23 years and 11 days ago, I tied the laces of my oversized Brahma boots and took one last look at the room in which I slept the night before. Boxes with clothes, toys, and books were piled against the wall with the promise of soon reuniting with us. That promise was broken.
In one of those boxes was a stuffed animal that Danilo, my 6th grade crush, had gifted me on the day of friendship and love. I later learned he made a deal to get my name during the “secret friend” drawing. I really loved that stuffed animal.
In another box were all the books my mom gifted me over the years as rewards for getting good grades. It seemed silly at the time, but now I know she was feeding my hunger for knowledge and fueling my passion for the written word. One of those books had a reflection for each day of the year. I loved that book.
Hidden in my pocket, I carried a letter written by a boy named Julian. In the letter, Julian professed his love for me and made promises I can no longer remember.
I prayed for the letter to go unnoticed through the screening process at the airport. I feared being asked to dispose of it. Somehow, that letter felt like the only thing I was truly allowed to bring to this new country. A hidden letter was my only material treasure.
I recall my dad’s reminder as we approached customs in Miami: “If they ask you, we are here to see Mickey Mouse.”
No one asked me.
Our first meal was a Cuban sandwich somewhere in the heart of Miami. The sky seemed bluer, the buildings were brighter, sounds were louder.
My dad made a few phone calls and soon we made it to Key Biscayne to see his friend who worked at a pizzeria. That night, we stayed at a beautiful place on the beach. It was my first time seeing the ocean. I cried.
As the gravity and reality of the radical decision our family had made sunk in, I understood I would never again see Danilo’s stuffed animal, or my books, or our boxes.
In that moment, I took the letter out of my pocket, read it for the last time, and placed it in the water. There was no point in carrying around promises rooted in another land.
I think I grew up a little that day.
And the next day.
And the next.
And a day that felt so thick, and dense, and real, slowly faded in the background. Time became distance, and distance broadened my horizons and deepened my longing for mi Colombia.
23 years and 11 days of distance. Of yearning. Of hanging onto every thread of memory, flavor, sound, texture … anything that could transport me home for a second. Anything.
And in just a few hours, I will tie my shoes again. And the shoes of my children. And I will look around the big room in which I sleep. The room of my American dream. And I will clench my writer’s journal and hope that all my feelings take flesh as words. Because I am overflowing with emotion.
Colombia, I am coming home.