The very first time I (Elise) ever left the borders of the continental United States was the summer of 1989. I was fifteen years old, a bit headstrong, and I thought I’d be clever and take a trip on my mom’s credit card.
Mind you, this was long before Homeland Security, body searches, or any tough challenges, really, for a teenager to hop on a plane and head to an exotic location. My parents had divorced when I was a baby, and I was of the mindset that I didn’t really like how my mom was handling things, it was time for me to go to the Dad’s. I am pretty sure they knew what I was up to, but there are some lessons that just need to be learned from experience.
He lived in West Palm Beach, Florida, so that is where I went. Schools were out, all the rich people were away on vacation, and I was bored out of my mind. Inside the condo were piles of old Playboy Magazines, and outside there was a canal full of really ugly ducks. I could stay inside for some stimulating (!) reading, or I could wander outside with the birds, and maybe meet some actual people that would have a conversation with me. After about three days, none of this appealed to me, and it really started to sink in that I was stuck here.
At one point the Dad handed me a set of keys to a pick up truck and told me to go to the mall. Wow, wheels and freedom, every teenagers dream, right? As if I even knew how to get to this shopping mall, much less how to drive a stick shift. Apologies to the snow birds and rich folk of that neighborhood, West Palm Beach circa 1989; they suffered through my self-teaching of driving a manual transmission. If someone had told me that you had to put it back in first gear after coming to a stop, things might have been a lot less frustrating!
Alas, I figured it out, I found the mall, I wandered around, and was bored again.
The Dad decided we could take a day trip, to the Bahamas. I think he was going gambling. The trip over was really cool, I remember – we rode in a little Cessna, and the flight attendant was a curvy blonde that the Dad made passes at. When we arrived, we went straight to a big, beautiful building – the casino. I was too young to actually enter the gambling establishment, so the Dad waved as he went inside and. . .I was on my own again. I didn’t have any money, didn’t even have a bathing suit (because he didn’t tell me where we were going or what we’d be doing) but I did manage to meet a few people. There was a young couple, they might have been American teenagers, just a bit older than I. I assumed they were a couple, but they may have only just met. I had a camera with me, I took a few pictures, then went back to wandering. I must have had a few dollars, because I got two braids in my hair, with little green and white beads at the ends. That was probably my lunch money.
So that was it, my first time beyond the borders. Completely immature and ignorant, ill-prepared even for a day trip, on my own with no money, left to wander and figure things out.
Actually, now that I think about it, that pretty much sums up the next several trips abroad for me too.
My summer excursion lasted fourteen days. I returned home to my mom and never threatened or mentioned leaving and going to the Dad’s ever again. I had several rolls of film developed that turned out to be really bad pictures of ugly ducks. One roll had a few amazing beach pictures, with incredibly blue water, including one print with a young couple waist-deep in the surf, squinting into the sun as I snapped their picture.