The first time I got on an airplane was on 02/22/02 at about 7pm. I had one or two suitcases with me. I had my photo albums, my canon film camera I had managed to buy just a couple of months earlier, I had some of my favorite t-shirts and the only jeans I owned, a cassette tape that my cousin and I made for my sister, there was some fresh cheese in between my clothes in the bags, there were mangoes… I don’t remember who wanted mangoes, I had my Bible, and a broken heart. I left behind everything I knew of life and the little I owned. The box with postcards that my dad had sent us through the years when he travelled, the sea shell I kept in my room, my favorite books. I left my friends and my family.
I remember looking back while going through the security gate at the airport, and seeing my cousin Jaime Roberto. He looked as sad as I felt. He’s more of a brother to me than a cousin, and we both knew I was not just going for 8 days, like my plane ticket said. I had been telling everyone I would come back in a few months, when in reality I didn’t know what would happen. I had never been as lost as I was those last few months in El Salvador, after my mom and my sister left the country. I didn’t have plans for a life in El Salvador. But I also didn't have plans for a life anywhere else, either. On that last year of high school in my country, while everyone was trying to decide what to go to school for, I wasn’t… Now that I think about it, I felt exactly like that in my last year of college here. I looked at a school or two, but I didn't fill out any applications. I didn't look for a job. I was left out of the leadership positions I had at church for the new year (that hurt).
I got to the U.S. later that night in February. I had a window seat. It was the last row of seats of the plane. It was uncomfortable and the air conditioning was too cold. But then I saw the lights of Los Angeles for a few minutes before we landed. I had never seen so many lights. It was magical, the stars were on the ground.
My uncle picked me up at the airport. About a week later, we were both on our way to Arkansas. We drove. I didn't know how far Arkansas was. I didn't know what a road trip was. We stopped by Las Vegas, and somewhere in Arizona where my uncle saw it had snowed... it was just some leftover dirty ice, so I didn't give it much attention. We stopped by Albuquerque. All those places we drove by, so beautiful. This country is so big and open. If only everyone's heart were that big and open.
We got to Arkansas in the first minutes of March 1st. It's a good thing we drove (even though when we got out of the car, I felt like I never wanted to see a car again in my life). Had I flown in to Arkansas, I would have been so underwhelmed... specially after flying into LAX a week before.
These 10 years have been a blessing. I cannot begin to count the blessings I've received. I've met incredible individuals, many of them have become friends. I've been to beautiful places and learned so much!
Here's to whatever's next. I have no idea what that is... but it will be amazing. Doesn't matter how rocky the start is :)