Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Part 52: Lost Horizon

"... you can't subject a mere boy to... years of intense physical and emotional stress without tearing something to tatters. People would say, I suppose, that he came through without a scratch. But the scratches were there - on the inside."
We sat for a long time in silence ...

Do you think he will ever find it?"

- from Lost Horizon by James Hilton

I was hurriedly cramming all my worldly belongings into my footlocker and suitcase for the summer. Five years worth of school magazines, yearbooks and newspapers, old scripts, a few school books and novels, left over school supplies, a photo album, sheets, blankets and clothing.

In a small air force flight bag I packed the bare minimum of clothing I would need to get me back to America. I planned to buy all the clothing I needed while I was there and much more.
I had been busy compiling a list of things I wanted to pick up including gifts for my friends.

A month earlier, in April, my parents and brothers flew to the U.S. for a four month furlough. I would be joining them now that school was out and I was excited to be heading back to the States for a short visit. I was looking forward to doing some sight seeing, eating American food and visiting the relatives. If I had time I hoped to see some of my friends from Brent who now lived in the U.S. and had made tentative plans to see my girlfriend in North Carolina while she was on furlough too.

I had got my bundle of exit papers from the local PC commandant, paid the appropriate fees and document stamps on my exit visa. Then I went to the Mission Board offices and picked up my ticket and passport. The treasurer handed me my documents, then pulled a dusty cash box from a drawer. Fumbling with the key, it groaned in protest at being opened, the lid snapping shut on his hand several times as he tried to extract a single ancient bill from its interior. Scrooge gripped it tightly in his hand for a few moments, stretching out his arm and retracting it several times before finally handing it to me. I looked at him in disgust and amazement. A measly five bucks "travel money" to get me back to the states.

The next morning I caught a Korean Airlines 747 out of Manila to Seoul, then on to Los Angeles. It was a long flight with a lousy movie and I had plenty of time to think.
I thought about my five years at Brent; I thought about my senior year ahead, planning and dreaming of the things I would do. Slave Day, Senior Skip Day, Prom and Graduation; now my name would hang in the Gym along with the names of my classmates.

The plane was delayed in Seoul and by the time we got to L.A. I had missed my connecting flight to Chicago. There were quite a few stranded kids at LAX and we spent the night in the terminal playing cards. In the morning while waiting for my flight the elderly couple who had been sitting next to me on the flight asked if I had spent the night in the airport and had I had anything to eat. I guess I looked hungry - I hadn't eaten since the day before but didn't want to seem like I was looking for a hand out. They wouldn't take no for answer and bought me breakfast.

When I got to Chicago I was surprised to see my mom's sister and her husband waiting at the arrival gate. They bought me a steak, we drank wine and they peppered me with questions. I hadn't seen them for years and happily recounted my adventures at Brent and my plans for my Senior year. Then on to Iowa in a inter-state commuter turbo prop. The plane circled the little airport, preparing to land, I watched the buildings below.

Then it hit me all of a sudden, from deep within me I knew with the utmost certainty; I would never go back to the Philippines again. The empty pit within me was a chasm that could never be filled. Then the wheels touched the ground and the plane came to a stop. Walking across the tarmac I searched the crowd for my family; I found confirmation on my parents faces. That was it. The adventure was over.

I never got to say farewell to the family who raised me, to my friends, my city, my school, my home.

"You sheltered me from harm
Kept me warm, kept me warm
You gave my life to me
Set me free, set me free
The finest years I ever knew
Were all the years I had with you

You taught me how to love
What it's of, what it's of
You never said too much
But still you showed the way
And I knew from watching you
Nobody else could ever know
The part of me that can't let go

I would give anything I own
Give up my life, my heart, my home
I would give everything I own
Just to have you back again"
- from a song by Bread

I never got to look for the little boy lying in his hole in the comote field, to tell him it's safe to come home.

I think he lies there still.


I'm sorry.

I love you.


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