Korean Air Lounge
Terminal 1, John F. Kennedy International Airport

There’s a saying in Denmark: “Only a fool isn’t afraid of the ocean.” This maxim typically gets employed every summer, when Germans vacationing along the Danish coastline are swept away by the ferocious North Sea currents. I am no fool. I am afraid of the ocean. But I am not afraid of much else.

And yet: On a Tuesday night not long ago, I haphazardly threw clothes into a suitcase (overalls? check; leotard? Joan Didion would approve, so check; two bathing suits with no real guarantee of swimming? sure, check), packing for a whirlwind five-day trip in another country, one where I had long wanted to go. I had no reason not to be excited in a real, pure way. But it was complicated. Everything felt too easy, too much like a dream; I didn’t deserve any of the good things I was getting. I became certain that I was going to close my eyes and relax into this trip and when I awoke I’d find myself miles from the shore, cold waves washing over my head. I just knew my plane would crash. I felt like a fool for not knowing this would end in disaster.

I packed anyway. I told my boyfriend through a haze of tears that I had some anxiety, like it was some generalized thing, like it wasn’t specific to the plane I was getting closer and closer to boarding. He held me and told me not to worry. He asked me if I wanted a drink. No, I said. I will drink in the airport lounge. The premium tickets my friend and I had entitled us to a pre-boarding wait in the Korean Air Lounge.

The drive to JFK was seamless; check-in took mere minutes. We made our way through Terminal One toward our gate and then ducked into a barely marked doorway near a Hudson News. We walked down a short hall and took an elevator up one level, looked down over the crowds of passengers clustered by the gates. I saw two men praying on the floor beneath me. My anxiety subsided. We approached a large semi-circular desk behind which a woman with immaculate red lipstick sat, checking people’s passes to see if they were where they belonged. I realized I was where I belonged, a place with a mini-bar stocked with tonic water and a handle of serve-yourself Beefeater gin. I poured myself a drink. We sat in well-cushioned lounge chairs, watched the planes take off in the near distance, poured ourselves more drinks. A baby smiled at me. I had another drink.

“Are you ready to go?” my friend asked.

“One more drink.”

And then we were off.

Photos by Jane Bruce