Growing up as a third world culture kid, I still suffer from culture shock at times. Since it has been 20 years ago this month when my family was uprooted from the Congo, I am surprised when it hits me. It doesn’t always come in the same form. The change of American culture often used to hit whenever we would stand in the cereal isle of the grocery store and be unable to wrap our heads around the fact that there were more options than just cheerios and corn flakes. I’m still shocked when it seems like a new cereal has been added each month. I revert to my old upbringing and rely on the staples that see us through each week, ignoring the new and exciting boxes of sugar that scream, “Buy me!”
This week I came face to face with my past in a whole new, but extremely amazing way. My old friend Nadine emailed me that she was on the East Coast and would love to take the train to see us. The last time I saw her was on my wedding day, and for nine years I’ve been wishing she could meet my daughter whom I named after her. It was a crazy day and I wasn’t convinced it would actually happen until I saw her on my front porch and screamed with excitement, just as loud as my kids.
The next 22 hours were a blur of non-stop talking, playing, and reminiscing. Seeing Nadine, with her laughing eyes, brown skin, gorgeous smile, and cute accent… was so therapeutic for me. Our friendship goes back to when we were babies. I remember very clearly, that whenever Nadine & I would not be getting along, she would go home. A little while later she would come shyly back to me with a piece of bread or a hard candy as a peace offering. Even as we got older we used to do that just for fun. This time she brought enough candy to make up for many years of peace offerings! In Africa there are these big aloe plants that grew between our houses. We used to break off the pointy bit of the leaf and carve our names into them. The scars would remain even as the plant kept growing. I often like to think that our initials are still there.
Another thing we liked to do was paint our nails blue, just like her mom, Aunt Lyn, after whom I get my middle name. This week my own Nadine sported blue nails. I felt ten again. Yet our conversations involved more than boys, candy, planting mango seeds, and Alf. It was fuller, deeper, and older. It meant so much to me.
When the time came to say good-bye, I was strong. Then as her train pulled away every ounce of strength got on the train with her and I just cried my way home. Sometimes I get angry because I never said goodbye the “right way” all those years ago. Sometimes I can’t even put into words why I feel connected the way that I do, to a past so long ago. I feel like it has been torn away and was never fully repaired. Some days I even truly wonder if the past was ever really there. But I catch glimpses of it, and remember. This weekend I was given more than a glimpse. I was given a huge handful of memories. I was blessed with the beautiful smile of an old friend, the affirmation of days gone by, and a bottle of blue nail polish.