“I would like to ask you to excuse me if my English is too poor sometimes.” The words came out of my mouth in what it seemed to be perfect, accent-less English. I got confused looks followed shortly by reassuring hand gestures.
I was living a dream that I hadn’t even dared to dream until then. The dinner table was more beautiful than I had seen in movies, back home. I don’t remember what we ate because I was concentrated on keeping my eyes open.
I had been traveling for over 24 hours half way around the globe to arrive in the smallest and quietest airport ever imagined. For a moment, I felt like a queen. There were so few people, it was so serene and calm that I almost thought they created this small mock-up airport just for my arrival. I didn’t have the red carpet. But I had smiling white-teethed faces left and right, people welcoming me to the Tri Cities. What could they be smiling for?
My royal treatment continued with the kindest couple who were waiting for me to take me to my new life. They welcomed me to America. We went to pick up my luggage from the – yet again – quiet Baggage Claim. Like two orphan kids holding hands, there they were: my two pieces of allowed luggage, the only ones on the rolling belt. Seriously. Without doubt, they did this on purpose to make me feel even more special.
The way back into town involved getting on the highway for a few miles. I hadn’t thought about that. I’m travelling on a highway. America, planes, airport, highways – all this is perplexing for me. Too much and too intense, all at once.
So, I just sat there in the back of a beige-leathered-couch car looking out the spotless window. Every object around seemed flawless. Like a photoshopped image. There are no weeds coming out of the strangely green grass. I can see some cows, but no manure. The highway is surrounded only by perfectly shaped trees. All the roads – sorry, the highways – are clearly marked and the paint looks fresh on the pavement. Not even clouds in the sunny sky, that’s how perfect the scenery is. No shade of familiar grey, only vibrant, polished colors.
The short trip ended with a series of left and right turns through what seemed to me like a Hollywood-set neighborhood. First of all, wherever I look I see only houses. Where are the blocks? Everyone lives in their own house here?
That’s when it hit me.
Seeing the entrance of that dark red house, so familiar to me from Beverly Hills and Gilmore Girls and Melrose Place, it hit me. I am in America.
Before I could take it all in and utter a word in amazement, the-happiest-person-I-had-ever-seen opened the mosquito screen and, with a loud and overly happy voice, welcomed me to their home. Again, before I could utter a word, there was her family, her mother and other friends – all welcoming me and apparently genuinely happy to meet me. I was being kissed and pushed and asked questions and smiled at and… offered lots of presents. I was on a rollercoaster and it was starting to get to my carefully hidden emotions.
I mean, presents?! Wow. I should take a trip half way around the world more often.
Where I come from, people had never been so overtly cheerful and so excited to have me in their home. I know deep in their hearts they had probably felt that many times. Probably they had wanted to give me all those presents, and more, but they couldn’t. And these strangely wonderful Americans were treating me like I was the best news they were given the whole week.
After finishing the dinner – which I still cannot remember what was composed of – my host gave me a tour of the house. The kitchen was filled with the smell of wine and oven-roasted-something and unfamiliar spices and… a huge wall decoration which said “Paris is my hometown. America is my home”. It was a beautifully painted reminder of my host’s French-American legacy.
Upstairs, already walking on clouds with joy of all the newness and movie-likeness, I was introduced to what would be “my room” for a week or so. My room. This concept had never existed for me before.
Where I come from, I always shared “my room” with the parents. Our one-room apartment.
So, my first (temporarily borrowed) bedroom surpassed all fantasies. Behind a heavy, dark brown, wooden door there lay a fairytale girly room. White wood bed and chest, small windows with white window panes. A make-up low desk, just as minutely carved. And those decorations and framed pictures!… Made to match a small corner of heaven. And what was best – the softest, pink-flowered sheets I had ever slept in.
For one evening, I was like the little girl in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Only, they knew I was in their fairytale home and they eagerly welcomed me into their sunny, cheerful lives.
I fell asleep trying to visualize that I was upside down – quite literally!, from everything I had ever known until then.