As I stand on the curb at the airport, awaiting my sister’s car to pull up and take me home, I reflect on the last 17 days and the adventure of a lifetime. And I thought about what had brought it all about. It all started about 18 months ago. In August of 2010, I lost my best friend after a six year fight with cancer. A little over two months later, my mom was diagnosed with a type of leukemia and about six weeks later, just before Thanksgiving, she passed away. In January of 2011, I got pneumonia and a very bad kidney infection. The emergency room had wanted to admit me to the hospital, but I had been out of work for almost 5 years, with only an occasional temporary job and unemployment providing income. I had no insurance and no money to pay for the emergency room, let alone a hospital stay, so I left after they had stabilized me and prescribed some meds.
In February, I decided to visit my significant other for Valentine’s Day. Ron and I had been together for many years, but he lived about 150 miles from me due to his work. He normally came up to see me on Valentine’s Day, but was unable to make it this time. We had a great visit and I returned on the 15 th because I had a commitment at home then next day. He and I talked almost every day, and the next three weeks was no exception. On Tuesday, March 9 th , he called me before he left to play bridge. I knew he had a long day on Wednesday, but usually called me on Thursday before leaving to play in a darts league at church. However, he did not call, so I tried calling him a few times on Friday morning.
Friday afternoon, the phone rang. It was his brother telling me two of his cousins had gone to the house that morning because he had not shown up for darts the previous night. They had found him dead in bed. I went down on Saturday along with several other members of his family. The next days were a blur of notifying people, picking out caskets, flowers, prayers and songs. The funeral itself was delayed until a week later and his three sisters had to return home, then came back a few days later for the service. I stayed at the house to finalize some of the details.
After the funeral, I returned home. I gradually became depressed. I returned to his house several times to deal with helping to go through the house and figure out what to keep, give away or toss. Each trip became harder and I returned home more depressed. I had another bout with pneumonia, as well as another infection. Other than the trips down to his house, or going to see my dad or sisters, I was barely functioning. I would go days without talking to anyone, showering, or even leaving my home to check my mailbox. I recognized the symptoms and knew I could not continue like that. Yet I was not ready to deal with people face to face.
I decided to search the net for a chat room where I could at least interact with others on a real time basis, even if it wasn’t face to face. I finally found a site that had a number of different chat rooms, as well as forums where I could post responses in various threads. My plan was simple. Talk to people and maybe tell them why I was there and what had happened, but to never reveal other details. No real names, no interacting anywhere other than the website itself. Certainly never giving out my address or phone numbers to anyone.
Over the next few months, I met several people I began to talk to regularly. I started playing in the games forums and enjoyed the challenges of coming up with clever and quick responses. I was gradually getting better, though I still had many bad days. After posting very depressing posts in a number of threads one day, one of the girls I had been talking to sent me an IM asking if I wanted to chat in a private window. While chatting there, she asked if I wanted to really talk. She asked me for my phone number and said she would call me. I hesitated, but finally gave her my cell phone number. A minute later, my phone rang and she was on the other end. She spoke in a heavy New Zealand accent and I had a hard time understanding everything she said at first. But I found it comforting to actually talk to someone.
We gradually became good friends, something I had never intended or expected. I also made a number of other friends and began revealing personal details to some of them. I eventually went outside of the website to MSNwith several of these friends, then began actually talking with a few, either on the phone or through one of the other voice services available online. While this was happening, I began to entertain the idea of travelling to New Zealand. I approached Lisa with the idea, but at first she was hesitant. She finally said yes. So the planning began. Where would I get the money? I needed a passport. When would I go? How would my family react when I told them?
The first thing I did was apply for a passport. Until I had that, nothing else could happen. I was told it would take four to six weeks to arrive, but it came in about three weeks. Once I had that in hand, everything became more real. I checked out airfares and played with dates to find the best time to go. We started talking on the phone regularly and settled on the dates. I told my family and they were tentative about me flying over halfway across the planet to meet someone I had met online. But they agreed that I really needed to get away. My sisters wanted her address and I made arrangements for Lisa to talk to them on the phone so they would feel more comfortable about my going. During this time, I continued having medical issues, including a fourth bout of pneumonia just before Christmas. By that time, I had purchased my tickets and there was no turning back.
I had also been neglecting my home during all this time, and my sisters agreed to come over one weekend and help me clean and go through a closet and several cabinets to see what could be donated or tossed. We also decided to paint the living room so it would be nice and fresh when I returned. Between finishing what the three of us started, making arrangements for someone to feed and check on my cat while I was gone, deciding what to take and packing, the next few weeks were quite busy. I started posting a countdown on the website and many of our mutual friends and acquaintances online began wishing me and Lisa luck on the trip and meeting.
The night before I was to leave, we talked on the phone discussing the final details of meeting at the airport. I barely slept that night with the excitement and details spinning in my head. I woke up early and took care of final details. My bags were packed, including all the last minute pills and toiletries. I made sure there was no food left in the fridge to spoil and took out the garbage. During the day, I went online to update my blog and kill time. Every time I logged on, someone I knew would invariably IM me and ask if I was excited or ready or how long before I left. Finally it was time to leave. I logged off for the last time and shut down my PC. I walked around the house, making sure everything was turned off, unplugged or closed.
I put on my jacket, grabbed my bags and walked to my neighbor’s. She was driving me to the airport and taking care of my cat while I was gone. We put my bags in her car and got on the way. I was looking at 26 hours of travel time and over 20 hours in the air. Because there was a 19 hour time difference, I was hoping to get at least six hours sleep on the flight overnight and avoid jetlag as much as possible. I checked my bag and went through security with my carry-ons. I found my gate and sat down to wait. Finally, the boarding call came. I was on my way at last!
A little over 26 hours later, I was going through immigration and customs in New Zealand. I came through and looked around for Lisa. I spotted her and we hugged and said hi for the first time face to face. The next few days, we toured her home city of Wellington and I met many members of her extended family. They also had concerns with her meeting someone she had met online and I think they wanted to check me out. All apparently went well with that as they invited me back anytime I wanted to return. My time there was a lot of fun. Lisa and I got along famously and went on our long discussed road trip around the North Island.
The time flew by and before I knew it, I was in a cab, this time headed back to the airport. Lisa came with me to see me off. We hugged, then hugged again as she began to cry. I told her to stop or I would start crying as well. We said goodbye and I promised to text her when I got back home. I headed to security and waved one last time. I boarded the plane and made the trip in reverse. In Brisbane, I met up with another friend from the website. Due to security, we were not actually able to meet and hug, but she was able to go to a lounge area one level above where I was and we were able to see each other and talk, though we did have to speak loudly to be heard over the din of the airport.
Which brings me back to the start of my story. Had it not been for the deaths I experienced and all the health issues, I would never have sought out somewhere to talk. I would never have met Lisa and we would never have become friends. Without someone to meet in New Zealand, I would never have travelled there on my own, and thus would never have had my great adventure. I am ready to face the world again, and many people thought I was pretty brave to get on a plane, fly to New Zealand and meet Lisa. I see it differently. I think I took a very bad time and turned it to something positive.
And so, my journey has come to an end. I have come full circle and am ready to live again. Because of these trials, I found the website, met Lisa and became good friends with her and made this trip. We both have benefitted from our friendship. I have faced the world and come back in one piece, happy and I hope healthy once again. I have personally grown and hope I am a better person than I was. I discovered things about myself that I never knew. Three days ago was the one year anniversary of Ron’s death. His death was the lowest time of my life. The trip was one of my best times. The second one would never have happened without the first. I hope I can continue to grow as a person and maybe find love once again.