“I realized that nothing would happen. Nothing could happen, not even if I were to throw a bomb. They were dead, stinking dead, that’s what. They were sitting in their own stinking shit, steaming in it. ... I couldn’t stand it another second. I bolted.”
-- Henry Miller, Sexus
Everything I could see, as far as the eye went, was green. Little shrubs sitting there on the earth. Swaying with the breeze and in the sunshine they waited. They waited for the night, when things would cool off and the earth would breathe in the salty sea air. My father and I were on an airplane landing in Punta Cana, entering the Dominican Republic.
It was the first time I had left America, and I was nervous. Throughout the years I had traveled extensively as a vagabond, a desperate and inconsolable nincompoop, waiting for something to happen. Or, rather, I was acting out my desires that had been built up inside of me, the desires every American withheld inside him- or -herself when drifting, hanging on, and -- in American tongue -- trying to earn a living.
What had made me depart so many times, and rambunctiously so, was my desire to leave. No matter where I went, or why, whenever I had arrived, I always was ready to move on. That was how life went, with me. How can one “earn a living” when one is continuously looking for something? In this way, I was a problem child. I wasn’t supposed to be a child, anymore.
Going into this trip with my father, I knew it was about rebuilding the relationship that had suffered because of my personality. Perhaps, the same one I shared with him.
In any event, the plane was landing on the only strip of asphalt and concrete to be seen from above. The solitary road which had been observable from the sky made me feel like I was finally arriving to a place with mystery and magic. All the things I loathed and despised about America were rifted from my soul as detritus to be forgotten.
The first un-American thing I saw was the airport’s airline crew. They were all dark-skinned, wearing neon vests, and some were bespectacled with goggles. One of the younger ones, a short and skinny boy of no more than fifteen years of age, waved us into a parking spot. When the plane came to a halt, I looked out the window and stared directly at the boy, the first native Dominican I’d see. Sweating a little, he seemed very serious about his work. Once the plane was snug in its resting spot, the boy relaxed his shoulders and dropped his arms at his sides. He was stern, yet calm. He looked up at the sky, turning to his left. He smiled at the windows, grinning pleasantly. Briefly, we locked eyes. A few more of the airline crew came over to him, some of them were young women. They looked slightly bored, but ready to do their jobs, and grateful to do so if you’d ask me.
That was the first thing I noticed. There was no chagrin. I saw that they were dutifully carrying out their roles as proudly as possible, even if it were repetitive and mundane. What matter? It kept them busy, it provided them with a paycheck. This aura about them was inescapable. However, most of the people on the plane weren’t paying any attention to this sort of observatory sizing-up of the air outside their tiny windows. Instead, the passengers were all anxiousness, all nerves and excitement. They could take out their beach hats. They could let their hair down. Sunglasses came on in droves. Compartments were thrust ajar and the contents spilled out into the aisle, up and down it was a race to the door. Who would get out first? Which way to the beach? How much money did they have to spend?
“Well, we made it, son.” My father said to me, plainly. He placed his hand on my right shoulder. He was smiling at me. I was trying to forget that I’d been an asshole to him, for no reason at all. And I don’t mean the intervening years before this moment, I mean that I had nearly lost it, half-way over the Caribbean. Getting closer to our destination, we were to fill out little forms stating what we were carrying, where we were going, and why. The stewardess who had been assigned the role of handing out the forms had told us incorrectly that one form per family had to be filled out, while another form was to be completed by each individual. She’d gotten the forms reversed. When I was filling out mine, after my father had borrowed a pen, the ink wouldn’t come. I’d tried writing on top of a book, but still it wouldn’t flow. That was typically when I’d be at my worst.
“This stupid thing,” I’d complained.
“It won’t work!”
I’d started scratching the pen all over the piece of paper. And then I was feeling closed-in and trapped. The seat wouldn’t budge, and neither could I. I jolted back and forth and I thought I’d scream.
“Bryan! What the hell’s wrong with you? Don’t act that way...”
After I had calmed down a little....
I was staring out the window and thinking about the ocean so many thousands of feet below the aircraft, the miraculous machinery that had lifted us off the ground, taking hundreds of people to an island thousands of miles away, to a distant and tropical paradise, with beaches of white sand and crystal clear, blue water coming ashore in endlessly calm waves of the Caribbean ocean.
It was late-January. And once we stepped off the plane, everything was hot.
Right away, there was some confusion among the crowd. We weren’t quite sure if it was appropriate to walk to the entrance or if we were supposed to be boarding the airport shuttles that were just a few feet away from the plane.
“Should we walk?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” my father replied. His bag was slung over his shoulders and he had a free hand clasping his luggage. I was also carrying a big red bag which I had borrowed from one of the most recent angels in my life back home. Dad never wanted to be too hasty in moments of foreign computations. He couldn’t work the math. It was only in these moments where I could act, without thinking. That was one of the ways in which we differed.
“I think we gotta get on one of these shuttles.”
We noticed that some of the people had walked towards the awaiting shuttle. They were staring out the windows, looking at us.
“Come on.” My father followed me over to the shuttle. He peeked his head up into one of the opened doors. “Are we supposed to be getting on, here?”
After a few moments, we were on the shuttle and moving. It was filled to capacity. Some other people would have to wait for a second shuttle. I stared at everybody and looked out the windows. I started taking everything in, full-force. The air was humid and thick. My pores were wide open. I felt awake. Outside the shuttle I watched a girl stripping to a t-shirt. She’d been wearing a black blouse. Her boyfriend (so I assumed) was standing there, looking around him, when the girl freshly flung her arms around his neck and cooed into his ear. He put one of his arms around her waist and together they turned to look far past the airport, where everything was wild and unknown. It was green everywhere. Big, black nothing. How could anybody ever think that about this planet, about this universe?
Feeling expansive, I waited patiently as the shuttle deposited us in front of the entrance to the airport.
“We could’ve walked here,” I said, “no problem.”
We hauled our luggage into the airport, where the air was slightly cooler. There were fans up in the corners of the place, which went all the way back about a hundred yards, where there were little booths with people inside of them -- Dominican People. Waiting to stamp passports. I had waited for this moment all my life, my subconscious mind was telling me. For whatever reason, I doubted that I would be allowed into the country. It was too perfect, like a dream.
As we neared the booths, weaving around the curvature of space that were the lines of people, I felt like I was re-entering familiar territory. Like I had been here before. Not the Dominican Republic, exactly. But that I had known this sort of exploration in previous incarnations. We were entering into uncharted waters. What was this New World? Who were these people?
“Make sure you have your passport out,” my father told me.
It was already in my hands. The bag over my shoulders felt weightless. Everything else but the Dominican workers inside of the airport faded from existence. My father paid the entrance fee of twenty dollars, for the both of us. We had made it.
At the end of the line, a woman inside one the of the booths motioned us forward. My father walked up, taking out his passport and handing it to the lady, along with his paperwork.
“This is for me and my son,” he said, pointing to me.
The lady’s skin was tanned brown. Her hair was nearly orange. She was resolute and grounded to her chair. Like she was perched atop a grandiose atoll that was kept secretive by her and her people. She would have her say, she would be the one to grant us entry onto the land that she called home. She was a queen, our guiding light....
“Aye,” she said, stamping his passport. Returning it to him, she looked over at me and smiled so warmly that I nearly froze to the spot.
I handed it to her, along with my paperwork and its terrified scribbles. She took it and placed it down in front of her, looking it over like it was the most common thing in the world.
“Aye, William! My grandson is named William!” Proudly, she beamed. “Un chico,” she said, as she stamped my passport with gusto. With a friendliness I had never known.
She handed me back my passport and my worst fears were squelched into nothingness. I thanked her and looked to my father. He was smiling.
“Okay,” he said, “let’s go.”