Friday, June 24, 2011

Exchange please.

In July of 1979 we had an exchange student come to live with us for a whole summer.

It was through our church.
It was a girl! My same age!
I was finally going to have a sister!!!

Kathleen came over to visit from Ireland.

I spent the days before her arrival getting ready for my new sis, making a big sign for the front porch to welcome her, cleaning my room so we would have plenty of room to play, making sure each Barbie was dressed to the nines in their pink carrier case, and making a list of places we could take her. Of course the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, perhaps a show at Radio City Music Hall? Maybe dinner at Tavern on the Green? I had lofty dreams for my new sister and I.

If that sign couldn't win her over - nothing could.

From the second she got off of the plane, I could tell this probably wasn’t going to work out.

I had the same exact feeling years later after traveling overseas when a guy I had met during my trip came out for a visit. When he got off of the plane he was wearing a baja shirt and cowboy boots. When we went out to a restaurant he ordered a pint of milk. Yeah, this was not going to work.

But while I was stuck with this guy during my young adult life for only a week, I was stuck with Kathleen for an entire summer.

I went to hug her and she was stiff as a board.
She was quiet, I was loud.
She didn’t like to share anything about herself; I couldn’t wait to tell her everything about me.
She was a tomboy, I was a girly girl.

She didn’t like me.
Yes, Kathleen didn’t like me, which was new for me, because in my own mind, why wouldn’t you like me? I mean I made a sign and cleaned my room and everything.

Kathleen preferred to hang out with her girlfriend Fiona, who was staying with one of our neighbors two blocks up the street. I was crushed. I cried to my parents that she was rude and didn’t like me, and want to hang out with me. I tried to be more calm and quiet around her. “Just don’t freak out,” I would instruct myself in my head. I knew even as an eight year old that I was faking it and putting on an act to try and get her to like me. I was ready to implode trying to keep all of my energy bottled up inside of me, it gave me headaches.

We spent the whole summer going out on family outings, taking her sightseeing, having BBQ's and catching fireflies, but all of the summer fun in the world couldn’t create a sisterly bond between Kathleen and I.

Looking back…of course she would rather hang out with Fiona. She was her actual friend where I was a girl she was being forced to live with against her will. She probably missed her parents and her family back home and she had this brassy American trying to become her sister.

It was one of those “wish I knew then what I know today” situations.

Just because Kathleen didn’t like me or want to be my sister didn’t mean that there was anything wrong with me. As a little girl I hated that I became this different person around her and felt bad that I was relived the day she got on the plane to go home.

Kathleen was my family’s one and only exchange student.

When the milk drinking suitor stayed in my house years later, let me tell you that one long week. I remember dropping him off at the airport, rolling down all of the windows in my car and blasting Everclear as loud as I could. I felt like I could be the real me again.

I am sure for Kathleen, the summer that she spent with me was one long summer. She probably went back to Ireland, got in the car with her family, rolled down the windows, and felt good to be the real her again.

I took her to the Bronx Zoo to ride a camel for the love of God.
Do they even have camels in Ireland???

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