“You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.”
The air is so bold and icy that it is like taking a giant gulp of lake water every time you inhale. The waves of sleep lift over and under as I doze in the airport chair, drinking a bottle of water with bubbles, waiting. John is in the bathroom and I cling to my phone, wishing we could stay overnight at a Swiss hotel and eat fondue, the kind of thing we would’ve had time, but not money, for before we had kids. Before we had kids. Like my adulthood was always scaffolded by motherhood and framed by mealtimes of runny noses and warmth by the oven.
There were a lot of people who warned us about adopting older children, and there were more who more who flat-heart told us not to. Kids without families don’t develop consciences, or open hearts, or reading comprehension skills, they said. Plus you don’t know what are getting with the medical care in foreign countries. All of this scares me out of the present into eight weeks from now, when we will be sitting in another airport waiting for five seats on a busy plane home.
The forty-eight hours younger me now seems very foolish, imagining the trip to Mielno as a beachside adventure. Because here in Geneva, it is cold and angled and succinct, and I am anxious for a cozy bed and sleep. And the thought of being a filled-up momma-bottle, fizzy with comfort and affection for three eager and frightened kids in a country where I didn’t know how to order some bread, overwhelmed me. I wanted to be home, where my sister was around the block and Dunkin’ Donuts around the other, and there were always lights on, always someplace you could go if you lost power.
I keep rotating my jaw when we take off, trying to keep my ears from popping. One more hour and we can walk across the street from the airport with our suitcases to the Courtyard by Marriott in Warsaw, where I know we will be having our last hamburger and childless night for awhile. Last time we stayed it was such a relief from the rural hotel in Poland even though we had to pry the elevator open with our fingers because we couldn’t figure the key out. Krystian’s video game went off in the middle of the night, and I remembered thinking we were sort of parents now, with kids’ stuff always a part of our gear, with kids’ futures always a part of our dreams.
Of course, my ears closed up when we landed and John sounded like he was talking underwater. “Rebekah, I don’t see it.”
“Do you think they closed the hotel? Didn’t you make a reservation?”
“Yeah, but it’s not here.”
The lack of sleep and fear of everything made panic jump around inside me and I wanted to sit down or hang over a luggage cart with my arms swinging and evaporate. “Shouldn’t we ask someone?”
“I don’t know. But it’s not here.” John’s voice cries a little and there is sweat over his nose. I’ve never met anyone more anxious than me, but my husband is a close second.
“We should probably ask someone.”
I march up to a security guard, balancing my suitcase handle between my middle and ring fingers. “Excuse me, but we are looking for the Courtyard by Marriott. Was it out this door?”
He understands me, and he thinks I am crazy. “De hotel..is…” He points to a door straight ahead and John and I bolt, to make sure a building is there. Very typically feverish, typically enthusiastic and typically cloddish Americans.
We were the only ones in the lobby, but the clerk speaks excellent English. She is neatly dressed and blue-eyed, and John is happy to ask her our questions. “We need to print out our train tickets for tomorrow morning. We are traveling to Gdynia.”
She directs us to some computers by the vending machines. I keep glancing over at the hotel bar, thinking about that hamburger and French Fries in parchment paper.
We finally get there after the tickets are printed, and I remember that they never serve ice in Poland so I don’t drink as much here. The hamburger was better in my memory, probably because it had seemed like an eternity since I’d had one.
Sometimes when I fly I become almost addicted to the exhaustion, and I have trouble falling asleep in the room that smells faintly of air conditioning and Clorox. I finally drift off closer to midnight and wake up to a horror: we overslept and are about a half hour from missing our train.
Tablets, toothbrushes, and pajamas fly into a suitcase and I keep checking for the most important things: passport, wallet, phone. So even if everything else gets lost, I am still Rebekah Yahoves from West Hempstead, and I can get on a plane anytime I want and go back to my old life, teaching music and reading endlessly on the weekends and after school, disrupted only by picking up John at the Long Island Railroad and getting his pasta on the table.
We made it just in time. I smell a little and my hair is greasy, but the train is pleasant and there aren’t many people traveling up to the Baltic Sea mid-morning in April. We are served a modest and fulfilling breakfast of ham and swiss sandwiches on a roll and a Pollo bar for dessert. John tells me that the white, lazy windmills we see beyond the brush provide electricity to the farms. I take a hot gulp and of my beverage and it is very soothing. I developed a serious tea habit during our first visit, and this time I planned to turn it into a problem.
The Gdynia Glowna train station looks more like a courthouse from the outside, with its high windows and single-toned flags. Inside, it is the last taste of urban bustle we will experience for awhile. There is a McDonald’s and lots of languages and a familiar face on the platform.
“Bogdan!” Our adoption agency’s driver doesn’t speak a word of English, but he plays American hits like “Can’t Stop the Feeling” in the car. “Can you help me with these?”
My bags are holding me in place like an anchor, but Bogdan cheerfully loads them into the trunk. The $150 we are going to pay him is a small fortune.
The roads of Northwest Poland remind us of driving through Pennsylvania for family vacations: lots of trees and roadside restaurants, lots of clothes hanging on lines. Much of the grass is yellow and I feel a homesickness that starts in my throat and gets pooled around the balls of my feet.
Szcezinek scared us the first time we were here as it looked more like some dreary, abandoned buildings than a town, but I developed almost a nostalgia for it by the time we left. Everyone was so unhurried, so humble, so free from unimportant things.
The tiles in the hallway of the apartment where my children live are uneven, and the walls have thin but long cracks that look almost like spider webs. I know the people inside have been excited about this day for nine months but I am careful not to be too euphoric. The door opens and I look at three amazed and adoring faces. “Dzien dobry,” I smile, not actually knowing anything else to say in Polish.
Krystian wraps his arms around me and won’t let go for the better part of 30 seconds. His eyes are filled with tears. “Dzien dobry.”
And now, my life is something brave.