I could never have imagined it without a little help.
In my child’s mind, I pictured a mound of sand, a palm tree (with coconuts!) and my grandparents clinging to it to survive. I spent weeks fretting about how we would swim there and alternatively about how we would all fit!
Thanks to a couple of photographs and some letters sent across the great ocean, a new vision began to take shape. No longer picturing a tiny speck of an island, I now imagined towering buildings, lush landscapes with trees as far as the eye could see, strange looking birds, even stranger looking people and a bridge made of solid gold!
I longed for it. This place I had never been to. This country I had only read about. This magical land with fruit in the winter time, jeans in all sizes and no lines at the store counter!
“A Barbie there costs six dollars!”
“That doesn’t sound like much, I bet you could save for a few in no time.”
“Will you promise to send us back one?”
I promised. “Of course!” I promised them all. I’d write letters and learn English and send them all back Beatles cassette-tapes and Barbies and Bubble gum. I was so excited, I could hardly stand it!
“When will we leave?
“Soon, so soon. You won’t even have to start school because we’re leaving any day now.”
I waited patiently.
The weeks turned into months. My friends all started first grade. I roamed the playground alone until the babies would let out of nursery school. I’d organize them into a merry band of thieves and send them on daring missions to the corner store. “I’m going to America and you’re going to miss me so much. You’ll cry even!” I told my pint-sized pack of hooligans.
Each night, I packed my suitcase, folding my clothes neatly and carefully selecting the two toys and three books my parents said I could take with me. “Any day now,” I would tell myself, giddy with anticipation.
The school year ended and a new one was beginning. I begged to go and this time my parents agreed. Every week it seemed a classmate would leave to America, to Israel or to Germany.
But still we stayed. “Any day,” I would keep telling myself, but I stopped packing.
My aunt, uncle and cousins moved out of our apartment. From twelve people there only five of us left. It was quiet and the bathroom was always available when you needed it. Where was the fun in that?
There were rations for milk and soap. One day I went to the corner store and they were out of bread. So was the store in the town square and the ’super’ store down by the movie theater.
My grandma called to say the earth shook over there and she had broken her leg.
I started having nightmares. America was a small island again, but the ground was unstable and the palm tree split down the middle.
I would play this one song, the lyrics “goodbye America, though I’ve never laid eyes on you” would always make me cry. I’d get myself worked up to a state bordering on hysteria and finally sleep.
My great-grandmother, the woman who raised me, had a stroke and died.
I no longer cared if we ever left for America.
By the time we landed at 11:15pm on January 11th, 1991 at San Francisco International Airport, I barely even registered it; that indeed, my whole world had shifted.
When not offering her unsolicited opinion to friends and strangers alike, Yuliya can be found documenting her life journey at http://www.shesuggests.com/
Photo Credit: mackro
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