Thursday, April 22, 2010

American paradise - January 13, 1978

January 13, 1978 - My march to freedom began on a Friday the 13th early in the morning in my parent's concrete slab, government issued apartment, cracked and decaying from lack of maintenance and the 1977 earthquake. I had packed my modest suitcase the week before with my spare pair of shoes, my one dress, favorite books, and my freshly issued Romanian passport. Many people would have killed to possess it and the blue stamped visa from the American Embassy. My mom had packed another suitcase with handsewn sheets and doillies, wedding dress, and wedding presents from various relatives. I had no money in my pocket, I was going to the land of plenty, who needs money there? We had this vision that money grows on trees in America and all you have to do is reach up and pluck it. My wedding guests had given my parents gifts of money but they barely covered the cost of the wedding and I did not want my daddy to go into debt for giving me such a beautiful wedding - I gave him all the money. I was full of trepidation and anxious to start my new life in America but fear was beginning to grip my heart as I looked pensively at my very few possessions around the room that had been my bedroom, my study, my livingroom, my library for 19 years. I could not take any of it with me. Objects did not define me but I wanted to take a small part of my past life with me, to remind me of who I was and were I came from. Most of all, I wanted to take my parents with me - they had worked so hard to make sure I was safe, I loved them with all my heart, and now I was abandoning them. Uncle John was driving us to the airport in his beatup Dacia and other relatives were following by bus. It was a relatively short trip, 65 km, but it might as well have been a long drive to the scaffold. The closer I got to the airport, the more I regretted my decision and was doubting my sanity. Will I be able to get on the plane and fly away from everybody and everything I held dear and loved? The customs officers were very rude and attempted to confiscate my modest engagement ring since only wedding bands were allowed to leave the country. There was a shortage of gold and nobody could "export" any gold jewelry unauthorized. Certainly this thin ring worth maybe $100 had to stay behind. Jean, who had given the ring to me as a family hairloom, was beside herself with outrage. She took the ring and put it on her finger. As an American citizen, she could leave the country with any gold jewelry she wore. Problem solved!

I felt so lucky to leave the country and cursed at the same time - I was torn between the love for my family and the yearning to be free in America. It was an icy cold January morning but I was trembling from fear and anxiety - part of me could not wait to go and part of me wished that the plane stalled, or my visa would be recalled at the last minute. Bill was nervous and irritated with all the communist red tape he had endured for the past year - he was bubbling over with impatience - he felt trapped and imprisoned in this third world country that did not respect any rights a human being had in America. He felt humiliated and emasculated. The plane took off late and I said my last goodbyes to my parents, my uncles, my aunts, and my cousins. It felt more like a funeral, with all the tears and constant hugs. I had no idea the amount of pain I had caused my loved ones and the longing and suffering I and my parents will experience for years to come. I was just happy to get out, to be free. Freedom but at what price? A phyrrhic victory?