When I was 15, I set out on the adventure of a lifetime. Never having been away from home for more than a night or two, I packed my bags for a month in Russia. Or, as it was known then, the Soviet Union. Because at that point, the iron curtain? Was tattered, but still being held in place by a few determined KGB agents and a whole lot of career military folk.
As I may have mentioned before, I’ve never been one to do anything halfway.
Anyway, my mom and I had spent weeks packing everything I’d need for a month. And I do mean everything. Clothes, laundry detergent, tampons, every over the counter medication you can think of…even jars of peanut butter, crackers and beef jerky (you couldn’t count on being able to find such things in Russia).
I also had a money belt stuffed with traveler’s checks, all my visa paperwork, and, most importantly, my passport, strapped firmly around my waist.
You can see the bulge under my sweater if you look carefully (I’m the second one from the left. Wearing ugly glasses).
In short, when we set out for the airport, I had just about everything a teenage girl half the world away from her mom could possibly want, up to and including the kitchen sink.
After a flurry of paperwork doing, baggage checking and tear wiping, it was time to say good bye to our parents and take our seats on the plane. Knowing how disorganized I was (and still am), one of the last things my mom said to me was, “You have everything, right? You know where your passport is?”
I patted my trusty money pouch and (most likely rolling my eyes) said, “don’t worry, mom. I’ve got it.”
And I did.
In fact, I kept track of it all the way through customs at the JFK airport.
But that’s where my luck ran out.
You see, we were late. Rushing to meet our connection, in fact. We may even have been running through the airport, I’m not sure. At any rate, after going through customs, I failed to put my passport back in the money pouch where it belonged.
Not that I realized this at the time.
It wasn’t until I had boarded the plane to Moscow and set about organizing my plane tickets (this was way before e-tickets) that I realized it was missing.
At first I didn’t think too much about it. Sure, it wasn’t in the pouch, but surely I had it. So I checked my jacket pockets, my jean pockets, even my socks (I had a habit of storing things in my shoes). But when I took off my gym shoes and still hadn’t found it, I freaked the hell out.
“My passport,” I screeched at the top of my lungs. “It’s gone!”
But no one heard me. So I dragged my carry on out of the overhead bin and commenced tearing it open. I finally got the flight attendant’s attention when a pair of underwear went flying over her head,.
She bustled over, and officiously asked, “is something wrong?”
“My PASSPORT” I shrieked, sobbing now. “It’s gooooooooone!”
“Oh, now, honey, surely it isn’t really gone. When did you last have it?”
“I don’t knooooooow. I’m going to Moscow, and I don’t have a passport! They’re going to lock me in a Siberian prison and I’m never going to see the light of day agaaaaaiiiiiin!”
“Did you check your pockets?”
“Of course I checked my pockets,” I hiccuped. “What do you think I am, dumb?”
She was silent for a few seconds before replying, “no, I’m sure you’re not. Okay, hold on a minute.”
She hurried away and the next thing I knew, an announcement was crackling over the PA. “Attention, passengers, we have a lost passport situation. Could you please look under the seats and on the floor in your area to see if you have it?”
If I had been feeling even a fraction more rational, that announcement would have made me want to sink through the floor in embarrassment. But I was too busy picturing myself being forced to carve out ice roads in a forced labor camp to worry about it.
The minutes ticked by as my fellow passenger shuffled about, searching for my lost identification. Just as I was bequeathing my most precious possessions to my friends (I wouldn’t need them in a Siberian prison, after all) I heard the shout.
“I found it,” came the call from somewhere in first class.
When the flight attendant came toward me, blue leatherette booklet in hand, I literally collapsed on the floor in relief.
“Here you go. Now, I suggest you put this somewhere very safe.”
I nodded, choking out a strangled “thank you,” before slinking back to my seat.
Because once I had been saved from life in Siberia? The embarrassment hit full force, making me want to dive through the emergency exit door, coast down the wing and start the long walk home.
It was a hell of a way to start the adventure of a lifetime. An adventure that from that moment on, included merciless teasing about my inability to hang on to anything (including my camera. I sent that clattering down the marble staircase in the grand entrance of the Hermitage, but that’s a story for another day).
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Now visit Mama Kat to see what the other workshoppers lost.