I’m going to America this week, which means I’ve had to take on some grueling tasks like using all the butter in my fridge, getting my parents to talk the clerks at the liquor store into special ordering my favorite beer (it turns out, “She is in the Peace Corps and is coming home for the first time in two years and this is the ONE beer she wants us to buy” is an effective argument), looking at photos of burritos, and on Sunday hanging out with A., who is upset that I am leaving her for nearly a whole month.
While we were making brownies she asked if she could come to America with me. I figured this was about the same as us playing “travel to Italy/Canada/Albania/America” pretty much every day last summer, said sure, realized too late I had made a mistake, then spent most of the afternoon trying to keep her from realizing the plan was a sham. When she got worried that not having a passport would make it hard for her to travel I made her one out of construction paper, which she then showed off to her entire family. She made me walk down the street to find her dad and ask if it was okay for her to come to America; when I showed him the passport he said, “If she has a passport, of course!”
All day I knew this would end badly, but I couldn’t think of a way of backing out without sending A. into tears and making her hate me for at least the evening. She took one of the plastic bags I’m packing my things in up to the balcony where she ran a fashion show of sorts, holding up clothes and packing the ones I said would be good for America. (She even packed her special white dress, “for your brother’s wedding”, which is not actually happening this summer.) My host mom, her aunt, foreseeing the same awful conclusion to the day as me, tried to talk her down (“They’ll think Ellen’s kidnapping you, you have different last names, they’ll put her in jail, and then you’ll be in America all by yourself and you won’t be able to see your sister who is visiting when Ellen is in America.”), which sent A. into a breakdown until we backed down and said, okay, okay, she could go.
There were some priceless moments in here, like when S. told A. that at the airport they put a stamp in your passport AND on your forehead, and that when we flew over the house we would have to hang a rope from the airplane so the whole family could climb up and let go over my parents’ apartment, but…you know, they were all overshadowed by my fear of what would happen when A. realized that she couldn’t come. She came to my house a few times Sunday night, asking if I’d called my parents yet to ask permission for her visit. Then, finally, around nine o’clock, she rang my doorbell, asked if I’d asked my dad yet, then, not looking into my face, started to apologize. “Ellen, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but I can’t come to America, I just realized…” (I won’t reveal what she just realized, but like any six-year-old, she’d figured out there are some things she wouldn’t feel comfortable having me and my parents help her with, in America.)
Saved! Only problem is, on Monday she told me she would come, because she was worried I would be too sad she couldn’t come – and I had to spend the afternoon convincing her that it would be okay for her to stay in Macedonia.