Car Wrecks And Gunfire: The Trip That Changed My Life
The Kosovo Adventure
The following story is written by my daughter, Susan Bataineh. It describes her adventures while living in Germany at the time the country of Yugoslavia was at war with 5 different republics striving for independence. Later, one of those republics, Serbia, was to spin-off part of its territory. That new faction was to become the republic of Kosovo. I helped her edit this story and received permission from her to reprint it. It is entitled “The Trip That changed my life”.
To be Young and Naive
There is a time in a person’s life when something happens to turn your world upside-down. When a person realizes that what they understand about life is far from reality. I had a trip like this. It changed my reality of the world and with it, taught me the meaning of the word “home.”
Being a precocious child, I have always been pretty naive when it came to consequences that affected my life or even the lives of others. I would jump into situations feet-first without checking for the dangers that I would potentially encounter. For most of my twenties, I was living as if nothing could hurt me. Of course, when you are young, you always feel invincible. I remember hearing a Bible verse when I was a child, Matthew 7:14 which says: “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” It reminded me that I definitely had the hard part down.
Changes that are this fundamental are not always a positive experience. More often than not, these life-altering events are driven by fear and I do remember the first time that I was ever afraid! It was not the kind you have when your parents are about to find out you’ve failed a particular class in school. Oh no! This was the kind of fear that was life-threatening and, with two children at home, the meaning of life suddenly became very important.
One of the benefits of being young is “naivety”. You walk around blissfully unaware of the realities of life. Car accidents were for others. Murders happen on the other side of town. So-and-so died? That sucks. Reality never impacted my life and so traveling to a country that had just been in a war was an exciting prospect.
The Former Man In My Life
In order to understand the frame of mind I was in, and how this trip changed my life, I must introduce you to my ex-husband. I think I will call him “The Former.”
After serving for the United States military, I continued working administrative jobs as a civilian. I loved raising my children in the German environment and knew that their education would be better. Though I had not completely assimilated into the German culture I was able to speak the language well enough to get around.
Now, “The Former” was a political asylum seeker that I met in Germany in 1996. He was from, at that time, the former country collectively known as Yugoslavia. So, when the war between the Serbians and the Kosovars broke out in 1998, his parents became one of the millions of displaced refugees. Because I still found the aspects of war exciting, I was thrilled when I discovered that I could sponsor the family to visit. The time spent with them didn’t last long, however, because the Father’s health issues couldn’t be resolved. He decided that he wanted to die, back home, in Kosovo.
Now, “The Former” was not the nicest of people and upsetting him was never good for my health. Men from the Yugoslavia region tended to see women as weak and needing to be “guided” by their men. Most the time, however, that meant by their hand, and the greater the offense, the worse the discipline. So, when I had been entrusted to drive his Mercedes, while he drove in a van with his parents, I was incredibly nervous. We specifically bought the Mercedes in Germany in order to sell it in Kosovo. The proceeds would be used to provide money for the family in order to rebuild their lives after the war.
The Italian Incident
Gratefully, I made it all the way from Germany to Bari, Italy without. As I entered the Bari port, I turned attempted to park the Mercedes in one of the stalls. Almost immediately, I was slammed into on the right-hand side by another vehicle. My anger caused me to lose my mind. I started to shake as adrenaline rushed through me. Yanking at the driver’s side handle, I bolted out of my car. I was ready to confront the other driver.
“What the hell were you doing passing on the right!”, I yelled, as I watched this older, stout Italian man get out of a beat-up Fiat automobile.
In the meantime, “The Former” had already parked his van and came running towards the commotion. I surveyed the damage while the Italian man was yelling something at me. I could tell that he didn’t speak any English and I, absolutely, spoke no Italian.
The NERVE I thought! He is motioning as if it was my fault. I turned my attention to “The Former” and yelled the words “This guy is MENTAL”! I said this knowing the fact that anyone who has traveled to a foreign country has the common knowledge that when you are in that country, the area law enforcement personnel always believe their own.
The “Carabinieri”, the local militaristic law enforcement (Italian Police), had been patrolling nearby. As I was confronting “Italianoman” they drove up to find out what was happening. Their dark uniforms and white military style hats made them a bit daunting but, hey, in that moment, that type of authority didn’t scare me. Or so I thought!
I continued to rant. “This guy was trying to pass me on the right! I swear, I had my blinker on and everything!” It was crazy because now I was screaming at the officers.
The younger officer walked around and looked at the damage to my car and then to the Fiat. The two officers talked for a few moments and wrote a ticket. As expected, I was the one that was ticketed. My anger became intense! Not only had the accident happened in a parking lot, but I was also petrified that “The Former” was going to blame me. It was my feeling that I had to protect myself.
“I swear, I had my blinker on” I blurted! “Why is he passing me on the right? I didn’t do anything wrong” I continued!
“The Former” was relatively calm, but I am sure it was because his parents were looking. “Listen, I am sure that it wouldn’t cost much to fix, and then you can get good money for it” I said, rationalizing. “The Former” looked towards the van and then started doing calculations in his mind. “I guess we can get it fixed.” All I could think was ‘Crisis averted’.
What! No Passport?
I am sure that some people would say that I lie, but the next event was revealing. Following the incident, the car and the van were then driven to a transport ship loading dock. It wasn’t until the cars started lining up to give necessary documents and passports to another set of Carabinieri, that I realized something was wrong. The documents were required to board the boat and “The Former” had no valid passport!
The war had broken up the countries in said former Yugoslavia and his Serbian passport was no longer valid. He was a Kosovar and the country didn’t technically exist yet. His parents were in good shape because they traveled on a visa, but he was screwed! The only reason he was allowed to travel this far was because he had a U.S. Military identification tag and the Status of Forces Agreement stamp!
“You are going to have to take Mom, Dad and both of the cars to Albania” stated the “The Former”!
“I have to what?” I asked, my mouth agape.
“You have to get them on the boat, and my brother will meet you on the other side of the border.” he said.
“How in the hell do you expect me to do that? Maybe they will let you help me take the cars on.” I hoped. Trouble was brewing.
As the cars pulled closer and closer to the checkpoint, I started to get anxious. There was no way that I could do this alone and, by the time it was our turn, I felt like a cornered animal. Panicked and ready to fight. We handed the Carabinieri all the documents we had and when they turned to ask “The Former” for his, I lost it.
“G… Damn it! You let him on this boat!” I screamed. “How in the hell do you expect me to put two cars with two old people on a boat? I can’t do this. Do you understand what I am saying to you? Let him on NOW!”
I was screaming like a mad woman with tears streaming down my face. The two Carabinieri looked at each other and then looked at me. I thought I was going to jail for sure but when the older one turned to the younger and said, “It’s okay”, the pure euphoria I felt left me walking on air.
The Boat Trip
Once on board, I was able to survey the ship. The only one I had even been on before was the one that went to Catalina Island off the coast of California, and this boat was much larger than that. To me, it seemed a bit sketchy with the grey and white paint peeling off. The engines, already running, sounded whiny and badly in need of repair.
We made our way to the rooms through a cramped corridor and opened the door to the most extravagant room I had ever seen. (Insert sarcasm here.) I had never seen anything so small, perhaps, other than a closet. The bunks were single-wide at best with one stacked on top of the other with the lavatory directly four feet across from the beds. What made things worse is that we paid a premium price for it. Even though I wondered what the others on board would do, I was too exhausted to care. So, I took a much-needed shower, alone, as there was barely room for one. Then I got dressed.
Now, feeling a bit more refreshed, I decided to wander the ship and people-watch. To me, this is the most fun because you can learn more about a person from how they behave than the words they say. I saw families huddled together laying on the floor, looking as if they hadn’t showered in a while and my heart went out to them. They reminded me of the people at the homeless shelter my family would volunteer at when I was a child. What made me even sadder was that the homeless back home had the opportunity for better. Though life was written in the lines of their faces, the excitement was evident as it was the first time they were going home since the war ended. Then, suddenly, feeling tired, I went back to the room and went to sleep.
After falling asleep for a while, I was awakened by the sound of retching coming from the bathroom. “Are you OK in there?” I asked a bit worried. “No, I will be fine. It’s just that the boat keeps moving.” said ” The Former” breathlessly.
“You do know that is what boats do, right” I jokingly asked? I was answered with another round of retching. A smug sense of glee washed over me as I scoffed at his misery.
Suddenly there was a change in the sound of the boat engines. “Does that mean we are almost there?” I said excitedly. I ran out on the deck of the ship to watch as we came to shore and my excitement was replaced with revulsion as the most putrid smell hit me. It smelled like rotting garbage, diesel fuel and pus.
“What the hell is that?” I asked “The Former” as if he would know.
He just shrugged as I looked into the water and saw the rainbow swirls of leaked oil and the trash which pulsed in and out with the waves against the harbor. Looking down on the shore, I observed a tan, thin, mutt of a dog walking in a labored gait, as if life, itself, was a burden. I looked at him intently and saw a cantaloupe sized tumor hanging off the left-hand side of its face.
“Oh, look at that.” I said. I don’t think that I have ever wanted anything to die but my pity on that animal left me pretty damn close to that thought.
“The Former” acknowledged nothing as he grabbed my hand and said, “Let’s go. We are almost there.”
Off The Boat! Now What?
We gathered our things and headed down to the belly of the ship. All those that brought cars parked them down there. Though I had hoped that getting through the border would be a quick process, as soon as the front end of the Mercedes came off the ship, I knew I had entered into a place I knew nothing about; it was frightening.
Because “The Former” was not a nice man, I assumed that all the men from that region held the same similar beliefs when it comes to the place of a woman. So, when I found out that the person driving the vehicle had to get a border crossing document, I started to get anxious. The Former was and incredibly jealous man so being around so many men, with the possibility of every move I make being scrutinized, my mind started to reel. How was I supposed to act? What happens if I do something wrong? It was then that I started to feel my personal security slip. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore and it was frightening. I walked up to the flat-brown kissing booth-style building they used to distribute border documents. The tension grew as the gaggle of men thronging around the building started looking at me.
Now, if you have never been out of a Westernized country, you will not understand what I mean by a ‘gaggle.’ Lines are a common occurrence in Westernized countries. They did not, however, exist here. Imagine a group of people, all trying to get the attention of the one behind the counter all at once. It was loud and completely disorganized. It reminded me of a bad day on the stock-market where everyone is bombarding the broker to sell and I was the lone woman. Thankfully, as soon as the “Police” saw me, they called me to the front.
Understandably, I was incredibly uncomfortable as men parted like the Red Sea just so I could get through; I kept apologizing profusely the entire time. Though I am not sure what I was expecting to happen, I know it could never be good so as soon as the Police handed me my documents, I half-walked half-ran back to the safety of the car.
As we were getting ready to leave the port in Albania, I asked “The Former” how he was going to get through without a passport. “Leave it to me” he said, and with that went back to the van to line up to leave. Once The Former got to the Border police, he rolled down his window, handed the officer twenty Euros and as the officer waved him through, my mind started to spin.
“Did he just pay off the police” I thought? I knew that The Former had come from this region but I never envisioned that bribery would come so natural to him. It made me wonder what kind of man I really married.
Once outside the port gates we met up with “The Former’s” brother. They exchanged their hugs and kisses and then his brother got in the van and “The Former” said he wanted to drive the Mercedes. I happily obliged. It was now easier for me to breathe and because the responsibility for the car was no longer mine. I started looking around at the older model cars and the dirty-dusty streets. It seemed as if everything had a coating of dirt and soot.
“We have to get to the rendezvous point in twenty minutes.” he said.
“Why?” I replied
“Because it is too dangerous to drive these roads alone and especially at night. People have been robbed of their cars or have fallen off the cliff and died so the Police have to escort us” he explained dispassionately. I stared at him in disbelief and said. “Please tell me you are kidding.”
Based on what knowledge I had gathered in the thirty minutes I had been there, I knew, unfortunately, that he wasn’t lying. We had only been driving for about five minutes when we were flagged to pull over by the Police. There was only one and he stood out from the rest of the people around. Not that he wasn’t dirty or dusty but that he was fat. Not large, not rotund, fat. He walked, slowly, towards us and I was petrified that we were going to be robbed.
“Relax.” said The Former. “They just want you to pay them.”
“For what? Did we do something wrong?” I asked, my voice sounding a bit higher than I anticipated.
“No. They just stop cars randomly. They expect “coffee money” (he motioned air quotes with his fingers) so I will give him a couple of Euro and it will be fine.”
The Goat Road From Hell
By the third time we were stopped, the fear of the Police had all but subsided. We finally arrived at this three-sided concrete building and sat down at a plastic table to wait. I noticed they were covered with red and white checkerboard tablecloths. Each one containing exactly one salt shaker and one ashtray. Slowly people started to fill the empty tables. All seemed to be part of our caravan from Albania to Kosovo.
“How long are we going to wait?” I asked.
“They’ll come and get us. This is where we all have to meet up. Once everyone gets out of port, they show up here, then the police come and escort us to the border” he stated matter-of-factly.
Once the Police escort actually showed up, the gravity of “The Former’s” words hit me like a ton of bricks. “Because it is too dangerous to drive these roads alone and especially at night. People have been robbed of their cars or have fallen off the cliff and died so the Police have to escort us.” Holy S…t! This is real, I thought! We then all got in our cars, sixteen in total, and we set off.
“How many kilometers is it?” I asked.
“About one-hundred seventy-five.” he replied.
“Cool! We should be there in a couple of hours!” I was excited that this part of the trip was almost over.
“Well,” he said, “it’s still going to take us about another eight to ten hours.”
“To go one-hundred and seventy-five kilometers?” I said disbelieving. We had left the city and the streets were smoother so I leaned the seat back a bit further and tried to take in everything. An old man, going in the opposite direction on the side of the road, passed us pulling a horse-drawn wagon filled with hay. It was like something you would see from the Little House of the Prairie TV series. I noticed that he had on, what looked like, half of a huge egg, over his head.
“What is that?” I asked.
“That is a hat here.”
I giggled a bit to myself. To me, they looked absolutely ridiculous. People walked the side of the highway and I wondered where they were going. There were no houses around, just large expanses of land with long dried grass. Yet these locals seemed to have a destination in mind. It seemed ridiculous to think that a woman carrying a basket on her head would do that for very long. I was afraid I was going to break my neck snapping it back and forth to see everything.
The road didn’t stay nice for long though. Not fifteen minutes later we were turning onto a dirt road and after traveling about three kilometers, I started to understand why it was going to take so long. The road was well-traveled and, with it, well-worn.
As we crawled along, the holes seemed to get deeper and wider and the terrain much more precarious. At one point, I looked over the side of the cliff and saw a burnt-out car. I wondered to myself if it was an accident or thieves. An anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach only grew as the day waned.
We lost one of the caravan cars to a broken axle when some dummy decided to go faster than the “safe” thirty kilometers per hour and misjudged the depth of the pothole. The caravan stopped for a few minutes to assess the situation and then decided we had to continue on since the police were not going to be on the roads past dark.
Though I didn’t think my nails could dig into the seat more, the road actually got narrower as we went further. The cars could go no faster than a snail’s pace and one car that passed was so close that the mirrors missed each other by millimeters and that was after folding them in. It was either that or scrape the right side of our car or push them into the canyon below. I was dumbfounded that the government didn’t care enough about its people to put up guard rails.
“What kind of road is this? It isn’t fit for goats!” I thought to myself. The road had gotten so narrow that the police had to stop traffic coming in the opposite direction just to let us pass and so when we crossed the final wooden bridge and hit a paved road, I could literally feel all the tension in my muscles from the stress.
I do not have the words to convey how close to death I felt the entire one-hundred and fifty kilometers of the ‘Goat Road from Hell’. I can only equate it to someone needing to take an Intercontinental flight that has a phobia of flying. That teeth clenching, muscle-tightening panic that can only come from absolute fear. I had now come to understand what happens when a corrupt government doesn’t care for its people.
Bad Feelings And Gunshot
The border between Albania and Kosovo was a guard shack with a single wooden barricade. We lined up and “The Former” got out to find out how long it was going to take. Walking back to the car he leaned in the window and said,
“Get comfortable, we are going to be here a while.”
“Why?” I asked dejectedly. I was too tired to be annoyed.
“Because they don’t open the border until twelve and there have been skirmishes.” It was at that very moment when the gunfire rang out. My tension was like a coiled snake sprung awake and I shot up in the seat. I was awake now.
I jumped out of the car not knowing where to go.
“Don’t worry. This happens all the time” he said but I could hear the tension in his voice.
“Not to me!” I exclaimed, absolutely frightened to the core. The only knowledge I had of shooting was at the rifle range for military qualifying. I had never heard the shooting used towards someone else. This just got dangerous!
“They just get bored and like to take pot-shots from the Kosovar border over there.”
“They just get bored and like to take pot-shots from the Kosovar border over there.” He threw his thumb back the way he came. I looked in the distance and saw lights, I walked back to the car, got in, closed the door, and contemplated what my children would do if I died.
The border opened and soon we were on our way. Though rattled, I was happy to be back on the road and away from “fun with guns”. The roads were newly paved with asphalt which I was thankful for given the road we had just spent all day surviving.
After an hour of driving we pulled off onto a dirt road and came upon a house surrounded by a six-foot wall that had massive metal gates. “The Former’s” brother honked the horn, and within seconds, the metal doors gave a clang and swung open. We had finally arrived.
No Bathroom, Are You Kidding?
“Where’s the bathroom?” I asked. I had been holding it almost all day and I was about to burst.
“Over there.” “The Former” pointed to a small block building and said, “I’ll get you some water.” He proceeded to walk to the well, drew up the bucket, and handed it to me.
“What do I do with this?” I asked.
“There isn’t any toilet paper so you will have to wash with water.” He tried to be gentle when relaying this information but the look of utter disgust on my face told him everything.
I had never been in an outhouse before and going in when I could barely see was even worse. Switching on the flashlight that “The Former” handed me, I noticed that it was nothing but concrete walls, a ceiling and a hole going out the back of the structure. “I didn’t know flies were active this time of the morning.” It made me gag on the stench but nature had its own plans so I pulled down my pants and did my business.
In the light of day, I was able to take in more of the surroundings. I surveyed the house first. There were black burn marks on the side of the normally white building as the flames that burned the place escaped through the front door. Other than that, though, it seemed in pretty good shape. There were a few random bullet holes that had chipped the concrete and I wondered why someone would shoot a house that was empty. Outside the walls were fields of grass peppered with red-roofed white concrete houses. It reminded me of the Mid-West with all of its openness but there was a very distinct smell that I didn’t identify until later as burning grass and it caused stomach acid to accumulate in my stomach. I found out later that they didn’t have lawnmowers and the burning was to keep the grass cut. Burning trash, however, that was a new one for me.
My Wake Up Call
I saw first-hand, in my blanketed idealism, that Kosovars were considered as nothing more than roaches by the United Nations observers. This was made abundantly clear when driving throughout the area.
Though the streets were lined with cars moving at exactly 2.5 kilometers per hour, those in United Nations vehicles would drive their Toyota trucks on the side of the road just so they didn’t have to wait in traffic. What was even worse was how they looked down their noses at the Kosovars as they passed. Seeing this, I thought to myself, “How is it that they can come here and feel important when they have wars in their own country?” To me, their behavior seemed utterly disrespectful.
Signs of the war, not six months past, were everywhere. Driving around I could see bombed out apartment buildings, with dust and rubble still on the ground. To the right, off the main road, I noticed a metallic building that had the roof caved in from when a bomb had hit it. The building had white lettering but, based on its twisted structure, there was no deciphering what it read. It was then that I learned the physical destructiveness of war.
While in the city, “The Former” and I would sit at the outside café and drink coffee. I would watch the people walking hurriedly, as if they actually had somewhere to be, but for the life of me, and the condition of the city, I couldn’t understand where. It was then that I understood that even through the ruins, life goes on.
I noticed that the clothing of these predominantly dark-haired people were mismatched but vibrant in color. I thought to myself, “Who dresses like that?” and was instantly overcome with a feeling of remorse. These people had no other option and yet I was deriding them on their choice of clothing. How arrogant of me!
I was equally shocked at the coffee-house itself; it served beer. This was a predominantly Muslim country, and yet, they still drank alcohol. I found this incredibly peculiar because it was my first visit to a Muslim country and it completely contradicted what I had heard. The people seemed friendly enough. I assumed it was because I was American and the U.S. Military had liberated them. They would often stop to stare, their mouths agape, or whisper to whomever they were walking with as I spoke English. Their adoration and reverence was obvious. I felt almost like a celebrity, and though I felt special because of what We had done for them, I also felt humbled because I didn’t do it.
A Grave For All The Dead
The final lesson I had to learn was yet to come and when it did, it almost took the wind out of me. Driving on the road between Pristina and Camp Bondsteel, to the left, were bulldozers actively cutting into the ground. The deep rich brown earth rising in stark contrast to the subdued gold and sun-baked earth. There were a hundred people standing around and an older woman arranging, what looked like, a four-foot diameter shield with flowers affixed to them. There were pictures of men and women and children lining the embankment and, instantly, I knew, they were digging up a mass grave.
I had heard the stories, nothing compares to the horror and revulsion of seeing it for yourself. My heart ached for these people. I knew that they were made to stand over a large hole, were shot like rabid dogs, and covered over with dirt as if they were nothing more than trash. Tears filled my eyes as the sadness overwhelmed me with thought of the waste of life and the families that had to continue on.
The heart inside me hardened towards these men that believed that they were somehow better than those in these graves. My eyes burned with the tears of hate at the ugliness of man; it was almost overpowering. The true comprehension at what people can do to others shifted my entire reality. It was literally, at that moment, that the rose-colored glasses came off and I saw life for what it was; it was far different than what I believed and much darker. I wanted to go home.
Though “The Former” was finally in his country. Establishing a country took time and so he would not be able to leave with me because they had not passports yet. Instantly, the fear I had felt at the port in Albania came back but this time, I was doing it alone. With his brother driving, we headed to the closest working airport which was in Macedonia. After driving for about thirty minutes we came to the border and, of course, the line is stopped dead. I glanced at the clock on the dash: 15:45 hours (3:45 pm). I reached in the briefcase between my feet, pulled out my ticket. Boarding time was 17:00 hours (5:00 pm).
“We are not going to make it.” I said out loud. The brother-in-law looked at me, not understanding a word I said, and smiled.
“Seriously! We are not going to make it!” I started to raise my voice.
He smiled again. I stick my finger up, pointing to the sky and said, “Wait.” I get out of the car, walk to the driver’s side and see about one-hundred cars waiting in line. Not one was moving.
“Go around.” I said to him as I climbed back into the passenger seat and slam the door.
He looked at me confused. I motioned with my hand, “Go Around!” This time he understood. He slowly pulled the car to the left out of the line and drove closer to the border. People from the other cars watched as we were passing and he nodded to them as if to say, “It’s okay. She said so.”
By this time, it was 16:00 (4:00 pm)and I was really starting to panic. The Former’s brother walked to the border police, handed them our documents and the officer walked them into the main building. I was starting to have some hope we might get there in time.
We sat in the car. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes passed and the police had not moved. They were too busy talking inside and drinking their coffee. Perhaps it was the stress of the trip, or the stress that I would never leave, that I did something incredibly stupid that could have gotten me killed. Opening the passenger door, I got out and walked into the building with purpose. I tore out military ID from my wallet, put it in my right hand and slammed it, palm to glass, and said, “Get. My f…king paperwork done. NOW!”
To my amazement, their eyes widened with fear and they moved as if shocked by a cattle prod and, within two minutes, I had my papers and I walked, triumphantly, back to the car.
We pulled away with everyone staring after me as if I was an alien. In retrospect, it sounds like one of the craziest things to do in a country that just had war but that thought never even crossed my mind. Even worse, I realize that I had treated them no differently than the United Nations. More important and separate from their problems. I realized that given the right set of circumstances, I too could become as the Serbs and the U.N. peacekeepers. I carried the arrogance of an American. I had finally understood what that meant.
Arriving at, what looked like an airport fit for a prop plane, I noticed thousands of people. They were all amassed in a main lobby and spilling out onto the parking lot. “The Former’s” brother went to the ticket counter and exchanged my ticket for a red card. I looked at it, dumbfounded, and then looked around at the “cattle” which seemed to be moving as one.
An airport worker yelled something over the crowd and yellow cards shot up in the air. Started to put two and two together, I realized that I had never experienced anything even resembling this before. I knew that I would have to get closer to the front or there would be no way to get to the gate while trying to push through this throng. Feeling claustrophobic, I started to sense more than a bit violated. We were all, as they say in the military, “butt to nuts.” I put my briefcase, which held all my documents, across my chest to try to form a barrier between me and the stranger in front of me.
After a few minutes, the man in the front yelled something else and “The Former’s” brother grabbed the card from my hand and raised it pushing and shoving me forward the entire way. After, what seemed like forever, I was pushed through the gates and when I went to wave goodbye, he had disappeared into the throng.
Being alone didn’t bring as much anxiety as I had initially projected. In fact, I felt a bit free. I was able, for the first time in a week, to breathe a sigh of relief; and when I landed in Germany, I grabbed my bags, walked out of the terminal, and half-fell into a cab.
The older man behind the wheel asked me, “Where are you going?”
Leaning back and closing my eyes, I said the most precious word I could think of. “Home.”