“My flight’s been cancelled”, I said to you, in disbelief and annoyance. It was August 8th, 2014. I sat in the passenger’s seat of your silver Toyota Camry, the perfect mom car. We drove 3 hours from Moses Lake to Seattle so that I could catch my flight to Peace Corps Staging in D.C. It felt like just another trip to Seattle, where we would go every so often so that we could experience city life. This included watching aproned fishmongers throw King Salmon at one another at Pike’s Market. We’d then walk around the mall and maybe go to Starbucks. We always finished our voyage into the city with a trip to Costco so that we could hop from one sample table to another. We always went there last so that our frozen shrimp would be somewhat cold by the time we got home.
That day, we’d arrived pretty early to avoid any extra airport stress and to eat food we couldn’t get in Moses, so we pulled up in front of a Thai Restaurant near the South Center mall. We sat down at a booth. I devoured a plate of spicy Pad Thai with shrimp. Little did I know that this was not only the last Thai food I’d eat, but that it would be one of the only handful of meals I’d eat in air conditioning for the next year two years.
We bounced in our seats, sprinkling lime juice and chile on our food and gasping for air because nos habiamos enchilado (had too much spicy food). I thought of how you have always been there for me before my big trips.
You were the one who dropped off your innocent, athletic, long-haired17-year-old daughter at the Spokane airport before I studied abroad at lady college in Boston. I say “abroad” because a Bostonian women’s college is as different as it gets from sunny, dry, rural, Republican Eastern Washington. I still can’t believe it was cheaper for me to get my Bachelor’s across the country than it was for me to stay in state. Que suerte.
A year later, you were the one who drove me down to Bakersfield, California. Remember when I stuck my camera out the car window to take pictures, and it flew out of my hand? “We’re saving the memory card!!”, you yelled, swerving to the side of the road. We looked so silly, scouring the dry roadside for my memory card. My camera had been crushed to a pulp, but the memory card left unscathed. Mensa, you called me, for not having used the wristband. I’ll never stop sticking my head out the car window like a dog with it’s tongue flapping in the air, but now I appreciate the wrist band. I would be interning at the Sequoia National Forest as a “recreation intern”. I thought I’d be leading rafting tours. I ended up following rangers around, watching them power wash toilets. Occasionally I’d translate for them when they asked the Spanish-speaking guests for their camping permits. It was a lonely summer, but I’ll never forget my solo road trips to L.A. and San Diego and driving through wine country while listening to the Eagles’ Tequila Sunrise.
You were the one who comforted my anxious self before I studied abroad in France for only 4 months. That was the last time I saw Sammy, my brother. We were driving to Seattle after New Year’s in 2011, and my bratty self cried “I’m tired of traveling”. I was really just tired of seeking a sense of belonging in a series of unsuccessful romances. I’d gone through a rough first semester of my Junior Year. I had tried growing out my hair and died it with a bright red streak in the back (that faded into an ugly orange after 3 days). I looked like a skunk but at the time I thought I was cool.
You had been to France on your honeymoon before, and you assured me of what a great experience it would be, and that to the French, the U.S. is just another obscure country. I would see what it’s like to live in another country, and I’d understand that the U.S. isn’t the center of the universe. You were right. I lost some weight in France, had zero relationships with anyone but myself, and I traveled solo through Spain, Scotland, Italy, and the Czech Republic. I cooked for myself and began travel blogging. For the first time, I enjoyed just sitting by myself on a bench to absorb the smell of freshly baked bread from across the street and the “sh-sh” sound of French people conversing. They would be wrapped up in their scarves while I sat there in my cut off jean shorts that I’d cut myself with Shadae, my roommate. She inspired me to blog and to make epic fashion choices like these-only she’s always been fashionable.
You were the one who said “it’s humongous” as you peered out the airplane window at Houston, Texas, on a starry night. I giggled as I held my ex-girlfriend’s hand. I’d just graduated college and would be visiting her hometown before I went off to San Antonio to tutor at-hope public high schoolers at Burbank High School. I wanted to live in a Latin@ community, and what I ended up in was definitely as far from Boston as I’d been dreamt of. I was tired of Boston’s frigid personalities and academic elitism.
You were the one who, again, drove me to the Seattle airport a year later to catch my flight to Boston. I ended up returning because I just didn’t fit into Texan life. I realized that yes, Boston is freaking cold, but I had turned into a northern, no-bullshit, restless city girl. “Charleen, this is one of the most bizarre decisions you’ve every made”, you told me, shaking your head. You made fun of how much I’d complained about Boston.I’d just never felt as out of place as I had in Texas. The barbeque and mashed potatoes were sinfully delicious, but I didn’t like watching sports and I didn’t understand why people would “smile in your face and spit in your tea”. Maybe it was just bad timing, and my less than ideal situation. I’ve actually thought of moving back there to see if I could “do it right”-maybe if I just had a different job and situation. Back then, it was the most emotionally draining year of my life. It felt as if I was in a different country where I could understand the language, but not the nuances. I’m still making sense of it.
So, here we were, gasping for air because we put too much chile on our noodles. I thought I’d go to the airport to catch an earlier flight, if possible, and it turned out that we were so early that my wish came true. I would connect in Portland and North Carolina. I’d still arrive in D.C. at 11 am the next day, but I was ecstatic to get three days to brunch with my friends at to have bottomless sangria with them at Nando’s. You were as calm and collected as ever, now fully used to my adventures. It didn’t feel like I’d be leaving her for 27 months. The longest we’ve been apart is 10 months.
Little did I know that the next time I’d see you, 16 months would go by. I can’t wait for you to visit me in December. I can’t wait to show you how similar yet different Nicaraguan and Mexican culture is. I can’t wait to show you how much Nicaraguans love Mexican ranchera music, but how adverse they are to the idea of drenching their tacos and sandwiches in salsa and chile. I can’t wait for you to visit my little house and to meet my host family next door, and to enjoy the sunny, constant temperature in the 70’s.
One year into my two-year service in Nicaragua, I wanted to say thank you, mama, for being the one who has driven me to the airport. I can’t wait to put too much lime and chile on our food again!