I awoke early in the morning, three minutes to four A.M., and took a cold shower in a vain attempt to truly awaken my drowsy self. I looked in the mirror and staring back at me was a spitting image of what I should have looked like in ten years. My hair was disheveled and pointing in all different directions and my eyes were asymmetrical with one pink and puffy and the other nearly shut because it took almost as much effort to keep that eye open as it did to stand. I was sick. I had been infected by a virus that seemed incurable. My illness was so dreadful that it did not have a name, but it had been around since man had become familiar with the comfort of what is called home. I was leaving my home, my world, my life. And for what? Only to start a new life elsewhere in a place that was said to be great. But why should I care about how great that place was when I was satisfied with my own place, my own home?
The illness affected me both mentally and physically. It was characterized by hate directed at no single entity in particular, uncontrolled emotions, rebellion, lack of appetite, fatigue, and what appeared to be a forehead furrowed into an intricate knot beyond undoing. After the brow of the image in the mirror became dangerously more creased, I decided it was better not anger the reflection (my brain did not make the connection between that person and myself for it was simply impossible for that to be me). Then I finished packing my clothes, with the exception of the outfit I was to wear for the next who-knew-how-many hours. I was ushered into the taxi and almost literally dragged to the airport. We were off to the United States of America.
To be sleeping in a chair for two days in a row was certainly not a part of my regular routine. I found myself reflect, “Thank goodness that grumpy lady in the mirror isn’t here right now. She’d be extra grumpy next to this man.” The man to my left could have once been the star football player for some high school wherever it was he came from. To me he was just an overweight man with graying temples and a mustard stain on his khaki shorts from the continuously dripping sandwich in his hands and a man who wiped his sweaty hands on his too-short shorts in a vain attempt to clean them and wipe the sweat away at the same time. Not to mention, the woman next to him—I could tell she was his wife from the way she continuously tried to hand him her baby—stunk so profusely that the fumes reached over the massive mustard eating man and seemed to grab hold of my throat. It was pathetic. If this was the embodiment of American life, I wanted no part of it.
In the distance, someone vomited the contents of whatever their last meal was into a small paper bag, but I did not feel sorry for him because what I suffered from was far worse. His sallow complexion was nothing in comparison to mine because my face was death itself. Seeing this, Mrs. Morris, an old woman to my left, offered me her bag of peanuts.
“Are you sad, Little Missy?” she wondered aloud. I gave a noncommittal grunt in response.
“Don’t be sad child. Are you moving to America?”
Grunt. This time she waited until I gave a civil response: “Yes.”
“Oh now, that’s great! America is a great place,” she told me. “Me and my son moved down there ‘bout 30 years ago and now he has a family there and all is just great.” She continued to tell me about their journey from Sweden and of how her son, just about my age when they moved, was as equally indignant as I.
Forty-five hours and ten minutes, a one day stop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and a brief connection flight from Rome. That is what it took to arrive in Saint Louis, Missouri on August 19, 2000, my eighth birthday. I was in the land of opportunity, a land of freedom and free will, a land where anyone could achieve the inconceivable based on merit rather than birth rights and cronyism. Of course, I did not care—afterall, I was only eight years old. I simply wanted to stay with my friends, to live life in the comfortable abode of conventional routine. Change was fine as long as it did not encumber routine. At the time, I did not know why we were moving and I hated it. I hated being left out of the loop because I was too young. I hated being too young. I hated having to change everything that I had grown used to for the sole purpose of my father’s work.
Although I did not believe Mrs. Morris at the time, she opened up my mind to the land of opportunity. I realized that people’s love of the USA was not based on making more money, but on the fact that it was a country that was open to change. I had found the cure for the illness. This was my chance to grab hold of opportunity, to welcome the new with open arms and say, “Hello, Change. Where will you lead me today?”
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