later, with the added good fortune of hotel rooms ready before noon. The traveler went into work mode, meeting up with fellow employees to take a shuttle to orientation.
A reception at the residence of the Consul General of Japan brought everyone together again. The friendliness of the staff, coordination of the JET program, and sparkling personalities of the JET applicants added to the excitement of this new venture. Speeches and toasts were made, and then it was back to the hotel for one last family meal. The traveler visited with us for awhile in our room, but left to join her roommate for the night.
Sleep was hard to come by that evening, and no one was overly hungry for breakfast in the morning--except the brother, who had chocolate cake left over from the night before. We went to help the traveler and her roommate with their luggage, meeting the rest of the group crowding into the hotel lobby. Seeing them onto the bus, we left ahead of the shuttles and waited for their arrival at the airport.
It takes awhile to check in a group of more than three dozen fliers, but we didn't mind; it gave us time to talk and meet some of the other travelers.
Bags checked, boarding pass and passport in hand...it was time to say goodbye at the security gate. Three rounds of hugs, and she was off. We watched through teary eyes on a balcony overhead as she made her way through the scans and on to the terminal, waiting as she laced on her purple converse sneakers. With a wave and blowing kisses, she joined the others heading towards the international terminal. We didn't leave until her feet disappeared beneath the ceiling line below us.
It was a quiet ride back to the hotel. As we loaded the car, planes flew over us every few minutes, and we tried to guess which one was hers, saying goodbye to each just in case.
The traveler arrived safely in Tokyo thirteen hours later.
For the next year or two, a piece of our hearts will be twelve hours ahead, plus two.