Wednesday, July 27th 2007. I was sitting in the middle of the darkness on top of the hood of a Chevrolet Lumina parked in a park somewhere in Ohio. I lay my head back and put it on the back of the car and lit myself a Black-n-Mild cigar. I puffed the hard, sweet smoke deep into my lungs and puff it out slowly; the thick grey smoke carefully blends with the dark night, the white, full moon being the only source of light in that secluded spot. With every drag and puff I do, my memories travel. As slow as the smoke that streamed out of my mouth.
I had bid farewell to some of my good friends earlier that night. I had my last fun with them, dipping to the swimming pool in the warm summer air and having fun as usual. It goes on just like every crazy nights that we spent together, until the time comes when weâ€™re about to leave. We shared the usual hugs, but this time, it was not any other hugs we had before. There is something else about it. For some reason, the air gives me chills when I embraced each and every one of them, deeply, tightly. And after every embrace, Iâ€™ll give them each the same, monotonous word, â€œThanks for everything. Itâ€™s really good knowing you. I really enjoyed my time here. I will see you when Iâ€™m back.â€
Before I leave in the same Chevrolet Lumina that ends up standing idly in the park later that night, I managed to turn my back and looked on those faces standing up behind me. Those are the people I have known and seen for almost a year. With everything in their face, my memory traveled to each one of them. How we know each other. How we spent those restless nights together. How we became close friends with each other. And now, how hard is it to bid farewell to them. I blinked, looked up to the moon above, looking at us with a grim face, before looking back at them.
â€œIâ€™ll be back.â€ I said, almost without emotion. But the truth is there is too much going on in my mind that time that I canâ€™t even choose which one goes with my words.
By the time we were done with our chilling time in the park, the clock already struck two hours past midnight. My Lumina driving friend took me up the driveway of my house and stopped in front of the door. It was like every other night we had. We have fun, get wasted and go home. But this time there was something different. I had to keep my emotion in bay as I bid farewell to him and say the same words I have said earlier to my group of friends, â€œItâ€™s been good knowing you, man. Iâ€™ll see you when I get back. One day. One day I will make it back here. Mark my words.â€
Later that day, I had a little bit of sleep until itâ€™s time to wake up around seven in the morning. My American parents had cooked me my favorite breakfast. Chicken-flavored rice with a strip of chicken breast cooked in the George Foreman grill, seasoned with herbs and a dash of my favorite Cajun seasoning. The meal usually wonâ€™t stay as it is for more than half an hour, but that time, I only finished half of it. The rice and the chicken stay there untouched. I was wondering, where the hell did my appetite go? But thereâ€™s no reason to answer that. I had already known the answer of it. I put my giant suitcase into the trunk of their Toyota SUV and they drove me off to the airport to catch my morning flight to Charlotte, NC.
An eerie silence filled the leather-studded interior of the car when we took off on the back roads to the airport. The quiet hum of the engine was the only one accompanying us that morning. Normally my â€˜daddyâ€™ would be the Chatty Charlie in the morning; talking about everything he could talk about: Our cats Henry and Garfield, the crazy summer heat, heck, even the American politics with Uncle Dubya still on the White House. This time he was quietly fixing his gaze on the road ahead of us, his wrinkled hands, weathered of his age, his many works and his stint in the Army during all his seventy years of living on the face of the Earth, was clenched tightly on the steering wheel. My â€˜momâ€™ was looking out the window, occasionally glanced over the road kill mirror to look at my face.
â€œThatâ€™s your high school, boy.â€ She said as we passed my high school. My memory went back again as if it goes on a 32x speed rewinds. Back to where I first set foot in the cold hallways of the school all the way up to the day when I stand in front of a thousand people to receive my graduation diploma. I only answer with a weak â€œyeah.â€ And then another uncomfortable silence, before I speak again, â€œIâ€™m going to miss this place.â€
I brand that word deep in my heart as later that day, I bid farewell to them on the wide hallways of the airport. I hug them tightly, tears quickly flowing down our cheek. Even â€˜dadâ€™ who was a hardened man for all his life, shed his tears. The thing they said to me was too memorable to forget, â€œDonâ€™t forget about us.â€
And there I was, in the hallways of the airport, with my parents for a whole year, saying goodbye. I donâ€™t know when I can see them again, but I had that thing tattooed to my mind, â€œDonâ€™t forget about us.â€
But it didnâ€™t hit me as hard as whatâ€™s going to happen in the following days.
4.30 PM, July 30th, 2007. Sitting in a London-bound United Airlines plane neatly parked on the tarmac in Washington Dulles Airport, I buckle myself up as the plane taxied to the runway. I had quickly forgotten the sorrow I left in Ohio as I share jokes and talked about our experiences with some people from my group. Itâ€™s been a year since I hadnâ€™t spoke in my native tongue and it was a relief to finally talk in my own language, other than English especially to a group of overly-excited, jolly fellows who happen to be like me, spending a year in a foreign country as an exchange student. We were just sharing jokes about Dukes of Hazzard and the funny sounds General Lee made when the plane accelerated fast on the runway, shooting towards the air.
I feel the gravity made way as the giant iron bird took off from American soil, and I glanced out the oval windows of the airplane. Down there, the urban skyline of Washington DC, the farmlands of Virginia and the freeways crisscrossing the landscapes slowly disappears. It quickly dissolves behind a screen of thick white clouds, making way to the open skies above. Down there, hidden behind the clouds, was a land where hopes and dreams of every people came true, the land where boys become men, the land where the future of the earth is held.
The land that built me into a stronger person. The land that is America.
For once in three days, I feel my heart stops beating. I have left it behind in the hinterlands of Northeast Ohio where I have lived for the past year. I sank deep into the chair and closed my eyes, trying to sleep my way out of it. But I just canâ€™t.
Leaving America is never easy for anyone. Especially not for me.
About the writer: Reva Wibowo is a freshman student in a private university in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where he enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts in International Business program. He spent one year in the United States as an exchange student and graduated from Fairless High School in Navarre, Ohio in 2007. His present activities include traveling across Asia and currently in progress of writing a noir thriller titled â€˜Aces of Spadesâ€™. His future plans is to return to the United States and attend New York Film Academy to get a degree in Screenwriting.
By Reva Wibowo