I sat straight up in bed and screamed at 12:30 a.m. on March 5th. We were in a dark tunnel, the walls closed in, and I could not escape. Patrick put his arms around me as I kept repeating over and over, "I don't like it. I don't like it." I calmed down eventually, realizing that we were in our beautiful hotel in Koh Kong , and nothing had happened except for a dream. But, there was something wrong. I knew something was wrong.
In the morning, we went to the internet cafe and found voice messages and e-mails with the words that every traveler dreads: "Come home now." On the other side of the world, at the time I had woken up screaming, Patrick's dad had reached a critical state. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer two months before while we were in Thailand, but the doctors, nurses, and everyone else thought he had months---if not years---to live and kept telling us to stay in Southeast Asia. They would let us know when we needed to come home but otherwise we should stick to our plan, return in the end of April, and then stay in Atlanta to be with his dad. But, on that day in March, before anyone expected that things would get worse, things had.
I frantically searched every internet search engine for a flight from Bangkok to Atlanta that would leave the next day. My dad sat on Skype with me as we combed through Expedia, Orbitz, Hotwire, and Kayak, watching the flights change every minute and skyrocket to prices above $2,000 per person for a flight back. It wasn't the cost --- we would have paid anything to get back home then --- it was the worry that we wouldn't get back home in time. Then, magically, I found a ticket that I hadn't seen anywhere else on the Internet or on other search engines. For $1054/person, we would fly from Bangkok to Atlanta at 2:00 a.m. the next day, arriving in less than 40 hours. The price and the schedule were both perfect and I kept my fingers crossed while purchasing the ticket, hoping that the fare would not disappear.
We rushed back to our hotel and showered, changed, and packed within 45 minutes. For months we had joked that packing quickly is a talent not often appreciated or utilized in our everyday world. On that day, it was a skill we valued as we found all our gear, organized it, folded it, and pulled it together in minutes.
We took a tuk-tuk from Koh Kong to the Thai border and left Cambodia, country #1, in a hurry. "This Bangkok bus, will take you there really quick. Direct." I said to the man in the baseball cap in no uncertain terms that we needed to get to Bangkok as quickly as possible. "No worries, no worries. Will get you there." We waited for an hour with several older white men on their way to Pattaya (no guesses as to what they were planning there) and then we were off. The so-called direct bus to Bangkok consisted of six transfers and we kept getting on and off the bus, waiting for our next bus, afraid that we would not make it to the airport in time.
Our last bus reached the outskirts of Souvarnabhumi Airport and we shared a cab with a young Thai leaving his country for the first time. He had lived in Trat, Thailand, literally within 10 miles of Cambodia, and had never left his own borders. He told his parents that he wanted to study in Australia, saved the money, and was leaving for an adventure in an unknown continent to study for the next three years. We reassured him and told him how he would like Sydney and that Australia is a beautiful country. It lightened our load to know that even in a time when everything scared us, when fears overwhelmed us, and when each other's thoughts were strangers to our own, we could help someone else just a little.
The line for the flight from Bangkok to Shanghai stretched across the twelve counters and we were convinced that the flight would be delayed. As the ground shuddered beneath us and the lights of Bangkok twinkled in the night, I glanced at my watch. We had left on time.
We arrived in Shanghai early, then were told to go out through customs to pick up our bags, and then to another terminal to check in for our flight to Detroit. We pulled ourselves into the plane and stretched out into the empty seat in the middle of our row. We did not sleep much and watched a multitude of stupid movies that I have now forgotten. I could not eat anything because of the stress and Patrick had to eat everything because of the stress. We were in a state of frantic stupor, certain that every delay would hurt us and fearful of every moment away from home. Through that long night, I fervently prayed for only one thing, "Please, God, let us get home in time to say goodbye. Please, God, let us get home in time to say goodbye."
We arrived in Detroit before schedule. I had worried that our Detroit flight would be delayed because of the heavy snows on the previous days. But, the day was sunny, clear, and beautiful, and we reached Atlanta ten minutes ahead of schedule. My mom and Patrick drove directly to Patrick's parents' house while my dad and I waited for our luggage. The last time I had been to Atlanta, I had waited for 1 1/2 hours to get bags because of the amount of air traffic. On this day, our luggage was the first out of the conveyor belt and within 45 minutes of arriving in Atlanta we were at Patrick's parents' house.
Sometimes, there is a force in the universe---maybe it's God or fate or destiny or karma or simple good luck---looking out for you. That force was there watching us in those 40 hours. In all of our travels in our 11 years together, we have never made it across four borders so easily and with such little hassle. We have never had every flight arrive early and the weather stay perfect across each landing. I have never found a flight across the globe for the same price as I would have paid if I had purchased it weeks ago.
This time, when it mattered, the fates aligned. We came back and spent two really, really good weeks with Patrick's dad, who passed away in the same hour as we had landed fourteen days before. We miss him every day.