This is the finale of a three-part story inspired by my family's journey to the United States in the 1970's. Please share your thoughts below - I would love to hear from you!
3544 Barry Knoll Drive
Ann Arbor, MI
The wooden swing we’re sitting on is squeaky and smooth from use. I know the story of Explorer’s journey to the U.S. well, hearing the sequence of events on this very swing year after year. I can’t remember how it comes up tonight but here we are, once again revisiting the details together as father and daughter.
How for his first two months Explorer sleeps on the floor of the YMCA in Cleveland, OH, thousands of miles away from me and my mother, his Muse.
How he lives on Lay’s chips, popcorn and orange juice since he only has $0.50 to spend each day for several weeks until he finds temporary work as a shipping clerk.
How every night before shutting his eyes he would quietly talk to the wallet-sized photo of Muse and I and say “We are one heart and I will be with you soon, my loves.”
How, despite Explorer’s foreign and thick Indian accent, he befriends the Y’s community manager who ultimately helped him type up his first resume for a local mechanical engineering position.
How after 15 months of struggling and saving, Explorer was able to rent a cramped apartment and bring over Muse and I from Habra.
These extraordinary details have helped me to push through tough days yet tonight, I yearn to hear the softer and messier moments. The moments where Papa didn’t know whether he would reach his destination, because my confidence is faltering on whether I will reach mine. Earlier that day, I received a letter from the last major publishing house in the country that had yet to respond. I immediately recognized it because of the signature blood-red wax seal on the envelope; the twelfth ‘no’ in a week.
“Papa, were you scared when you first arrived to the States? I have heard your journey several times but I never catch a whiff of fear and uncertainty,” my words coming out frenetic and rushed. I know where I'm going with this line of questioning and I worry that my concerns will seem trivial to a man who has endured so much more than I ever will. “How did you know you would get here to live this great, fulfilling life?”
Explorer looks at me in surprise, eyebrows slightly raised. The expression is fleeting and he pulls me closer, putting his velvety arm around my shoulders. I don’t pull away. “That’s a good question, Shunduri. I suppose I never allowed myself to feel worried or fearful for too long. Every night before I went to sleep, I would look at that photo of you and your Mother and even if only for a few moments, I believed that no matter what had happened that day, all is well. On especially difficult nights, I told myself all would be well.”
Explorer pauses, and I know he is reliving those nights in his head right now. I can't fathom the depths of his loneliness which he must have felt at times. Explorer begins again. “I never lost faith because that was all I had; I made myself believe that it was just a matter of time until things would turn around. My parents sent letters begging me to return to Habra but going back to India was never an idea I entertained for more than a few seconds. I remember thinking that I was the one who got myself here and I would keep going until I had my family with me once again. I have seen the same resolve and tenacity within you. It comes from your Mother and I because of how much we had to fight to keep believing in ourselves and our dreams; it's in your blood. The hard times made us tough enough to get here with you, to the good times – it’s like forging a piece of metal to make it stronger. Keep exploring and trust yourself, Shunduri.”
I sit back and we’re quiet for several minutes. A firefly dances in a curved line, passing us. Ma joins us and I move to the middle of the swing to make room. I feel a brush of air behind me and I notice that Ma and Papa have linked fingers. Papa has called her Muse since I can remember.
Yes, perhaps you’re right, Explorer. All will be well. All is well.
Note: 'Shunduri' is a term of endearment and means ‘beautiful girl’ in Bengali, which is Explorer’s native language.
This post also appears on Women's iLab to inspire the next generation of female leaders.