When I left Campinas, Brazil nearly two years ago, there was no one to see me off but my good friend Mrs. O’Leary. She was returning to the US herself a day later. We both settled in to the Royal Palm Palace hotel, the hotel of choice for repatriating expats, physically and emotionally exhausted after packing our houses, graduation celebrations, and saying good-bye to friends.
Earlier in the week I had called Mr. Understanding’s secretary and requested a van to take us to the airport. We had a lot of luggage and, although Mr. Understanding had left earlier to return to China, we also had our beloved Nilda accompanying us. A regular passenger van would be too small, but a 10 person van would do the job.
Paralyzed by the detritus in my hotel and the time of departure fast approaching, I felt a heart attack coming on. It was at this moment that Mrs. O’Leary rang from her hotel room downstairs.
“Do you need help?” she asked.
“Yes!” I wailed.
Five minutes later she was in my room with a bottle of her husband’s scotch. “Thought this might help,” she said, pouring me a shot. Then she began shoving things into my suitcases, asking questions, and directing my children.
Half an hour later, Mrs. O’Leary, two of her children (one went missing), and my entourage headed to the hotel lobby to wait for the van. No van in sight. After ten minutes, I went in and asked the front desk clerks if they had seen a van. Nope, no van, just that big bus parked aways off.
“You don’t think that could be your transportation to the airport do you?” Mrs. O’L asked.
“Of course, not! I ordered a van.”
After twenty minutes, I became panicky and called the secretary, who confirmed the order of the ten person passenger van. She would check into it for me. Tick tock, tick tock. As I was on the phone, a bell hop from the hotel ran down to ask the driver of the large passenger bus if he had seen a van and to ask for whom he was waiting. The driver of the bus replied that he was waiting to take a some people to the airport. The secretary called back and told me that the driver was there at the hotel, waiting for me. It turns out that the 40 person passenger bus was the Expat Princess’ exclusively. The driver, seemingly in no hurry, eventually drove up to the front.
“OMG, you are such an expat princess!” my friend said, erupting in laughter as the monster bus approached our small group. “Does Mr. Understanding know about this?”
We were laughing so hard we could hardly get the suitcases onto the bus. The laughter quickly turned to tears as the bus pulled out of the hotel’s drive. Alone, each of us sequestered in our own row of seats, Thing 2 and I cried all the way to the airport. Even poor Nilda cried, probably because the two of us were sobbing so hard. We barely made the plane due to traffic in Sao Paolo.
To truly understand how funny/sad this moment in my life was, you had to have been there. Mrs. O’Leary was, a fact for which I am forever grateful. A witness to the madness, she is the only one who truly understands that defining moment in my life. A decade plus of saying good-bye to family and friends has left me hardened; I choose not to think that will be the last time I will ever see a parent, a friend, a country and so have learned to rein in my tears like a soldier going off to war. But not that day.
Today is a milestone birthday for Mrs. O’Leary. She is in California with her High-Powered Sisters celebrating. I am not a sister but she is like one of mine. We know where each other’s secret purchases are stashed. We both like pink and lime green, especially combined. An hour spent together at Target is bliss. Then there is our shared love of good food and beverages. She sets a fine table and cooks a great meal. She writes, she calls. Nothing I say is too outrageous for her. She has a hearty, unmistakeable laugh. So today, January 22, I toast Mrs. O’Leary and wish her the very best time ever with her sisters on her birthday. I’ll bet Lulu’s cake will be yummy.
P.S. That is actually a photo of her sister’s cake. Google for the recipe!