Windows are an introvert’s best friend. Their filtered light, muffled noise, and exterior glare provide just enough security for a shy boy to observe the vastness beyond. I still remember the circular window of my grandma’s home vividly; its oblong shape and fictitious mullions remain ingrained in my memory. I would spend entire days perched on its ledge with stacks of picture books at my side, methodically observing any changes to the front yard while I carelessly turned the pages of a book in my lap.
Hot days, gloomy days, and freezing days, that window always opened its arms to me. Now, as I stow away my luggage and take my window seat on the plane, memories of my window-watching childhood inundate me before I embark on my first college visit alone.
Windows of all kinds frame memories to my childhood. Just looking out the plane window and onto the busyness of the airport beyond reminds me of window-watching from my dad’s oversized Suburban. Those car windows served as portholes to countless scenes and landscapes as a child.
From soccer practice on Thursdays to our daily commute to school, the back passenger seat hosted hours of imagination and idle observation. When radio music played in the background, I’d sync the actions of nearby pedestrians and cars to conjure up music videos in my head.
and a sleek office complex could be the backdrop for a dramatic law series.
Even the passing cars on the tollway fueled thoughts of speed racing and fast-paced action movies.
The awful beige interior of that clunky car saw so many scenes, and with it, so did my family. Trips from Texas to Florida occurred annually to visit family. During those road trips, I always assumed the second-row seats to myself, and my sister took the third. Meandering in and out of forest,
and city, my imagination ran wild, using whatever lay beyond the car window as my canvas.
On a few occasions, we drove all the way through—18 hours nonstop. Those deep, foreboding nights always provoked dark, scary thoughts. Being the only car on a seemingly endless, dim-lit road elicited terrible fears and trepidations.
Being now without my family and alone amongst some two hundred strangers on a plane, that childhood fear prompted by isolation comes full circle. Only now, at eighteen years old, there’s no longer a net of childhood security to fall back on. I am more alone than I’ve ever been, and I’m dependent on my own actions now more than ever. By the end of the day, I’ll have to leave the airport, take a train to Providence, check into my hotel, and join the admitted student social. Everything is on me, and for once, I can only rely on myself. Is this the threshold of adulthood? A mere plane ride that separates me from the comfort of what I know by two thousand miles? “Surely it must be more,” I mumble to myself in an indistinct utterance. Before waxing too philosophical, a man in a business suite brings me back to reality as he crams his duffle bag into the carry-on compartment above me. He is well dressed and smells like a mixture of coffee, freshly printed paper, and laundry detergent. Before I have a chance to observe him further, he takes his gaze off his bag above and onto me as he shuffles into the seat next to mine. I think about smiling and maintaining eye contact, but I instead decide to look away and place my earphones in. Had I just failed the first test of adulting?
Casting my focus back outside the plane, my attention is drawn to the bright neon vest of a runway worker. The worker waves his flashing saber back and forth, prompting the aircraft to reverse slowly.
As the plane moves, the plane’s intercom ring over the music in my headphones, and flight attendants begin their well-practiced safety lecture. I take out one headphone just to make sure that there’s no new information—there isn’t. I do, however, check to make sure there really is a life vest underneath my seat. The plane completes its turnaround, cueing the engines to accelerate and the plane to bolt forward.
Once we’re in the air, the reality of my situation really hits me. “There’s no turning back now,” I think as the plane propels me at hundreds of miles an hour into what feels like adulthood. Roads and buildings below gradually get smaller and smaller until, eventually, clouds blanket the plane.
Morning sun crosses the clouds’ horizon, casting glowing beams of light into all angles. How beautiful. How vast, and how frightening. As a child, I had no sense of the sublime; I viewed the greatness of the world in wonder and looked upon its great expanse with curiosity. I had seen this view countless times, but never once had I felt numbed to its spectacle and intimidated by its grandeur.
Many years ago on a flight to Florida, I looked out on this same view for hours, enamored with its magnificence and majesty. I envisioned angels diving in and out of the clouds and went through entire sketchbooks mapping out the sky. I would press my face against the oval window to take in as much of the beauty as I could. I even talked to people—about my sketches, my vacation plans as a nine-year-old, and my dreams. Reflecting back on the fearless, engaged child I once was makes part of my since-developed actualization feel regressive. Is adulthood really conditional on leaving behind your excitement of the world and your inherent self-assurance? Then again, the innocence of childhood is quite blinding. Before I can contemplate further, I feel an apprehensive tap on my shoulder. I take my headphones out to discover both the businessman and the flight attendant staring at me.
“Do you, ugh want anything to drink?” The man says, gesturing towards the uniformed woman. The attendant smiles and nods, holding a pen and pad for my answer.
“I’ll, ugh take a ginger ale, please,” I say in a crackly voice, revealing how little I had talked that day.
“Sure. Be right back,” the attendant blurts in a bubbly voice.
As she walks back to get my drink, I look around the plane cabin to see what other passengers are up to; none are doing anything wildly interesting, understandable after being two hours into flight. I finish my drink, close the blinds to my window, and doze off to a light sleep.
While I sleep, I imagine my encounter on a plane in 2nd grade. Very rarely do I dream about my past, but the entire day had exuded a tone of nostalgia. In my dream, I walk up through the aisle, all the way to the back of the plane where a flight attendant is preparing snacks. I tug her dress, to get her attention. When she turns around, I say, “Excuse me miss, why is the plane moving so slowly? Can you ask the pilot to fly faster?” Using the gradually changing scene outside my window to gauge my sense of speed, it would make perfect sense to perceive the plane’s movement as slow. She smiles at my guilelessness and attempts as best she can to explain why although the window view changes more slowly than a car, the plane is moving much faster. As my recollection nears its end, I’m jolted up by the noise of intercom—we’re landing in Boston.
As the plane descends, I rub my eyes and attempt to wake up. My hair has a cowlick from sleeping, but I don’t bother messing with it. As the plane lands and begins to dock, I check my phone and receive an overflow of delayed texts from my mom and dad demanding updates for every step along the trip. How funny that I believed a mere flight would thrust me into adulthood.
By now, most of the passengers had exited the plane, and it was my turn to leave. Grabbing my backpack underneath my seat and my duffel bag above, I trek from the airport terminal to South Station, where I’ll board the train to Providence. A shuttle takes me to the station quickly, and I print off my ticket at an automated kiosk. Walking out onto where the trains depart, I quickly spot my train, conveniently located on the first row. When I sit down and stow away my luggage, I text my parents an update, letting them know that everything’s fine.
I peer out the train window, as the locomotive starts to move. Beyond the window lies the Boston cityscape; its buildings are magnificent, exciting the inner architect in me. I gaze out onto the amalgamation of history and modernity, trying to take it all in before I lose sight. It’s not long though, before the train leaves the city and enters suburbs and eventual rural land.
The only other time I rode on a train before was in fifth grade—my mom surprised my sister and me with a ride on a “Polar Express” themed train during Christmas time. I still remember the smell of the warm hot cocoa and the vibration of joyous energy exuded from droves of excited kids and families. To no surprise, I recall looking out of that train window to the disappointing landscape of a Texas winter and imagining the grey hills coated in white snow. Now, here I was on a real train with snow falling all around me.