What Happened in the Final Few Hours Before my Gap Year
After years of procrastinating, months of saving and dozens of sleepless nights, the time had finally come to leave Aberdeen. It had been coming, and regardless of setbacks I felt I was ready.
Despite their differences, my family had gathered – mum, dad, both grandmas and granddad - but I had made it clear that I didn't want a sending off at the airport. My parents were going through a divorce and not on talking terms, and my grandmother from my mother's side hadn't spoken to my father in years. All in all, I was a nervous wreck. Not ideal.
This would be an important moment in my life, but I hadn't thought about how significant it would be to them. They were proud, supportive, would certainly miss me, and of course they wanted to say goodbye. The life that awaited me was within touching distance. A familiar life, for now, was even closer.
An awkward meal
Scattered tactically around the restaurant table, my family watched on as I sipped on a strong coffee, rifled frantically through my notes and enjoyed the last Scottish breakfast I'd be eating for a while. I was very much being given room to breathe, something to which I had been missing for months prior.
There followed careful conversation, as my family remained focused on me and the impending trip. They tentatively judged and changed the pace depending on the ever shifting vibe around the table, in a concerted attempt to form a delicate environment for me to star in. But in truth, I had said most of what I wanted to the weeks before, and was, surprisingly, doing a good enough job of keeping it together.
I only wanted one person with me at the airport that day, my granddad; a strong, wise and worldly man who gave countless pieces of good advice and was always generous with his words. When the time came to leave, he would know what to say, he would know how to act and he would give me the added strength I needed.
The mood around the table changed as the time drew closer. I was suddenly bombarded with silly yet mandatory questions: “Got your passport?" "Got everything you need?" "When does your flight get in?" "How are you getting to the hotel?” This unsettled me. I could feel my family becoming restless too, as what little conversation there was descended into unsubstantiated ramblings.
I was flying to Heathrow and then onto a connecting flight to Beijing. I had been dreaming of this for as long as I could remember. I hated who I had become in Aberdeen - a gambler, a drunk, and the clichéd under-achiever. But I had worked hard to escape. I was proud that I was finally reaching out, broadening my horizons.
My flight was called. It was time. We, as a family, began to make the short walk to the gate. I walked ahead to buy some time as I couldn't bear to look at my parents. This was going to hurt.
Tears and farewells
As expected, both my grandmothers were in tears, and, although there was no family protocol to saying goodbye, I turned to them first. They couldn't be more different: a very Aberdonian grafter, with a love for whisky, bingo, and an incessant quest to cater for my vegetarian mother despite not really knowing what a vegetarian was; and a flamboyant, eccentric, animal loving Jehovah from South Africa to whom there is never a dull moment. I loved them both equally.
I turned to my old man. I was dreading this. I harbour a lot of feelings on him and our relationship has been, and still is, strained. We are both scarily similar to the way we walk to the way we talk, to the jobs that we do. I see so much of myself in him, and he does in me, but we still find it incredibly hard to relate to one another. We moved in for an awkward hug. I would have welcomed us letting our guards down for just one moment but it wasn't to be. Unfortunately, moments of true honesty, relaxed conversation and real bonding is few and far between. He loves me; I love him. Yet, something, nothing and everything stands between us truly becoming close.
The relationship between my mum and I had also seen better days. The three of us had been living under the same roof since it had been announced that they would be getting a divorce, but I couldn't remember the last conversation that any of us had, together or otherwise. We had our own rooms, now ate at different times, and tiptoed around each other. My mother said she thought she had driven me away. That wasn't true. And I made sure she knew that. We shared a genuine moment at the gate as we said goodbye and I was reminded how much my mother loves me. It was hard for her to let go. I edged myself out of the death grip hug I had found myself in and pulled away. I couldn't tell her when I'd be back as I honestly didn't know. She was devastated I was leaving.
Then, as I approached my grandfather, suddenly I began to crumble. I had remained strong throughout, but it was all getting a bit too much. My eyes filled up, my lip began to tremble and I knew I was about to fall apart. But before I could, he interjected with some more wise words and the wisdom to which I expected from him. I wanted his advice and I wanted to remember it. It felt right that he would be the last person to see me off. We shook hands firmly and I was almost there. I worried that I would never see him in good health again: Parkinson's had been slowing him down in recent months and he could well be a different man by the time I returned.
Head down, passport and boarding pass in hand, I took a deep breath and made a turn for the gate. My eyes had been pushing back tears for the last few minutes, but like faulty swimming goggles, I couldn't keep them dry any longer. I began to sob, but out of sight from my family as I continued to make mercifully towards the desk. I looked back only once, to let out a forced smile. And then as I turned the corner, it was done. I had officially left.
If Darren's story has inspired you to travel but you don't know what to do, check out our article on top 10 gap year ideas.
Also, does it really matter whether a gap year boosts your CV? We think not so see what a gap year can really do for you.
And finally, jump on the message boards and speak to some like-minded people about your gap year.
About the Author: Darren Crocker
Darren, who goes by the user name Rollingcrock, drank, gambled and grinded himself into a self loathing rut before deciding to leave the North East of Scotland to... well... leave the North East of Scotland. Soon after he found himself in Beijing, scared out of his mind, a nervous wreck and not truly knowing if he would sink or swim as a traveller. Darren has spent six months in China and South East Asia before speanding a year living in Brisbane, Australia. In between jobs he travelled to New Zealand. Darren's also lived in Germany for a year with his very German girlfriend.