It would be my first solo vacation. The butterflies in my stomach reminded me of my nervousness, which I wasn’t sure if I could fully attribute to the plane’s engine revving this time. I looked for my seat, which I eventually found wedged between two ladies. I gestured with a polite smile at the elderly woman in the aisle seat. She looked up at me with a gentle and feeble expression, making no gesture to rise.
“Do you mind if I just… hop in?” I asked the woman. She smiled and nodded.
I did my best to slither over her into my seat without bumping her, and as I settled in, safely stowing my purse under the seat in front of me, she offered her gratitude: “Oh, thank you, dear. Thank you.”
I turned to offer her a smile and introduce myself. This elderly woman, I realized, was paralyzed on the left side of her body. Her left arm rested on the side of her seat, the palm of her hand faced up. She struggled to open a cosmetic bag with her other hand which, when I offered her my assistance, I noted was full of different bottles of medication.
The plane took off, and as always, my palms got clammy. When we were at flying altitude, the elderly woman grew lively with conversation. When she asked me what the purpose of my trip was, I told her the truth.
“I’m going on a vacation by myself, because, well… I have a lot of thinking to do.”
She seemed to approve of this response, nodding her head in understanding. “That’s good. You should take every opportunity you get while you’re young.”
And then, as if it were a piece of information she’d only just stumbled upon yesterday, she made the strangest and most intriguing exclamation I’d heard in a while.
“I’m already old.”
I had no words in response to this, but I had many thoughts. I had so many thoughts in response to this, in fact, that my mind began drawing all kinds of parallels and strange assumptions. I’d heard the two words side-by-side many times, mostly out of my own mouth: “I’m old.” But somehow the way she wedged the word already between the two, familiar words gave the over-used remark a new and interesting meaning.
So, if she’s ‘old’ in the aisle seat, I thought to myself, then the snoring woman to my left must be ‘I’m,’ which would inevitably make me ‘already,’ which would totally make sense because I’m awkward in this seat like the word itself is awkward in the sentence. I felt appeased at this abstraction, and moved on.
Or perhaps I’m ‘already’ because I need to wake up already? Smell the roses already? Get my life on track already?
A sudden feeling of panic twanged inside of me when, for the first time since I’d heard the exclamation moments earlier, I realized its more probable meaning. Maybe her use of ‘already’ is an indication of the elusiveness of time and life altogether. Maybe her life passed her by too quickly, maybe she didn’t anticipate her youth slipping away so fast. Perhaps each day of her agedness is a disappointing reminder of the time she missed.
I let out a deep breath at an attempt to soothe my anxiety. But in a weak moment, I allowed my mind to go there. I allowed myself to pay a visit to my greatest fear. Dark images of me, old and weathered, filled my imagination, this time the three words on my mind in the form of a question: I’m already old?
Beside me, the travelling cardigan lay rested over my lap, warming me and comforting me all the same.
– – –
I finally reached my destination in Orlando, tired and grumpy. I retrieved my suitcase and preceded to spend an hour searching for a shuttle I’d previously reserved online. By the time I checked into the hotel, I was completely depleted. I devoured the warming gift the hotel clerk had given me – a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie – and headed to my room. Swinging open the door, I wheeled my luggage inside. The door slammed behind me. The room was quiet. Two beds.
Up until that moment, I had forgotten about my emotional tendencies in silent hotel rooms. A familiar feeling of unease washed over me in my unfamiliar surroundings. My mind was spiralling downward, and I was slipping, the nagging voice gaining a tighter grip, beginning to shout at me. What the hell are you doing here?
I sat on the carpet against the edge of the bed, allowing the voice to make me sob. I had put my travelling cardigan on when I felt the cold air conditioning in the room, and soon I was using it as a tissue, its ruffled edges drying my eyes with ease.
– – –
Days into my journey, I found myself in another panic, in another hotel room, in another city. Fearing I’d succumb to my sporadic wave of loneliness, I became determined to continue on in my journey from St. Augustine, and booked a five night cruise to the Bahamas.
In the meantime, I thought to myself, I’ll go visit the other side of Florida.
With three days to kill in Saint Petersburg before my cruise departed, I decided to relax and enjoy the beaches. At St. Pete’s beach, lying atop a towel insufficient for smothering the rocky sand, the travelling cardigan comforted me again. In it’s condensed form, it became my pillow. And as I began practicing my new photography skills and my new lens on aperture priority, the cardigan became the subject in the frame, the beach and the blue water stretching out in a blur behind it.
– – –
The travelling cardigan, and its elusive absence, later became the subject of my thoughts as I searched my state room for its whereabouts. I had spent the previous five nights aboard wishing it would show its face. My perfect beach cover-up hid out, missing the three islands in the Bahamas, and it’s light fabric and lace back – which would have been ideal for the semi-casual nights aboard – were nowhere to be found. But I held onto my hope for its safe return.
Packing my suitcase to disembark, I searched relentlessly. Not under the bed, or hung in the closet. Not slung over the chair at the vanity, or hanging on the back of the bathroom door. Could the travelling cardigan really be gone? I backtracked in my mind to all the places we had visited together, scrambling for clues as to where it could have escaped me. Had I left it in Saint Augustine, on one of the benches at Flagler College? Did I forget it at Clearwater Beach, or somewhere along my way to Daytona Beach? Did I forget it in the rental car?
Becoming upset at the realization of its loss, a positive thought dawned on me. Perhaps the travelling cardigan was just remaining true to its name. Perhaps, like me, it wasn’t ready to end the journey and return home.
Perhaps it just decided to continue travelling.
– – –
The Travelling Cardigan by Bethany Rae comes in many shapes, forms, and colours, each one with the unique ability of folding into a small, portable bundle. The bundle fits nicely into your purse, allowing you to conveniently carry it anywhere with you. Perfect for protecting your arms and shoulders from the indoor air conditioning, while remaining light enough to be worn in the hot sun, the Travelling Cardigan proves its true versatility when it doubles as a pillow on an airplane or at the beach. As the perfect companion for women on the move, it’s obvious where the Travelling Cardigan got its name.
Learn more about the Travelling Cardigan here.