I used to smile all the time. My classmates couldn’t figure out why, nor did I even stop to wonder; but when I moved to America, I had plenty of time to wonder. I wondered why adults insisted on obscuring the truth.
“You will find a good team there,” said my coach.
“You will adjust to the school soon enough,” said my tutor.
“You will be happy,” said my mom.
I wondered why my new coach’s face got red when he screamed, why math did not seem to work out anymore, why my brother cried in the mornings. But most of all, I wondered where my smile had gone.
* * *
I am halfway through my sixth year in school, and it has been a week since I moved to America. My family sits around a subdued breakfast table, the threat of the daunting first day of school weighing on our heads. Unable to stand the somber mood, I abruptly get up to put my coat on and turn around to discover Adam sobbing uncontrollably. It is so sudden, my brain is slow in registering why.
“I don’t want to go to school!” Adam cries vehemently, clearing my confusion. My first irrational thought is to yell back bitterly, “I don’t either!” but then I feel sorry for him. I know exactly how he feels. As Mom and Dad start comforting and coaxing I turn to hide the sudden look of distress on my face. This ardent protest from Adam makes me worry that he would rather stay home and lapse into apathy instead of face his troubles, and an even scarier thought is that it isn’t such an unappealing thought for me either.
When Adam finally agrees to go, Mom drives us to the new school so the principal can show us around, but when we arrive my spirits drop again. This building sprawls in an identical pattern which quickly confuses my senses. The wide beige floors and colourless lights make me worry about a monotonous school year to come, because they are completely incongruous with my vision of unique vibrancy I associate with education.
In Sweden, our school encompassed several scattered red buildings interspersed with playgrounds and benches and patches of forest. We used to pour onto the soccer field, rain or shine, and play with the old soccer ball Jonathan brought for school. No matter how much I intended to avoid it, all my shoes became worn and frayed at the tips, but my cheeks glowed bright and healthy.
Now our recesses are nothing but five minutes between classes. The halls quickly overcrowd with preoccupied students scurrying for classes, giving me the impression of an undulating anthill. A map of the school saves me from coming late to my next class and I sit down surreptitiously behind raucous laughter. People generously turn around to include me, and that turns out to be the pattern for the rest of the day. It bothers me that for some reason they think I’m shy just because I’m quiet, which is false. Everyone here is just too loud; what if I don’t want the whole school to know what I’m eating for lunch? I watch my new classmates in an effort to understand their flippancy, why they talk so much when they have nothing to say, how they get excited over a piece of candy or love immersing themselves in monochromatic cyberspace. As I slouch on the bus ride home, I figure that last one is because everyday life here is so monotonous—wake up, go to school, go to sports, go back home, do homework, sleep. That is the world here.
In Sweden, Adam and I would race each other home every day after school and drop our bags in the driveway as we ran past into the forest. There, amid mossy boulders and flowered ground we hunted for berries, mushrooms, apples, and any adventures we could find. When the setting sun shooed us away we went home to Mom and told her about all the amazing things accomplished that day, and so she got into the habit of always asking.
I get off at my bus stop and amble towards the big empty house.
“How was your day?” Mom asks anxiously as soon as I step inside, echoing my reverie.
“Fine,” I say. Noting my laconic answer, Mom switches tactics and starts talking about how this huge house belongs exclusively to us. I nod placatingly, watching the paint flakes as her voice echoes throughout the unfinished rooms.
In Sweden we rented all our houses–that meant no tacking up wall decorations or choosing the colours, but it also meant brand-new buildings with a view switching from forest to sea to wide rocks. I enjoyed running wild in the woods behind the first house, eating freshly caught fish while watching ferries at the second, and cycling around the bumpy terrain of the third. It gave me a chance to experience and appreciate several aspects of my city.
I’ve quickly realized that there will be no running wild here. There is no wilderness nearby, only private property. People prefer to stay immured in the protected sanctuary of their houses rather than facing the numerous dangers of our suburban streets. Instead, a free day is just “awesome” because you can watch another PLL episode, or reach another level in Mario Bros.
In Sweden, my family would travel every chance we got. Road trips all over Europe, from London, to Oslo, to Brussels, to Rome. We saw sperm whales in Norway, the Alps in Switzerland, gondolas in Venice, and castles everywhere we went. I touched relics older than this country, and met people as diverse as the cultures they came from.
Now Mom promises that we can still do things, but when I picture road trips in America, all I see is McDonald’s highway stops and a ubiquitous language. I sincerely hope that the TV in front of me is just as misleading as television everywhere.
All through dinner and while getting ready for bed I reflect on my dismal day and wonder how I will manage in the future. I know I can never get excited over a piece of candy or video games; not after seeing so much of Europe, feeling the impact of vistas that are truly awesome. All my future impressions here will be only average compared to that, so will I only ever be content and never jubilant? I snuggle under my covers and catch sight of a book on my dresser. That one object defies my prejudice against America, because books in English tend to be the most potent for me — full of vibrant new ventures. Once the wall of favoritism is breached, more pleasantries exclusively American fill my mind. I imagine the enticing aroma of Swiss Miss hot chocolate warming me while words dance around in my head; Michigan winters bringing the novelty of thick white flurries outside. For the first time all day, a pleasant feeling settles in me, something I didn’t know the wall was hiding. At that thought, the corners of my mouth slowly begin to curve up.