"Never say good-bye because good-bye means going away, and going away means forgetting."
"Never say good-bye because good-bye means going away, and going away means forgetting."-Peter Pan
"Hola. Bienvenido... a América. Yo puedo.... no, te puedo... ayudar con... algo?"
Mari rolled her eyes dramatically. She'd been through this 'Welcome to America' speech twice already. The woman looked apologetic, obviously aware of her terrible Spanish.
"I just need my luggage. And then I'll need a taxi." Her English was flawless, with only a hint of an accent. The attendant was taken aback. She blushed and punched a few keys into her computer.
"Your bags are at C21. Do you need help finding it?"
"I think I'll survive, thanks."
"You can get a cab outside the east entrance. Good luck!" She smiled that overly-friendly smile that Mari had gotten so used to over the past day and a half. She was so ready to collapse in a big comfy chair at Tía Lucia's house. Of course she would rather collapse onto her own bed back home in Marbella, but recently it was just better not to be around her parents.
She found her luggage easily. Her black leather bags stood out against the beat up duffel bags and taped cardboard boxes revolving slowly around the belt. She checked the tags anyway. Mariposa Ferrando Oriol was written in a thin slanted cursive.
She spotted a cart by the luggage belt and loaded her suitcase and two bags into it. Wittman Regional Airport was nearly deserted. There was no line at the currency exchange. One she had changed her euros into dollars, it was easy enough to find the east entrance. Outside, there were several taxi cabs waiting for customers. Mari selected one with a stout woman driving it and climbed in.
"Address?" The woman asked without looking up from her crossword puzzle. Mari pulled a sheet of paper out of her purse. She recited the address written at the top.
The woman put down her crossword reluctantly and entered the address into the cab's GPS. Mari sunk into the cool leather seat and buckled her seat belt as the cab pulled out of the airport and onto the highway. She looked out the window and took in her surroundings. The afternoon sky was clear blue above her, and faded into a lighter blue on the horizon. Winnebago County was... very flat. And bare. A few trees here and there, occasionally a warehouse or decrepit shopping center. Everything seemed dingy, as if it had seen better days.
When they reached the city of Oshkosh, things began to look up. The cars were nicer, the roads were cleaner, and even the people looked more friendly. They passed an outdoor mall where several groups of teenagers were eating ice cream and window shopping. At least the place was habitable.
"Excuse me, but how far is it to the city center?", Mariposa asked expectantly.
"You're here already", said the cab driver in such a flat tone that Mariposa wondered if living in the flatlands had affected her speech. People in this country could be so inhospitable.
Mariposa sighed. She would have to lose the mental image of America she had obtained from watching Gossip Girl and the O.C. This place would be dull. The city square was small with old fashioned shops lining the streets. Mariposa scanned the buildings in search of good hangouts and bars. She tried to picture her friends hanging out in this town and stifled a laugh. She imagined them all having a good joke together about the possibilities of fun in such a small town. She groaned as she realized that like it or not she was going to spend her next year here. She felt suddenly homesick as she remembered that she wouldn't see her friends for an entire 9 months.
"You'll make new American friends Mari. You'll love the Americans. They are so... practical and active. Lucia married an American so I'm sure you'll like them just as much as she does," Mariposa's mother had told her before she'd said good-bye. But Mariposa could not picture any friends taking the place of her wide circle of friends. There was Mirella who always had the latest celebrity gossip and could make them laugh for hours over her practical jokes. And Julia who wore the most vivid colors and had the most extravagant wardrobe of any girl in Marbella. And Luis and Ricardo whose parties were famous throughout the Costa del Sol. Those who received invitations were instantly admitted into the highest social status of Marbella. Of course, Mari had been invited to every one. And there was Javi.
Javier was Mari's boyfriend of three years. Their parents had been planning their wedding since Mari and Javi were toddlers playing in the sandbox. He was the perfect gentleman and always respectful, but sometimes Mari couldn't help thinking he was a little too uptight for her. And clingy. She had always dreamed of someone she could stay up all night talking with, someone who really understood her. "Quit dreaming Mari", her friends had told her. "Javi is as good as it gets." Sure, he was breathtakingly good looking in the dark Spanish way, and when she gazed into his deep brown eyes she knew that finding a handsomer boyfriend would be nearly impossible, but at the same time she never had that connection with him that she had always thought soul mates should have. Was that even possible, she wondered?
The cab turned into Tía Lucia's neighborhood just as Mari's cell phone rang. She checked the caller ID, expecting it to be her mother, but instead she saw the word 'novio 3' blinking across the screen. She slid the phone open.
"Hola bebe! Donde estas? Have you gotten to Weesconseen yet?"
"Si. I'm just pulling into Tia Lucia's house. Can I call you back?"
"Claro que si. Adios!"
"Te quiero, Javi."
Mari snapped her phone shut with relief. She was far too emotionally and physically exhausted to talk to Javi. The taxi pulled into the driveway of a sprawling stone house. It had three garages, three levels and a neatly manicured lawn. It was a large house in a wealthy neighborhood, but Mari couldn't help comparing it to her beautiful villa in Marbella. She missed the whitewashed walls, tiled roof, and gardens riotous with roses and butterfly bushes. She had little time to contemplate her new home because a moment after the taxi pulled in, the front door was flung open and her aunt came running to the taxi.
"Hola Tía..", Mari's greeting was cut short as Tia Lucia grabbed her hands and gazed happily at her.
"Mariposa!! You are so beautiful! I haven't seen you since you were four years old and in diapers!" Tía Lucia cried happily as she smothered Mari in a warm embrace. Once she was released, Tía Lucia escorted her up the brick path toward the front door. "Your Uncle Ted is in the library. TED!! COME DOWN HERE! OUR NIECE IS HERE!"
Mari smiled weakly. She knew Tía Lucia was trying to make her feel at home but instead she only felt awkward. All the attention was making her feel nauseous.
"Now Mariposa, you must call me Aunt Lucy. I'm an American now! Your mother said your English is impeccable and I sure hope so because Ted here doesn't speak a lick of Spanish. Can you imagine?! And after being married to me for five years! Perezoso!!", she said.
"Ok," Mari said quietly. "Please call me Mari. No one calls me Mariposa anymore."
"Great! Mari sounds like Mary. That's one Spanish name I think can pronounce. Welcome to our home Mari." Uncle Ted said as he greeted her at the front door. "James will be home tonight for dinner. He's at lacrosse practice. Off-season training and all. He's the varsity captain! We are so proud of him!"
"That's great. Good for him!" Mari said automatically. James? Who was James?, Mari wondered silently. Of course. James was the snotty cousin who was a year older than her. She remembered him from Aunt Lucy's visit when Mari was four. He had been fat and annoying and had taken her crayons. Apparently he went by James now, rather than Santiago.
Mari entered the house. For some reason she had been expecting it to feel like home, at least to feel Spanish. From the looks of the house, however, Aunt Lucy had made every effort to Americanize herself and her family. The decor was nice in its own way, but Mari couldn't help wondering how Aunt Lucy could abandon her beautiful Spanish culture so completely. Was that typical of people who left their native land for a length of time? Would Mari herself begin to lose her Spanish Pride and become... American?
She suddenly felt completely overwhelmed by... everything. By her nearly two days of traveling. By her new home. By the fact that she would have to attend a completely new high school in a mere two days. By the loss of everything she knew and loved. All of a sudden she was in tears. Ugh, how embarrassing.
Aunt Lucy, who was still babbling about who knows what, eventually noticed Mari's emotional state. "Oh my goodness! Are you alright? Do you need anything? Water? Aspirin? I-"
"Can I just... go to my room?" Mari managed to choke out.
"Oh yes. Of course. It's up two flights of stairs, the s-second door on the left." Aunt Lucy stuttered. "Here, let me show you."
"I can find it thanks." Mari said quickly and headed toward the stairs. All she wanted was to be alone, somewhere she could have a good cry.
"Get some rest dear. Your bathroom is up there and I put some fresh towels in so you can shower if you want. And sleep! You must be so tired."
Her bedroom wasn't too hard to find. She entered it and stood dumbstruck in the door frame. It was so.... Spanish. Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ted had obviously spent many hours to make this room feel like home. They were both so nice and welcoming but Mari felt too numb to appreciate it at all.
She stumbled into the bathroom and gazed longingly at the shower. Although she was terribly unwashed from two days of travel, Mari was certain that if she took a shower she would fall asleep in it. Instead she opted for a quick face-wash. She approached the mirror and stood facing her reflection. Her long, dark, wavy hair was a mess. Her chestnut eyes had deep circles under them. She picked up a dark red washcloth and turned on the hot water. The warm, soapy liquid felt against her cheeks, and made her even more sleepy.
At last, Mari crawled into her big bed, pulled the down comforter over her, curled up in a ball and was instantly snoring.
Mari woke up and yawned. She started when she noticed that it was still dark outside. The clock on her table read 1:30. Jet lag. She tried to go back to sleep but found it quite impossible to ignore the groaning noises coming from her stomach. She fumbled her way across the room and felt blindly for her purse. Once the purse was located, she fished through it until she found her galletas...mmm principes. A little bit of home.
Home. although Mari yearned for it, she couldn't help feeling a sense of relief to be away from her family. Away from the constant bickering of her parents. Away from her mother's tired and anxious eyes, and her fathers brusque replies to anything Mari asked him about mami. Away from worrying about Javi. Javi.
"Ay mierda! I forgot to call him back!" Mari lamented quietly. With a seven hour time difference... it must be 7:30 am in Marbella. Well I might as well call him, Mari thought.
Although she felt guilty about it, Mari had been secretly looking forward to some time away from Javi. Time to sort out her feelings for him and time to feel free from the constant pressures of having a boyfriend. And here she was in America calling him because he might be worried about her. She felt like he was her puppy and she couldn't get rid of the leash. This would have to be the last time she called him for a while, she decided. And then she would be free.
She dialed his number and waited.
"Bueno," said a groggy voice.
"Javi? Es Mari! Sorry for not calling before. I fell asleep." Why was she always apologizing to him?
"Don't worry Marita. Its fine. How are you?".
"Fine. Just jet lagged I guess."
"Well I miss you already. I saw your mama this morning at the store and she saw me and started crying."
"Si. she will miss you a lot. We all will. What will I do on Friday nights without you? Sin la vida de la fiesta?" you'll be okay."
"Mari?" Javi's voice got soft and Mari's pulse quickened. She was sure he would say something that would make her feel guilty.
"No me olvidas. When you're there in Weesconseen and you see this good looking cowboy, don't forget me."
"There aren't cowboys in Wisconsin Javi".
"Ok, the surfer duudes."
"Jaja...on the lake? surfers?"
"Just don't forget me. When this is all over and your parents work everything out, I'm coming for you. Just get through the next few months and I'll bring you home. It will be like nothing changed."
Mari had hoped and prayed for so long that things would go back to the way they had been. Now she realized they could never really be the same again.
"OK. Te Quiero. Don't forget me baby. Promise?", Javi entreated.
Mari bit her tongue, trying to keep back the promise.
"Vale Marita?....Vale?" "Vale Javi. Lo prometo. Adios Javi".
"Vale Javi. Lo prometo. Adios Javi".Mari hung up and sighed. It seemed that running five thousand miles wasn't going to help her escape reality. Exhausted once again, she allowed her mind to sink softly into a hazy dream, unable to imagine the surprises ahead of her.