Growing up overseas scars you for life. You know your life is different than your cousins have, back in Cleveland or Fullerton or Omaha or Seattle. Once you live overseas a few year, you diffuse into the movement that doesn't fit in Ohio or California or Nebraska or Washington. You are just plain different.
And what is even more different is that all your friends are different, too.
You can go through 14 best friends in one single year. They'd come, they'd friend you, they'd move on. You'd stay. Summers were the worse - many friends were sent back to the USA for summers with grandparents or aunts and uncles. Then come the first day of school in the Fall, you'd recognize that not everyone came 'home' from the USA. Some of your friends stayed gone.
My family's mean of communications to the USA was the old trusty aerogram. An aerogram is a pre-stamped envelope and writing paper, all in one. The letter writer could write until the 'writing paper' was used up. Then one would fold along the dotted lines of paper - and if folded correctly, the envelope was exposed. My mom, Elsa, would buy aerograms in bulk. Anytime we were in the vicinity of an international hotel, Elsa would stop the taxi, run in and buy buy buy. Twenty aerograms would last her about two weeks.
But, if a family emergency happened back in the USA, my dad would receive a teletype at work. He'd carry it home carefully, holding the vellum paper in his outstretched hands to Elsa. "Here, this came today." It would always be bad news. "Sister leg amputated. She survives." "Sam in wreck. Broke neck."
Elsa would read these and then narrow her eyes. "Hoop, one of these days, I am going home."
And Hoop (my dad) would look down at the floor in helplessness. I'd die inside.
Finally THE telegram arrived. "Daddy dying. Cancer." Daddy was my grandpa, Elsa's father. She always called him 'Daddy.'
Elsa held true to her threat. That night she grabbed my brother, Iilya, and me, and we flew out of the country. We flew for hours, changing planes in Tehran, in Beirut, in Paris, in London, in Belfast, and finally in Boston. We grabbed whatever flights were heading 'homeward', regardless of the misdirection it took us.
Hoop stayed behind. For months, I was 'fatherless'. I hated it.
"I am not going back to that God-forbidden place unless 'he' comes to get me. I am not going back on my own." Elsa proclaimed this to every relative who mourned with her, every passerby who shook her hand or hugged her at the graveside. "I am not going back unless 'he' comes...".
We waited. We'd never be like our cousins.