The Dead Television

The Dead Television

 

Who Was Jeanne?

 

I was Jeanne, Jeanne was I,

my friends called me Moon Pie,

but now I’m dead, deceased, at rest,

though I still hate my ex.

 

My husband Mick, he always won,

I’d love to beat that prick,

but love I did, I did, as well,

I loved that Beatle John.

 

I laid a guy once underneath

the bleachers at my school

then came my daughter Emily

and god I loved her too.

 

Jeanne seemed asleep lying in her coffin. Her face was appealing, glowing—her hair golden like sunshine. I cried when I saw her. Couldn’t help it. She somehow looked more beautiful than I had ever seen her. There she lay, all tension of life now absent. I fumbled forward, forgetting the formal setting of the funeral home. My fingers ran through her curls, twining, becoming entangled. I kissed her, wetting half her face. Maybe a minute went by, maybe an hour. I only know that Jeanne’s sister, Marianna, at last, pulled me from her.

“Are you done?” she asked.

I stared at Mariana and said nothing. I bent forward one last time and nibbled the tip of Jeanne’s nose.

Mariana gazed inside the coffin through bothered eyes. She nudged me out of the way and fixed Jeanne’s makeup, that death mask she would wear to the crematorium. She prodded at her dress, a blue frock with lace. She combed her hair back into place.

Jeanne had always hated Mariana. I never knew why until that day at the funeral home. Mariana had hired a priest to preside over the ceremony. One noted to possess knowledge of a secret door to Heaven, through which those who had died under questionable circumstances could enter. I suppose the details of Jeanne’s death had given Mariana pause. Mariana’s hiring of such a guy gave me pause. But what could I do? Mariana was running this show. She had all the rights.

Jeanne and I had shared the stage many times before her final performance. We were actors, working for the Old Stage Players. We were a traveling troop and did as many as six performances a week. We were doing A Christmas Carol one December in Colettesville, NC, and that’s the night I first kissed Jeanne.

After the show, Jeanne and I were the last ones left outside the theater. Everyone else had headed back to the motel because it was freezing cold. But Jeanne was in the mood to talk.

“I’ve met Elton John,” she said.

“No way.”

“Yes, I have. I’m the one who turned him gay.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did.”

“How’d you do it?”

“He fell for me and I turned him down.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” I said.

“Well, it seemed like it at the time.”

We were bundled up in fur parkas, our breath freezing like cigar smoke. Jeanne was clinging to me to keep warm.

“I know everything about John Lennon,” she said.

“You couldn’t.”

“Yes, I do. Ask me anything.”

“What’s his favorite color?” I asked.

“Brown.”

“How do you know?”

“Well, it’s not blue. That’s how.”

“How do you know it’s not blue?” I teased.

“Because blue is everybody’s favorite.”

“So, maybe it’s John Lennon’s too.”

“No, John’s too cool to be like everybody else.”

“That makes sense.”

“I always make sense.”

The night got colder and Jeanne and I walked toward the motel. The wind picked up and we ducked into a store front to shield ourselves. We window shopped until Jeanne got bored looking at tools and coveralls and horse feed.

“You want to help me practice my kissing scene?” she asked.

“Sure, why not?”

“Thought you’d say no.”

“Why would I say no?” I wanted to know.

“Because.”

“Because why?”

Jeanne was clinging to me and our frozen breath mingled and rose like a mist. She stood on her tiptoes and we kissed.

“Because of Mick. Most guys won’t let me practice on them.”

“Was that one just practice?”

“Yeah.”

That one wasn’t just practice for me. I was crazy about Jeanne ever since I first saw her. I talked to her every chance I got during work. She called on me to practice lines. We always joked around. We had great times. But she was right about Mick, her husband, the owner and artistic director of the troop.

Mick was a tyrant. Most of the guys were afraid of him. He seemed to enjoy humiliating those with whom he was at odds. He had his fun with the rest of the troop at their expense. For those guys he fired, he topped it off with a poor recommendation. If Mick had a beef with you, watch your back. He was both mean and sneaky. He had no mercy.

I was willing to be just friends with Jeanne until Mick began to treat her as badly as he had some of the others. I was shocked one day when she was away from the theater and Mick had the entire troop laughing at her.

“You just can’t fix stupid,” he’d said.

“Neither can you fix a cliché,” I told the stagehand, Terry, a local, whom we’d picked up to help move the sets during performances. Terry was one of the few who hadn’t laughed at Mick’s cruel joke.

Things got worse between Jeanne and Mick. I became her confidant. She told me a few times that she was afraid of him, and that she didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know either, but Mick seemed to know. He stuck to his usual pattern of berating Jeanne to the troop every time he had the chance. He referred to her as “our idiot blonde” once right in front her. The troop had laughed dutifully.

The great blowout in their marriage happened a year later when we were doing A Christmas Carol once again. Mick had cast Jeanne as young Ebenezer’s wife. Jeanne had always played the female leads, and to her, being cast in this inconsequential role was the absolute affront. I’d never seen her so angry in all the years I’d known her. I had the night off and was hanging out with Terry when Jeanne came by my apartment.

She was crying so hard she shook. It was several minutes before she could tell us what happened.

“Mick locked me out,” she said.

“No way!” Terry said.

“Yes, way! He told me to go outside and wait on him. We were going to talk. But then he locked me out.”

“Somebody needs to have a talk with that man,” Terry said.

Terry was right. That was no way to treat anyone, especially Jeanne. We all stayed at my place that night, and I decided to have a talk with Mick the following evening.

When I got to rehearsal, Mick had left word for me to come and see him. That’s convenient, I thought. I found him back stage and we went into the box office to talk.

“I’ve decided to cast you as Charles Dickens,” he said. “It’s the best role you’ve ever had. Do a good job and who knows where you’ll go. I’ve been keeping up with what you’re doing. Consider this your big break.”

“Tell me one thing first,” I said. “Why’d you lock Jeanne out of the theater last night?”

“That’s not your concern,” he said. “I’ve fired Jeanne and she’ll never play another role here or anywhere else if I have anything to say about it.”

“But she was badly traumatized.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because she told me. She came by my place.”

“You have a choice to make and you’d better think hard about it. You have a chance to play a great role, but if you continue to see Jeanne, you will never play another theater role again. Take my word for it.”

“Jeanne is a friend,” I said, “a real friend, and that’s something you know nothing about. You’re a pathetic bully, and I’m ashamed that I’ve worked for you as long as I have. Find yourself another Dickens.”

Outside, I told Terry what happened.

“Well, I’m quitting too,” he said.

“Tell him about me.” The voice came from a pickup truck parked nearby. I could see a brunette woman sitting there.

“That’s my girlfriend, Jane. She just started in ticket sells and she’s quitting too.”

“I couldn’t ask you to quit your jobs that way. How will you live?”

“Jane just got a settlement check.” Terry’s grin was catchy. “We’re set for a year. Besides we like Moon Pie, right Jane?”

“Yeah, we want to be her entourage.”

I thought that was just splendid. We headed off to tell Jeanne about it, and the four of us partied at my apartment that night. Jeanne played piano and sang show tunes. Terry and Jane had a slapstick comedy routine they performed, which kept us in stitches all night. I confided that the reason I had gone into show business in the first place was because I could neither sing nor dance nor act. So, naturally, there was nothing else I could possibly do.

Terry and Jane rented a place nearby. We all became friends, and, more often than not, prepared our dinner together on the grill. Terry was a winemaker, and he shared many bottles of his special blackberry. Jane possessed the talent of coming up with a joint of good smoke. Jeanne would entertain us on piano.

I bought a rattly old van, and the four of us often road-tripped together. One night during dinner, Jeanne had the idea of traveling to Wilmington to chase Hurricane Fran. She had been following this storm on the weather channel, and, given that we all had seen Twister, this seemed like the perfect idea. An hour later we were on the way.

Wrightsville Beach was deserted. Many of the hotels were boarded up. Others demolished totally. The storm had blown through just before we arrived, and the few people we met were scared or angry.

“Did you have your premiums paid up?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, they’ll pay, then.”

“They better.”

“They will.”

“Well, by-god, they better!”

The hurricane tide had left the beach strewn with debris. After a long walk, Jeanne got a phone call. I figured it was Marianna. Had it been Emily, Jeanne’s daughter, she would have been smiling and laughing. But, Jeanne wasn’t smiling or laughing. In fact, she was quiet and shaking. Not angry shaking but something else. She was horrified.

“What’s the matter?” we asked.

No answer. Jeanne just started walking back toward the van. “I’m going home,” she said.

We finally got her to tell us what happened. Emily had attempted suicide. Jeanne and I had visited Emily many times, and she us, so I knew she had suffered from depression. And I knew she had been in the hospital for it. Jeanne had talked about this more than a few times.

I liked Emily, but she wasn’t like Jeanne. She was analytic, always trying to figure people out. Figure an angle with people. How to have her way with them. She and I talked for an hour once before I figured out that she had wanted me to pay her water bill. Jeanne, though, was the essence of creativity. She rarely thought outside of how best to play a theater role or how best to teach her piano students or how best to prepare a rack of ribs.

Back at home, Jeanne spent the next weeks visiting Emily. They let her out of the hospital after a week, but Jeanne stayed on. She was driven, on a mission to save her daughter. And she wasn’t about to leave her until she knew she was better.

When I went up to visit, Jeanne’s appearance stunned me. She seemed withered, dispirited, as if her character had dried up and blown away on a hurricane. She had aged ten years. She seemed to care about nothing other than keeping tabs on Emily. She seemed obsessed, looking for some “in” into Emily’s psyche. She had taken on her daughter’s persona, her habit of analyzing.

Back at home, Jeanne’s spirit continued to decline. She gave up teaching the piano. She spent her days staring at the weather channel. That light that had been so apparent in her, and had been the core of her character, had faded. Her smile and her laughter seemed nowhere to be found.

Terry, Jane, and myself were on the porch one evening having a glass of wine when Jeanne came out. Her face was animated, and I believed at that moment that she was okay again. I think Terry and Jane thought so too. It had never occurred to any of us that she would never be okay again.

“The television’s dead,” was all that Jeanne said. And she went back inside.

It was Jeanne’s eyes that had died. On that desolate beach in NC, her bright, enchanting eyes were destroyed. The beauty of those eyes was shattered and left lifeless by the dreadfulness of the thought of losing her precious child.

I wondered, even before Jeanne’s decline, how she would be able to manage. She had lost her position as an actor. She had little hope of continuing her career. She had lost her marriage. I imagined that the two of us would marry one day, and I suppose I thought we’d live happily ever after, like in the shows we performed. But some shows depict the tragic nature of life through their twists and reversals, and such was the nature of mine and Jeanne’s experience.

I came home one day to find Terry waiting for me on the porch.

“Is he here yet?” Jane’s voice drifted from inside.

“Yep,” Terry said. He gazed at me, right steady.

“Did you tell him?”

“Not yet.”

When they told me that Jeanne was dead, that she had committed suicide, all I saw was the porch floor rising toward my face. Terry and Jane picked me up and brought me inside.

 

~*~

 

Jeanne’s brother, Mark, rescued me from Mariana. He brought me to a seat in the chapel and we sat. Jeanne had loved her brother and I understood why. Unlike Mariana, he was patient and caring. I thought he might hold my hand there in that chapel like I had seen him hold Jeanne’s, but he didn’t.

I stared at the yellow carnations on green wires standing around Jeanne like sentries. I willed them to die. But they remained triumphant and leering. They reminded me of Mariana. I decided to take Jeanne’s hatred of her sister upon myself. I took on her love for her brother as well.

The minister rattled on for twenty minutes and, finally, secured a place for Jeanne in Heaven. He claimed that despite Biblical references to the contrary, Jeanne should be admitted because her depression was responsible for her death and not herself.

In spite of this message of reclamation, and Mariana’s gratified eyes, the ceremony put me off. I wanted a celebration of Jeanne’s life and of her beauty and of her brilliance. I understood that everyone has to die, and that many of us do so before we reach that mind-failing age when our bodies fall into disrepair and ruin. I understood that depression is just as surely a disease as any of a physical nature. I just could not understand relegating ourselves to the place where we have forgotten about the excellence and the grandeur and the sublime wonder in our loved ones in favor of living in the shadow of religious doctrine.

After the service, the minister was shaking hands with the crowd, and I stood in line. But I never shook his hand. Instead, I told him that Jeanne did not need his message.

“She owns a heaven more accessible than yours,” I said. “In her heaven, everyone is invited without exception. The only ones who do not come are those who are too fearful, too mired in their smug little worlds to imagine the possibility.”

 

~*~

 

Overall, I can only imagine that Jeanne had tried to take Emily’s condition onto herself through transference, and then carry it to the grave where it could harm her daughter no longer. Such healing was typical in the West before the onslaught of the Enlightenment, when science came to the fore and religion took a backseat. I wonder, if, in following science, we have strayed further off the mark than where religion had us. At any rate, it seems that Jeanne’s style of healing worked, for Emily seems much better.

 

 

The Suicide of Jeanne Little

 

Jeanne, you asked me once how long

I’d remember you when you died.

I smiled and said, a day or two.

You shook your head and cried.

 

You really should remember me

much longer than that, you said.

I smiled and shook my head and headed

tiredly back to bed.

 

A little spirit came to me

as I was driving in my van,

a little spirit like a comet

buzzing all around my head.

 

Go away you little spirit,

must you be so bothersome?

Go away and leave me be,

I have work to do today.

 

Then I learned that you’d been found

lying dead behind the door,

prescription bottle by your hand,

tablets scattered on the floor.

 

Alone on Christmas Day, I sat,

staring at the dead TV,

in my blue rocking chair with her

blue chair now empty there with me.

 

Jeanne, you got me good this time:

you’ve rearranged my world,

left me reeling in a daze,

lost in a hazy maze.

 

Then you appeared in apparition

radiant there in front of me.

You laughed and said, I got me too,

and then you flew inside my eyes.

 

I now see through your eyes, Jeanne,

I learn and laugh for two.

When darkness reigns in my cruel world,

I often seek out you.

Metaphor Arthritis and a Mercedes

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The thing about arthritis pain and the pain from loving you is how easily I manage both with impermanent remedies rather than admit each is a way of life demanding a change in my own habits. Instead of eating this cake that will surely inflame my joints and cause shooting spikes, I could choose to walk off the pain instead. Wait for the surge of endorphins to release into my bloodstream returning a semblance of balance and clear-headedness to my physical self. I wonder if I can walk you off too.

A thick piece of cake sits in front of me as a silent waitress pours steaming coffee into a cup I’m massaging like it’s Aladdin’s lamp in disguise. My thumbs have plagued me with arthritic achiness since the year I turned forty. At first, I was convinced the mainly nuisance, here-again-gone-again discomfort was a byproduct of a too tight grip on the elliptical machine at the gym. Pain that comes on quietly like arthritis does—in a gentle, ebb and flow—building slowly, reliably—can sometimes be misidentified. But I was never as good at reading signals as I was at ignoring the obvious. Absently I seek relief from the now faithful pain wherever I find a heated surface.

I’m at the coffee shop on the shaded corner of our street seeking relief from more than just arthritis pain. As I jab my fork into the layered confection I know the calming lethargy from flowing glucose will shortly displace emotional turmoil with a haze of sweetened wellbeing. Who needs valium or alcohol with such baked goodness? Besides, I can still legally operate a motorized vehicle under the influence of carb-overload, and a recent side-effect of our union sits on the street just outside the coffee shop window: a candy-red, $60,000 symbol of a decomposing relationship.

I think a Mercedes is like eating rich buttercream frosting by the spoonful right out of the bowl. Delicious sure, but far more fat and sugar than anyone needs.  A carotid artery with heated seats, driver assist and satellite radio. After discovering you and my arthritis were on the opposite ends of the faithfulness spectrum, a car-buying binge seemed every bit as reasonable as ingesting a towering piece of layered calories; a bright, sporty placebo against the dark, thick pain weighing me down and signaling the death knell of our future.

I love the Mercedes, and I hate you.  But even as I think it I know I’m lying to myself. I hate the Mercedes too. You imagined me as someone who drove a high-end vehicle because you imagined that was the kind of woman who best reflected your own value. I knew that too. It was why I resisted buying the car until today. Buying it now is me rubbing salt into my own open wound. A post-middle-aged version of emotional cutting. Something to make me feel outrage, or indignation, or fury.  Anything besides stupidity and confusion. I long to be the woman who burns your clothes, breaks your favorite golf clubs, confronts you screaming in public and then drives that Mercedes straight out of town, or right over you.

I’m pushing the cake around the plate more than eating it, smashing the fork into the frosting watching the brown fluff push up through the prongs. The October sun is fading into pinkish hued clouds deepening the car’s candied red to a claret. I think I am somewhere between who I am and who I am no more tethered to the present only by the throbbing pain in my thumbs that lets me know not everything has changed. Even if we have changed. Even if I am now a woman who drives a decadent new Mercedes and philosophizes about chocolate cake alone in a coffee shop. I press the backside of my thumbs against the cup again, but it’s tepid now and provides no relief.

Confessions of a Study Abroad Coordinator

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What was going through his mind as the water rose above his head?  Was he thinking about his mother back home?  Was he hoping someone would look over to see him struggling?  Surely someone had to notice how he was grasping for the rocks, or heard his calls for help as he coughed up the water filling his lungs.  Someone had to come save this boy who just moments before was wading in the calm waters of the river.  Earlier this day, he had been safe and enjoying life.  The country of Belize had to be a drastic change from his life back home.  The rich green landscape surrounding the serene and tranquil river created a scene out of paradise.  It was probably not on the minds of the group one of them would not be returning home from this remarkable journey abroad.  Unfortunately, this trip would be his last.  With his foot caught in something on the river bed, he drowned while the chaperones and other travelers looked the other way.

This story was not mine to tell, but it has haunted my mind since I heard about it last year.  A teenage boy drowned in a river while visiting the country of Belize for a school-sponsored study abroad trip.  He was 14 years old.  Stories such as this are why people think I am crazy for doing what I do.  As a Study Abroad Coordinator, I take on a tremendous level of accountability.  I understand how my job sounds glamorous; we take students abroad for unforgettable adventures and explore ancient ruins, street markets, and engage with locals in language which is not our mother tongue.  Sure, that’s all grand.  After taking on this position, I have traveled abroad more times in the last three years than many people have in their lifetime.

However, one mistake can cost a life and it keeps me up at night.  We do not accept anyone under the age of 18 and think of these individuals as functioning adults.  Unfortunately, this does not excuse us from our duties.  Ever move we make has to be accounted for and every head counted, twice.  We do not leave for our next destination without our travelers repeating back to us our itinerary.  No one goes off alone or even in twos.  Three is the minimum for a group.  Cell phones must be on your person at all times so that we can be in reach at any moment.  And last, but not least, make smart decisions.  These are the rules, but they are not foolproof.

When I accepted my position as a Humanities Instructor at Chattahoochee Technical College four years ago, I did not know how deeply involved I would become in the Study Abroad Program.  Honestly, I had no idea such a program even existed since this was a technical college since it was not one of the more prestigious four-year universities like my alma mater, the neighboring Kennesaw State University.  I was just happy to have accepted a position where I would be allowed to express my creativity and engage with people who were interested in what I had to say (despite the fact they were students and kind of required to listen to my lectures).  My last position in communication was not nearly as prestigious in my opinion.  I felt I was no more important than a piece of production equipment that was used when it was needed and disregarded after it served its purpose.

Not too long after the start of my second semester of teaching, I was approached by two of my colleagues asking for my help.  One, Fred, teaches both English and Spanish and occupies the office across the hall from mine.  The other, Sonia, teaches both Human Communication and Public Speaking and rotates between two of our eight campuses spread across the northeast region of Georgia.  They wanted to know if I would be willing to give up an assignment in my Humanities courses traveling students could complete for an upcoming trip to Spain for a 7-day study abroad program.  After providing me with the details of the journey, and about the history of this small but growing program, I was happy to accept.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, this agreement would be the start of my journey with this program and deeply involve my life in international education.

On top of providing an assignment, I made frequent announcements in my courses and spoke with any student who would listen in order to recruit more travelers.  I even recruited one bright-eyed girl, Ariel, while I was ordering coffee at Starbucks.  With the mention of Spain in our conversation, her eyes widened with excitement.  I gave her my name so she could take my course, thus making her eligible to travel as part of the program.  My colleagues were impressed when they heard how she learned about the program during one of the information sessions.  In fact, they were so impressed, it was proposed that I would be accompanying them abroad but only if they could get the numbers needed.  As spring semester 2014 slowly approached, the number of travelers steadily increased.  If any more students enrolled for their trip, I was next in line to join as a chaperone.  Crossing my fingers, I hoped I would be going to Spain.

However, when the time for departure came, I was not going anywhere.  Despite the number of travelers quadrupling in just one year, there were not enough to justify my travel with the group.  After receiving the news and watching as the students left for the airport on the Thursday before the start of Spring Break, I thought I had missed my chance at something great.  That is until we returned to work following the break.  Apparently, one of the students, Courtney, had been kicked off the departure flight because she had verbally assaulted one of the flight attendants, a federal offense.  As the only Spanish-speaking instructor, Fred had to stay with Courtney while Sonia returned home with the travelers.  Luckily, Fred negotiated her release and they were rebooked onto a flight for the United States the next day.  Because of the late departure, they did not return home for three days after the rest of the group who left Madrid on-time as scheduled.

While this incident occurred at the tail end of the trip, it was the last in a long series of problems for the Spain group.  Before they departed, Courtney decided to disclose she was diagnosed as bipolar, had been self-medicating with the use of marijuana, and was quitting cold turkey for this upcoming trip.  This disclosure should have been enough to cancel her travel but unfortunately, they did not have the paperwork to legally support her removal.  This disclose started a domino effect of trouble for the travelers.  After arriving in Spain, the students were happy, smiling, and enjoying their experience in Spain.  Then, disaster struck.  The troubled student alleged her roommate, Annalise, stole money from her belongings in the hotel room.  Since the theft could not be proven, there was nothing more my colleagues could do to help Courtney.

Later that day, while riding the metro through Madrid, Courtney became heated while watching Annalise converse with Fred and verbally assaulted her.  Apparently, she felt Fred and Sonia were favoring Annalise during the alleged theft.  This assault escalated to an accusation by Courtney that Annalise was romantically involved with Fred.  The awkward claims were put to rest quickly, and the group fell silent as they waited for the train to pull away from a recent stop.  Then, as the doors started to close, the troubled student backed off the train.  Without hesitation, Sonia leaped out of the train to catch her just as the doors shut and the train sped off leaving the two of them alone on the platform with no idea where the rest of the group were destined to depart the train.

Admittedly, while Courtney was a royal pain, she was not the only one.  Accompanying Courtney was Lacy, her sister, who apparently had a strong aversion to seafood.  While she made mention of this distaste, she neglected to mention she could not even be around the smell of seafood.  This may seem like a small nuisance compared to an extreme headache her sister caused while abroad.  However, knowing traditional Spanish cuisine, they tend to eat a hefty amount of seafood and therefore for the duration of their trip, they had to avoid any place with seafood.  The sister also had a severe case of irritable bowel syndrome which made frequent bathroom stops a must.

Another student, Stacy, gave my colleagues the shock of a lifetime when they arrived for their tour of the Royal Palace in Madrid.  After being informed about the mandatory security screening before entering the Palace by the Tour Director, this student proceeded to extract a hunting knife the length of one’s forearm from her bag and asked where she should secure it.  Well, not only were Fred and Sonia embarrassed such an incident occurred, but weapons such as this are illegal in Spain.  After explaining the situation to the Tour Director, he agreed to remain on the bus to protect the precious knife while the group headed off for the tour.  While Stacy meant no ill will by carrying the object with her, it made for an unforgettable story.  (By the way, the hunting knife was given to her by her boyfriend for protection).

After the sickening fish smells, frequently bathroom breaks, accusations, knives, extreme fatigue, and ejection from an international flight, this is where I come into the mix.  I was asked to come on board as a partner so Fred and Sonia could have one more person to help.  And yes, I was fully aware of the events which transpired.  Despite all the negativity, I wanted the opportunity as I never had the chance to study abroad while I was in college.  If anything, missing out on chance to study abroad was the biggest regret from my undergraduate studies and soon became part of my mission as a Coordinator.  I did not want students to miss out on such a wonderful chance to explore their world.  After accepting the position, with no pay increase and no reimbursement for my travel expenses, I became part of a new and intense world.

For the third trip which took place in May of 2015, I was elected to be the Group Leader in charge of our 10-day program starting in London, England and leaving from Rome, Italy.  Within a few short months, we had twelve travelers (five of which I recruited myself) and before we knew it, we were meeting at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for our overnight flight to Heathrow.  At this point, no one disclosed any bipolar disorder or use of any illegal drugs.  Yet, I could not breathe any signs of relief just yet.  As the time for check-in approached, we were still missing one student.  Without much time to spare, we decided to check-in for our flight while one of my team called her cell.  Apparently, a family member passed away just days ago, and our distraught student was not certain if she was going to accompany us during this time of grief.  Fortunately, at the urging of her family, she rushed to the airport with moments to spare before boarding.

Upon landing in London, a different student, Heather, experienced an allergic reaction to something on the plane which caused her face to be puffed up for days.  Then, in Paris, one of our three male students, Roger, misplaced his pants in the hotel.  Apparently, he was under the impression he had tossed them out of his hotel window in his sleep.  Upon further investigation, we were informed his roommate, Daniel, made a joke perhaps they had accidently been tossed out while our student was sleepwalking.  The worst part, for me at least, was not the joke but was believed.  Luckily, the pants were found safely stashed under some other clothes in their room.  Now, Roger also had an issue with money.  Though we instructed our travelers to budget about $30 to $50 a day while we were abroad, he budgeted $50 for the entire trip.  Nearing the point of starvation because of his lack of funds, my colleague and I were doing our best to offer him food and money whenever we could.  It was later in Florence when Roger learned how to use an ATM for the first time.  Score one point for life experience.

This same day in Florence, Hillary collapsed from exhaustion while we were on a walking tour.  We agreed to play zones when it came to the walking tour, so I was in the front, Fred in the middle and Sonia bringing up the rear.  I received a call on my cell from Sonia alerting me to the situation and instructed Fred to stay with the group before taking off running through the streets of Florence trying to find them.  Sitting on the steps outside the Uffizi, I tried speaking with the student to identify the cause of her sudden illness.  She described feeling nauseated, sensitivity to light, and smells.  I said it sounded like a migraine to which she replied, “I hope I’m not pregnant.”  Oh boy.

After the Tour Director, Patti, arrived at the scene, she carted Sonia, the collapsed student, and Roger, her boyfriend, off to our hotel.  I turned to retrace my steps and catch up with the rest my group still on our city tour.  To think, so much already happened on my first journey abroad as a Study Abroad Coordinator and Group Leader.  From the illnesses to the lack of sleep, misplaced pants to the mysterious package on our metro ride in Paris, and then getting lost in the Louvre before catching the overnight train to Milan without air conditioning and in a cart so small we thought we were in a prison (or worse, a coffin), I was ready to pack my bags and return home.  As I darted through the crowded streets full of shoppers, locals, and tour groups such as ours, I had a startling thought:  We still have Assisi and Rome to go.