I was at the airport, the flight to America was boarding soon, the clock ticked on. He wasn’t here, he hadn’t come to stop me. I heard my phone message alert and saw his name flash up, "have an amazing time". I couldn’t believe it, I was going to have to go, all by myself, with nowhere arranged to live, a few hundred pounds in my pocket, and I wasn’t even 21.
With my guitar under my arm, I waved goodbye to my friends who had taken me to the airport, and I put my first step forward. As the escalator moved, I could see my friends getting smaller, and tears filled my eyes as I waved goodbye to them and my life as I knew it.
There are many ways to mend a broken heart, but, for me, with the crushing devastation of the end of first love, literarily moving on was the only answer. I couldn’t bear to live in a city where I could constantly see him, hear of him, and worst of all, eventually see him move on.
So, when my first ever relationship came to an end, I went through the phases – disbelief, grief, sadness. But while these stages manifested themselves, a quiet little independent warrior inside of me was raising its head. It was saying: remember who you are, remember how brave you can be, remember who you were before you met. Remember.
Within a week I’d applied for 50 jobs in America for my student summer year. I was going to leave for four months on my own. I needed a break, a new start. I needed to go find myself again. I needed a new beginning.
It didn’t take long to get some offers, my first as a helper in the Rocky Mountains. It wasn’t ideal, but I did the interview and if nothing else came through, I was on for that.
Next up was an offer to work in Wildwood New Jersey, in a theme park. The equivalent to the UK’s Butlin’s, but slightly bigger. They were hiring hundreds of students and assured me I’d find accommodation very easily. I was sold.
I bought my ticket with what was in the bank and was left with £500, enough for a deposit for rent and a little travel money. I was counting on my salary thereafter to see me through. In retrospect I was counting on a lot, but I was twenty, naive and still believed that everyone was good and the dangers of the world couldn’t touch me.
Back then mobile phones didn’t cross nations, so as I crossed the world, my communication with home was lost. No one could get in touch with me, check the flight was fine, FaceTime, or follow me on social media. When I left, I really was going to be gone.
I dried away my tears and soon my friendly nature that I’d always relied on came back. I made friends with people on my flight and before long we were exploring Time Square together in New York, then bunking down in our youth hostel. I was overwhelmed by it all. I’d never seen guns before and as I walked around New York, I felt like I was on a movie set.
The next morning, I invited the friends my new friends to join me on my New Jersey adventure, suggesting my employer might have something for them. And before I knew it, I was no longer a young, scared girl travelling alone. I was a tour guide, giving people a destination, with five people in my pack.
Onwards we went to New Jersey, and – thank goodness – my employer offered all my travel companions work too. One more traveller joined our group and within days we were now a group of six living and working in New Jersey, in the strangest and most wonderful of locations.
But life wasn’t all holidays and fun. We worked six days a week and the 12-hour day shift with a half hour break took its toll. We were all constantly exhausted. But we still found time to have fun at night and, on our days off, we sunbathed on the beach, or travelled to nearby locations.
I used my first month’s salary to travel to Delaware and sky dive with a couple of Irish lads I’d met at my work. I was terrified, exhilarated, and terrified some more as I completed a one-minute freefall before my parachute opened.
And my trusty guitar was a godsend. There were no luxuries for us. Our wages were small, six of us shared a one bedroom flat, we had no car, no phones, no music, none of the things we take for granted every day. But we had music, and I played my guitar every day.
The summer passed and soon it was time to come home. Apart from sending a couple of emails, my contact with home had been almost non-existent. Without a phone and easy access to a computer, I had simply had to start a new life.
Over twenty years on now, I think of that brave young girl often and wonder how she had the courage to take on the world and go out there, all by herself, when her heart was hurting so much. But I don’t regret it. It was the start of a new beginning. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and sometimes that’s what we all need. A new start, and the courage to start over.