Home: Las Vegas.
It hits me when the sky gives way from black to a sea of glittering, golden lights.
Some 20,000 feet below me is the Mojave Desert, which is slowly giving way to the Las Vegas Valley.
Tears well up in my eyes, and there is no containing them.
I’ve left my world of being an expat. Who am I now?
I reach my hand back to the row of seats behind me, searching for my Mom’s hand.
She grasps it, and I hold on. Tight.
For almost 24 hours, we’ve been traveling from Madrid to Las Vegas.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” I remark to my mom as we sit at Madrid Barajas. “I’m surprised. It never hit me the past two weeks when I was getting ready to move, either.”
In fact, the two weeks before boarding the flight, I am in automatic pilot, selling my belongings, packing my life, worrying about the hoops I have to jump through to import my Thai cats to yet another country.
I walk down the streets in Lavapies and force myself to look up at the historic, colorful buildings. To remind myself I won’t be in Europe soon. That this life I’ve grown used to (although haven’t truly ever felt like I belonged) is truly temporary.
Even when I’m saying my “see you soon’s” to the people I have grown close with in Spain, I feel like it is any other day. That tomorrow I will wake up in my flat/cave, tucked into my bed, and wonder if I will speak to anyone or see anyone.
But, when I meet my mom at the metro station that dark, cold Monday morning, I know it’s the last time I’m walking down that brick-paved street. That I will no longer hear the drug dealers “Hola, rubia” to me.
Tomorrow, I go back to American life.
When we take off from Madrid, I press my face next to the tiny airplane window and look down at the barren landscape as we move further from my “home.”
I still feel nothing.
At Newark, back on American soil, I still don’t feel any sense of change. It’s another day at an airport I was at only a month ago. Although this time, I’ve got my mom and my two cats with me.
I unceremoniously dig into a tofu-packed burrito and feel every bone in my body ache. Although I’ve splurged for the duration of the trip and gotten us Economy Plus seating, the weight of cats and their bags and the emotional weight I’ve been carrying around with me for a year are rearing their ugly faces in the form of pain.
The entire flight from Newark to Vegas, I am asleep. Only when I feel the plane dip into the final descent do I crawl up from the make-shift bed and look out the window.
My eyes pop open to witness below me that black vastness giving way to twinkling lights that reach up and begin to pull me in. Deeper and deeper.
Finally, it hits me.
Mom’s hand tight in mine, everything flows. The excitement I felt when I left Vegas in 2012. The experiences I had in Thailand. The pain. The loss. The ridiculously happy. The decision to leave Chiang Mai and head to the Big Smoke. The disappointment in leaving London. The solitude and emptiness I felt in Spain. The struggles. The delights. The … everything.
It flows from my mind to my heart to my eyes, dripping down my face as I look at the lights of The Strip, the flashing marquees, the High Roller, grow ever closer to me.
I turn around to my mom.
“Now,” I say, taking my free hand and wiping away the tears and smiling.
“I’m so proud of you,” she says, tears sparkling in her eyes, too.
For almost four years, I lived an extraordinary life. And, when the wheels touch down at McCarran, I’m calm and promise myself this life, too, shall be extraordinary.
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