A Lesson in Letting Go


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How do you politely throw up in the back of a taxicab? I can feel my stomach tightening, the bitter, acidic taste rising in the back of my throat. I look down at the cardboard bowl provided by the hospital I just came from, then up at the cabbie who is busy talking into his Bluetooth earpiece. Quietly, I lift the bowl to my mouth and puke, trying to wipe away the spit from my mouth in case the driver decided to look in the rearview mirror and see my face. It’s not how I imagined my study abroad in London turning out, but then again, at least I can check this off my ever-expanding bucket list.
By the time we reach the London Centre, located across the street from Kensington Palace, I feel well enough to stand. I thank the driver, casually holding my cardboard bowl next to my hip as I give him ten quid, and tell him to keep the change. The London Centre is virtually empty, the rest of my classmates enjoying a Shakespearean play at the Globe Theatre. My ticket to the play is wadded in my pocket, still partially wet from when I threw up on my jacket in the middle of the emergency waiting room. I think back to the prep class I took only a few months ago, though now it seems so much further away. Our teacher always said someone would get sick, someone would get hurt, someone would end up going home. I never thought that someone would be me.
I climb the four flights of stairs up to the top of our flat, out of breath when I open the door to the room I share with eleven other girls. I glance at the empty bunkbeds and begin to cry. I know I should shower and change into some clean clothes, but I’m too sick and disappointed to do anything but sit on my thin mattress pad, head in my heads. What am I going to do? The day after next we are going on a trip to Paris. My professor says if I’m not better by the morning I will have to be sent home. Months of planning, of saving money, of ticking off the days until takeoff, and I would have to leave the program two weeks early, not to mention the trip to Malta my parents and I were going to take afterwards.
Next to my head rests my essay on Boudicca from earlier in the semester. She was a warrior queen, a leader of a Celtic tribe that rebelled against Roman invasion. My illness was no flaming chariot, but I like to think that her battles and mine were on similar scales of importance. If Boudicca failed, she would lose her people and her identity. If I didn’t recover, I would be sent home and most likely never return, especially not to the London Centre. So what could I do?
Some lessons are hard to learn. And in this instance, I realized there really was nothing I could do. I could drink some Gatorade, take some Nyquil, maybe say a prayer. But my body was going to do what it was going to do, and no amount of pleading would make my stomach behave. The thought of letting go, of allowing things to just happen, is not in my nature. I like to be in control. But sometimes there is no control to be had. When I was at the hospital, no amount of control could stop me from being sick in front of hundreds of people. No amount of control could change my temperature so I didn’t have fever. I could only hope and pray that I would feel better.
The rest of the students came back after ten; most were tired after a long day of walking in the gray London rain. My professors asked that I have a meeting with them. Silently, I made my way up to their flat like the accused to the stocks. They asked me why I hadn’t communicated better, why my mom was on the phone. “Aren’t you eighteen?” they asked. I told them I felt much younger. We decided to see how I was feeling by noon tomorrow. We looked at plane tickets home, just in case.
There’s a statue of Boudicca in London, right next to the Thames. She rides on her chariot, spear raised at whatever might come her way. She didn’t know what the future held. She didn’t know that the Romans won and she would eventually die. But it didn’t matter. She was ready, she knew control wasn’t in her power, and for that she is still revered, two-thousand years later.
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