Carry-On/Carry On in the USA


Carry-On/Carry On

by Sarah Vedomske

            49 pounds of cotton and denim–that is what my checked bag, my Normal People Luggage, holds. It is a selection of clothing I’ve pained over for weeks, whittling down, rolling tighter and tighter like burritos, rearranging so every last gap is filled like a game of Tetris. I wheel it behind me and give it to the baggage handler as soon as I can. My carry-on, my Not So Normal People Luggage, I cradle. My life depends on what is held inside: paper test strips, which I smear drops of blood onto each day, orange-capped syringes I slide into my stomach, glass bottles of cold, clear insulin which, as a type 1 diabetic, my body stopped producing on its own years ago. I have enough supplies to last around 6 months. After that, I will have to navigate a foreign healthcare system–a daunting task–though, not daunting enough to stop me from going on this trip. Not even daunting enough to persuade me to close the loop on my one-way ticket. This one-way ticket is the freest I’ve ever felt.

            Pulling out copies of prescriptions, I mentally prepare to put up a gentle fight–to defend my disease and the dozens of liquids it requires in greater-than-TSA-approved-quantities. I separate my medicine from my laptop from my shoes from my passport, and watch the plastic bins slide through the x-ray scanner. I strain to find my medicine on the screen amidst rainbow-hued technological blobs, to know when the right moment to explain myself will be, but I can’t tell any of them apart. Finally, I blurt, “I have diabetes! That’s my diabetes medicine in there!” The man behind the conveyer belt looks me hard in the eyes for a second. My heart races. This is my first time traveling alone, I feel as fragile as blown glass.

            “Hey, me too,” he grins. “Type 1?”

            “Mhm,” I nod, wide-eyed. Relief rolls through my body as my luggage rolls, without conflict, to the other side of the belt.

            “It’s tough to pack all that crap, isn’t it?” he says, watching me scramble to shove all of my medicine back into my bag. “Take care of yourself. Safe travels.”

            TSA, in my opinion, is the most stressful part of airports, and it’s usually not as bad as I think it’s going to be. After getting through that and finding the right gate, it’s all lattés, bestselling books, and staking out a seat until the plane departs. My gate is crowded, so I sit on the floor, and lean my back against a big window, as “Fleeting One” by First Aid Kit flows through my headphones.

            I don’t know where I’m going, but no one is coming with me.

            I won’t give up chasing the sun, here I go, look at me run.

            I wonder, as all kinds of people stream past me, is there any place that holds a wider range of emotion than an airport? Most people rush by in a mad frenzy, as if the plane is going to leave without them any second now. Surely it isn’t that pressing for all of these over-zealous walkers. It must be some kind of herd mentality.

            I want to stop each one of them and hear their stories: who is going on vacation and where to? Who is moving and how far away? Who is returning home and who is leaving home and who cried the whole way here? Airports are transitory places; we’re teetering on the cusp of something different, something new, something possible. Courageous souls are carrying on, waiting for flights, coming, and going all over the world right now.

            These people are on business trips, working to pay off credit card debt and put food on the table. People who feel stuck and are daring themselves to get unstuck, or are going home to surprise their mother on her birthday. People who are switching states, countries, continents for love, money, or, as Robert Louis Stevenson put it, “not to go anywhere, but to go. [To] travel for travel’s sake.” They, too, hope that their plane won’t be delayed, and wish the airport had free wifi. They, too, are sore from lugging their heavy, weathered bags. They, too, are tired or nervous or excited or all three.

            These people are carrying the saddest, funniest, dreamiest stories in their wild beating hearts. It’s a brave troupe.

            I then realize that I, too, am a part of it, with my carry-on full of medicine, clutching a one-way ticket in my trembling hands.

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2 responses to “Carry-On/Carry On in the USA

  1. I understand your dilemma. I have a fanny pack of all the hearts drugs I take, to stave off another event. In addition, I have sleep apnea and have to take my C-Pap everywhere I venture. What takes most people a couple of totes, takes me 4, 5 and in some cases 6 totes. My paranoia increases every time I approach the security check in, as I know many passengers will grow angry and frustrated that they wound up behind me.

    Some help and understand, but not many. The airlines sometimes challenge me and say I need to check a bag, as I have a backpack with my laptop and camera, a fanny pack with prescriptions and my C-Pap. I ask if they are willing to be responsible for my life if they choose the meds or breathing machine and ask if they will replace the laptop and camera when it is stolen by their employees. Somehow I am always allowed to take all three bags on board and my only issue is how angry certain passengers get when I am “unpacking for the X-Ray”. A certain amount never wait and push me out of the way, because obviously their time is more important than mine!

  2. Hi Sarah,

    I really enjoyed your recount here.

    Kudos to you for traveling with your medicine in tow. I imagine it gets super stressful at times having to explain why you’re taking your stuff with you.

    As for the stories, wow, that’s what makes travel so much fun. I am a guy who never traveled internationally until I was 36 years old. As you may imagine that’s on the rare side as many folks tend to hit the road, far and wide, as kids. Not me, but I made up for lost time as I’ve been globe trotting for 46 months straight. It’s fun to hear people’s stories. Where they’re going, where they’re coming from and all that good stuff in between.

    Thanks for sharing!


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