Eleven long hours on a plane, to think about the family I left behind when I was just Eleven years old.
I can’t sleep, there are so many thoughts running through my mind. I feel excited but apprehensive because although I am going “home”, I don’t know this home very well.
Twenty plus years of being away from this “home” makes me more a stranger, a foreigner than not. It is all unfamiliar. The language is no longer my first language. The country, mi patria, is a strange land with strangers in it to me. Even my own family are more strangers than familiar. I haven’t spoken to many of them in over a decade. How do I explain the past 20 years in a matter of days? How do I communicate with them with the Spanish of an eleven year old? How do I connect with them in such a short time? What do I say to my aging grandmother who has Alzheimer's? And my 90 year old grandfather who is not the grandfather I left behind? The cousins who were born after we left. I am a complete outsider. And worse yet, what if I don’t like them? It is a mystery to have family you have never met.
I’m dreading the awkward moments that I know will come with those who remember me but I have no recollection of. I already feel anxious about it and a cold perspiration starts first in my face and then all over my body.
So I pace up and down the aisle with my antsy toddler.
We fall into a restless, too short sleep and wake as the low hum of a plane waking begins in the early morning.
Tired, needing coffee and a shower, we stumble out with the hoard of passengers. We struggle with our bags, stroller and extra two duffel bags that my mother commissioned us to bring full of clothes and shoes for her sisters. My husband good naturally bears most of the burden, as I keep our toddler entertained and happy through lines and baggage claim. In the sea of people waiting for their own families, I’m looking for a familiar face. As I scan the faces, I catch a glimpse of my uncle Carlos, my Dad’s brother, his wife Hortencia and my Dad’s cousin Maria Ester. And as I’m walking towards them, I smile but behind my smile the tears well up and once they come they are a continuous flood that won’t cease.
The years of longing, of feeling misplaced, of being between two nations who are neither mine overwhelms me. I fall into my uncle’s arms and cry. And strangely he feels so familiar. I remember the many times we visited with his family and the little moments of kindnesses he showed to me flood my memories. He always had a little trinket or doll to give me and the memories come and they don’t stop. I hold him and in him, I feel my Father’s arms and tenderness.
I turn to my aunts and cry with them. And tears really are the only language needed, because there is no making up for time lost, it’s just not possible. Clarity comes and the anxious thoughts leave. I turn and through tears and laughter I introduce them to my husband and baby boy, who bounces right into their arms and relishes in the attention of his family.