What are 20 years? 7305 Days, or 240 months. When you are 20 years old, it is all you know those year are childhood, teenage years and the beginning of adulthood. When you are 40 it is half your life, when you are 60 it’s a third, and when you are 80, then 20 years are just a 4th of your life.
20 years ago, I was still 11 years old, four days short of being 12. On the 16th of August, my life between cultures, languages, countries and continents startet. 20 years ago, we drove to Frankfurt Airport with huge suitcases including a shiny new Rimowa. First stop was cargo, as my hamster Samstag (German for Saturday) was not allowed on our flight and had to take a separate plane with “pet-air”. He travelled on a very expensive ticket.
I don’t recall the flight. Did we watch Billy Elliot? Or was that on a later one? We were flying Business Class (the perks of expatriation) and probably ruined our climate footprint forever.
Hours later we landed at Philadelphia Airport. Our suitcases were the first to show up. But my mind was with my beloved furry compagnon. Had he survived the trip?
He had! His tiny cage was picked up by a guy riding a forklift. Luckily the cage (a cat transport box) was not put on the actual fork but transported on the drivers lap. This was my first strange impression of Americans. Why walk when you can ride a forklift to get there?
But shortly before that, Nicola, my mom, had been left to her own devices. Moritz, my dad, was trying to figure out where to pick up my hamster and had left us three in the rental car only to be chased from our parking spot by a police officer. The trouble was, Nicola had only ever driven a stick and not an automatic car. Panicked by the sight of the law enforcement officer she managed not to make the car drive, no, she made it jump. We had a kangaroo car! Over the years this always made us laugh. And however hard she tried, I don’t think she ever made a car jump again.
We spend almost 3 years in the upper main line outside of Philadelphia. I arrived 4 days before turning twelve and left about a month before my 15th birthday. For some reason, I never let myself settle down, always knowing that after two or three years we would be leaving. Once we did leave the only thing I wanted was to go back!
During the first few weeks we were living in the cottages, houses that were located on the campus of the company that my dad worked for. The humidity made everything sticky, something we were not yet familiar with. We had a monster living in the dishwasher, it liked the plates instead of washing them. We fed Oreo-like cookies to ants and observe how they would carry their treasures around. We went to visit my future school and forgot Norwegian cheese (like caramel), that was sent to me for my birthday, inside the mini bar in our room when we finally moved.
On my birthday, I must have been a pain in the arse. Far away from everything, heading into the unknown and leaving everything behind. We spend the day in New Jersey at the shore. The day ended in me being sick and having a migraine (writing this I realise that it was the first one that I had, other would follow in the subsequent months to suddenly stop).
School started one day early for the new kids. We were in the library, all new sixth-graders around a round table. Our guidance councillor called our names one by one. My last name put me on the end of the very short list and when I heard “Solveig Werner” very mispronounced (just read it don’t add or remove anything and it will be fine), I blurted out: “das bin ich”. Oh how embarrassed I was, han’t I had one year of English lessons? Why this now? I must have been as red as a clown’s nose. I wanted to evaporate and disappear.
The next day, school started and I had no idea how to read my timetable, or were the rooms were. A 5 day week of school but a 6 day timetable? It was super confusing. But it does make sense as holidays, snow days and other reasons why there might not be any school won’t have too much of an impact. (In France it can happen that you have a lot of Monday’s of no school in a row, Easter Monday and Pentecost Monday and then if the 1st and 8th of May are Mondays you won’t see your teachers a lot). So, I asked this girl, who was also new where I should go. Maybe I should have asked someone else, someone not new to the school, because I went into the wrong classroom and sat there for an hour, without the teacher realising that I should be there in 3rd period and not 1st. Another thing that was new for me, every lesson is with different people, there were no classes (I had spend 4 years with the exact same kids in all lessons).
But now, 20 years later, these things make me chuckle. These are memories that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on. My main achievements in that 1st year? I learnt to speak, read and write English, I read many books and wrote the most book reports out of all the ESL (English as a second language) kids, I was student of the month, I struggled with math, not for the math (maybe that too as it was pre-algebra, and we were in a tiny group of early learners), but for the language and then suddenly I got 99 or 100 on a tough test, in home economics I sewed a bag without understanding the written directions, i only followed the visual instructions the teacher showed us (just like following a YouTube tutorial in a language you don’t understand or without any sound), when she gave us our marks, I could finally understand her and my work was showered with compliments, still it was only worth 99%, I wrote so many letters mostly to my grandmother but many to friends too.
What happened in your life 20 years ago? Do you have dates that bring you back to a certain time of your life? That revive memories?
© Solveig Werner 2020. All rights reserved.