Goodbye America

I could never have imagined it without a little help.

In my child’s mind I pictured a mound of sand, a palm tree (with coconuts!) and my grandparents clinging to it to survive.  I spent weeks fretting about how we would swim there and alternatively about how we would all fit!

Thanks to a couple of photographs and some letters sent across the great ocean, a new vision began to take shape.   No longer picturing a tiny speck of an island, I now imagined towering buildings, lush landscapes with trees as far as the eye could see, strange looking birds, (even stranger looking people) and a bridge made of solid gold!

I longed for it. This place I had never been to. This country I had only read about. This magical land with fruit in the winter time, jeans in all sizes and no lines at the store counter!

“A Barbie there costs six dollars!”

“That doesn’t sound like much, I bet you could save for a few in no time.”

“Will you promise to send us back one?”

I promised.  “Of course!”, I promised them all. I’d write letters and learn English and send them all back Beatles cassette-tapes and Barbies and Bubble gum.  I was so excited, I could hardly stand it!

“When will we leave?

“Soon, so soon. You won’t even have to start school because we’re leaving any day now.”

I waited patiently.

The weeks turned into months. My friends all started first grade.  I roamed the playground alone until the babies would let out of nursery school. I’d organize them into a merry band of thieves and send them on daring missions to the corner store. “I’m going to America and you’re going to miss me so much.  You’ll cry even!” I told my pint-sized pack of hooligans.

Each night, I packed my suitcase, folding my clothes neatly and carefully selecting the two toys and three books my parents said I could take with me. “Any day now” I would tell myself, giddy with anticipation.

The school year ended and a new one was beginning. I begged to go and this time my parents agreed.  Every week it seemed a classmate would leave to America, to Israel or to Germany.

But still we stayed. “Any day” I would keep telling myself, but I stopped packing.

My aunt, uncle and cousins moved out of our apartment.  From twelve people there only five of us left.  It was quiet and the bathroom was always available when you needed it.  Where was the fun in that?

There were rations for milk and soap. One day I went to the corner store and they were out of bread. So was the store in the town square and the ’super’ store down by the movie theater.

My grandma called to say the earth shook over there and she had broken her leg.

I started having nightmares.  America was a small island again, but the ground was unstable and the palm tree split down the middle.

I would play this one song, the lyrics “goodbye America, though I’ve never laid eyes on you” would always make me cry.  I’d get myself worked up to a state bordering on hysteria and finally sleep.

My great-grandmother, the woman who raised me, had a stroke and died.

I no longer cared if we ever left for America.

By the time we landed at 11:15pm on January 11th, 1991 at San Francisco International Airport.  I barely even registered it. That indeed, my whole world had shifted.

This post was written in response to this week’s prompt by the Red Dress Club,which asked us to begin our piece with the words, “I could never have imagined” and end it with “Then the whole world shifted.”

I look forward to constructive criticism (in particular the tenses, they’re weird, right?) and want to thank everyone who commented on my submission last week. If I did not get a chance to comment on yours, please forgive me I will do my best to visit you this week!

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78 Responses to “Goodbye America”

  1. Mandy says:

    See? This is why I skipped ahead. I had to read yours before heading off to bed. Wow. Poetry.


    I loved this story. The differences in what your life was like there compared to what it must be like now are stark. The uncertainty, the fear and the anticipation all came through. The agony of waiting, the disappointment of continuing to wait…all came through.

    You had a couple of verb tense changes. Instead of “would pack” you should probably say “packed”. “Would play” to “play”. Double check me. I’m not an English teacher but I know a couple of TRDC ladies are. (Handy, that.)

    I would love to read more about your trip, your arrival…you have a wonderful way of writing that makes me want to keep on reading.

    • Yuliya says:

      Oh Mandy you are so sweet to me!
      I knew my verb tenses wouldn’t all be consistent…maybe I should have paid attention in English class instead of daydreaming…
      ‘Packed’ sounds right, I will change it. But ‘play’ instead of would play sounds weird to me, what if I just start the sentence with “this one song”? Would that work? Thank you so much for taking to the time to pay attention to those and for helping me improve!

  2. Nancy C says:

    I really like this piece. I agree with Mandyland regarding the tenses (and I’m one of those English teachers).

    I love the part about the roaming band of thieves. The image of you waiting for the playground helps me see how isolated you must have felt.

    I wonder if it would work to have her flashing back to all this while she’s looking out the window on her way to America? Maybe have bits of the story come back while the plane begins it’s descent. Just a thought.

    I find your words to be so enchanting. You cast a spell.

    • Yuliya says:

      Thank you Nancy! Glad you liked my band of thieves, I kind of miss those little boogers!
      As for making it a flashback from the plane, I don’t know if I can take quite that kind of poetic license with the story…during the last leg of this 36+ hour journey I was finally (blissfully) asleep…didn’t wake up until we were right about to land!
      Thank you so much for your helpful suggestions, I really appreciate it!

  3. I know you won’t find this helpful but I wanted you to know that I am usually a stickler for grammar (excpet sometimes in my own writing) and I DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE your tenses.

    I was gripped by your story. I could imagine I was that child.

    While I go back and agree with the other two commentors about the tenses, I need you to know that on first read I didn’t even notice them.

    Thank you for sharing.


    • Yuliya says:

      I am terrible with tenses, actually I’m terrible with grammar in general, I never paid attention in class so what I did retain must have been pure osmosis…
      Thank you so much for reading and for your thoughts!

  4. Jessica says:

    This is such a beautiful piece, what I think I love most is that you share a story so few can. I agree on the verb tenses, but other than that I love it and couldn’t help but hope for that little girl on the playground through the whole thing.

    • Yuliya says:

      Oh my story is not as unique as all that, every immigrant I know has a special take on this “coming to America” kind of tale…but thank you it makes me feel special that you read it!

  5. My brain must be tired, things that would benefit from critique are not leaping out at me. ;)

    The differences in the story of a lives from women who can be such good friends amaze me.


    I am thinking on that at the moment.

  6. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Morgan B. and Good Day, Reg People, Tracy Morrison. Tracy Morrison said: RT @SheSuggests: Who needs sleep? Not the #TRDC Goodbye America [...]

  7. Alexandra says:

    I was so involved and in love with the little girl in this story, that I didn’t notice tenses.

    That is a good story, I love this girl and she’s real to me.

    As a beginning piece, it’s alive.

    You can’t teach that, Yuliya…you just can’t.

    I love this little girl.

  8. Nichole says:

    Oh, Yuliya, you never fail to move me and offer me a glimpse into your world.

    I actually think that the tense “issues” add to your piece…they serve as a reminder to us that English is not your first language. I like that.

    I almost chose American Studies for my major in college, as I am so fascinated by all that goes into making this country so unique. I love that you chose those things that symbolized America for you. “Beatles cassette-tapes and Barbies and Bubble gum” is lovely…I love the alliteration…just beautiful.

    I wouldn’t change a thing.
    Much love to you, my friend.

    • Yuliya says:

      Thank you Nichole! I really can’t use the English as a second language argument though, I was too young when I immigrated for it to be applicable, in my opinion. And thank you for reading and giving me your thoughts, always appreciated!

  9. Vicki says:

    I loved the “feeling” of the story-detached, dreamlike, interrupted, just like the experience. Very James Joyce-like. Floating. Poetic.

    But also like James Joyce, I, at times, had trouble understanding who the person doing the speaking was since the dialogue didn’t have pointer hints as to who the person doing the talking was. In this sentence, “My grandma called to say the earth shook over there”, I didn’t quite understad where “there” was.

    But other than that, great beginning.

    • Yuliya says:

      Poetic? Oh thank you!
      The entire thing is in first person, so it’s all from the I/me perspective, I don’t know if making it more clear would take away from the style of it…but I so appreciate your feedback and if I ever do NaNoWriMo you’ll probably be stuck editing it!

  10. Wow! Beautiful story! It reminds me of when I read Diary of Anne Frank…you captured that younger self of yours that was so full of hope and fear and sadness so perfectly. I loved the bit about the babies and telling them they would miss you. Doesn’t every kid think that? Thank you for sharing this, it was fantastic! In regards to the grammar, I didn’t notice it because I was so wrapped up in your story, but upon a second reading there was just little things, like a missing comma or a verb tense. But honestly, I don’t care! Your story was enthralling!

    • Yuliya says:

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment, yes I did think everyone would weep with sadness when I left!
      Next time you tell me exactly where those missing commas go, deal?

  11. I love the imagery of you and your little band of preschool hooligans on the playground. And the way you transitioned from being giddy and excited to barely even registering you had arrived… was beautifully told.

    As I read this, I was amazed that you weren’t born a native English speaker. You craft your words really well.

    • Yuliya says:

      Thank you for really reading and understanding it, I love when that happens!

      Oh I’m essentially a native speaker, I consider English my primary language, and sadly I have no accent either!

  12. tulpen says:

    It hit me halfway through reading that it is YOU. (I’m a bit slow).

    I didn’t notice anything wonky with the tenses, I was too wrapped up in the little girl’s hopes and dreams…

    • Yuliya says:

      Ha ha ha! That made me laugh out loud, it did. Why yes it is me! I’m so glad you liked it, it was so so good to write it, you know what I mean? But the lack of cursing on this blog has me all repressed and depressed, know anyone I could see about that ;) ?

  13. varunner7 says:

    Is this true? Wow, it seemed so real and vibrant to me.

    Thanks for stopping by my piece, even though I didn’t link up. In answer to your question, I guess i didn’t quite phrase it right. I wanted him to be in the range where he is just barely diagnosable as M.R. So I may need to reword that I think!

    • Yuliya says:

      Oh I see that makes more sense. I love your story, I hope there will be more of it later.
      And yes my piece this week is 100% non fiction, I may have fudged the timeline a tad but all true.

  14. Ash says:

    I was so wrapped up in your words. I totally agree with the above – so poetic. My heart broke for you on the playground alone. Such anticipation.

    I can’t wait to read more of your story. You’re so right – God bless America because of jeans in all sizes. Allelui

  15. So exactly how long did you end up waiting? Did you finally attend school. Oh my, this needs to be a novel.

    • Yuliya says:

      I think all in all it took us over two years to leave. I did get to to school, second grade for a few months Sep-Jan until we left. And I will write you a novel any day dear, I can publish for one right?

  16. Ash says:

    P.S. – I hate commenting from my iPhone!!


  17. The more of these posts I read the more I recognize the string that connects the good ones: your readers want more.
    Yes, my gorgeous friend, I loved reading story and getting to know even more about you. I sure hope you keep these to share w/ that gorgeous little girl of yours.

  18. Intriguing and still intrigued! I would love to read so much more about you and your adventures. I’m leaving the grammar critique up to the experts, and just enjoying the reads. This one was exceptional! What a lovely lady you must be! Thank you for sharing with us.

  19. Ann's Rants says:

    Not wearing my critiquing hat, just loved hearing your story.

  20. This was so beautifully done. I love the imagery, what you pictured before you left. How heartbreaking it must have been to pack your little bag every night! And then to lose your great-grandmother. Great job!

    • Yuliya says:

      Thank yo so much. Yeah, I really glossed over my great-grandmother’s death in this piece because that event deserves it’s own story.

  21. I’m going to be a bad critiquer because I read this with pure enjoyment, not with an editor’s eye.

    I really have a gift in writing the childhood perspective. I loved all the details, how you stopped packing, how you imagined America to be, how you showed your loneliness by playing w/ nursery school kids.

    Loved it, my friend.

    • Yuliya says:

      Well bring that editor’s eye next time, bring it! But in the meantime I am oh so glad you enjoyed it.

      And I thank you and the other Red Dress Club ladies for existing, I couldn’t do all of this without your gently nudging (and not so gently prodding…dirty.)

  22. Vicky says:

    I kid you not (and I think we even had this conversation), but I also pictured a small piece of land, maybe 10 feet wide with ONE palm tree in the middle.

  23. andygirl says:

    love that! so well told. I felt like I was there.

  24. I am always fascinated to read about others’ view of America. I did not notice the issues with tense at all, and I am also a former English teacher. I was too engrossed in the story. I was impatient, I wanted her to be able to go, and I wanted to know when it would happen. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  25. Jennifer says:

    The thing that most struck me most was how she was held hostage in her own life, missing a year of school and the nightmares, by the mere promise of immigration and how exhausted she is emotionally when it happens.

    • Yuliya says:

      I think how I felt was probably nothing compared to what my parents were going through. As a child you see the adventure in all of this and the possibilities, to them I think it was mostly a lot of worry and stress.
      Loved your TRDC submission and thank you for introducing me to Food Thinking via your blogroll!

  26. Katie says:

    Oh! Oh this is WONDERFUL! This makes me want to keep reading. I want to read all your memories of your previous country (which was…where?) and your memories of immigration.

    I am in love with this little girl. bragging and then going nowhere…i can relate SO SO much.

    Please tell me you will be writing more of this because I am HOOKED!

    (and as the grammar police–as my students call me–I totally didn’t notice the tense stuff. at all. that is how wrapped up I was in this).

    • Yuliya says:

      Yay you made it over here, thank you!
      I immigrated from the Ukraine, although technically the Ukraine hadn’t declared itself an independent country at the time we left (see that was weird tense usage too, wasn’t it)
      With the addition of memoir prompts to the Red Dress Club, I just might have to write more of this!
      And next time please feel free to hand out citations as the grammar police, I’m happy to improve.

  27. gigi says:

    I love learning about your world and how you got where you are.

    You really captured how a kid can wait sooooo very long for something that after awhile, that thing doesn’t matter anyore…for whatever reason.

    Very nice, girl, very nice.

  28. Kris says:

    Yuliya -

    We talked, you and I, about your last Red Dress Club post.

    I will say the same thing now that I hope you took away from our earlier conversation.

    You have an amazing ability to take me back in time. You are not Yuliya the woman, you are Yuliya the girl in this post. I feel you. I see you. I imagine I could reach out and hold your hand.

    That is a gift very few people have.

    Many can tell the story of what it was like to be a child.

    Few can make me feel that the child is telling me the story.

    This post is exquisite.

    Be very proud, you.

    Very proud.

    • Yuliya says:

      You made me cry with your comment. Why would you do that to me? Why?
      And you know what? I was really proud, probably for the first time ever since starting this blog business I walked away from a post and knew that I told my story the best way I know how (right now). Thank you so much for being here and for lifting me up with your sweet words!

  29. Marinka says:

    I love it and yes, I so, so relate to it. Thanks for writing it so that I don’t have to.

    • Yuliya says:

      Is there any chance you know the song I’m talking about? I don’t even know how to search for it…

      • Kris says:

        I don’t suppose there is any chance at all that you are misremembering the lyrics to the song My Eyes Adored You by Franki Valli?

        I can so imagine little girl you singing your lyrics to the tune of that song.

        Just a thought.

        • Yuliya says:

          You and me? Vulcan mind meld baby. As I typed out those lyrics, I thought, my that sounds like My Eyes Adored You (swoon) but no that song was definitely in Russian and the only part I remember being in English was “Goodbye America” but now I’m even doubting that part…damn memory! Thank you again for featuring me this week, it really means a lot to me.

  30. Jack says:

    It has legs and substance to it. There are elements that draw readers in.I enjoyed it.

  31. The title of this post just kills me. What a sad, sad story. And yet…the mystery of America! What lies beyond! How does the little girl do? I think she does just fine. And your response to the Empress cracked me up. Yes, Yuliya, WE LOVE YOU!

  32. Amy says:

    I could have sworn I commented on this, but I haven’t.

    This is amazing. Just amazing. I love your band of thieves. You pack so much into this that I find new stuff in it every time I read it! I love it when that happens!

    Lovely. I can’t wait to read more! I can’t wait!!

  33. Alexandra says:

    Congrats on being a featured blogger at PrettyAllTrue.

    Because you are PrettyAllThat.

    Go on, girl…you know I think you’re awesome!

    • Yuliya says:

      And if anyone ever asks, I will tell them the Empress was my first fan! Because you were, I still remember squealing when you chose to feature me, happy memories…of course once you hit the big time on Listen to Your Mother you will be too famous to come around these parts…

  34. CDG says:

    I loved the merry band of playground thieves, the anticipated $6 Barbies, and the way your written voice seems to grow smaller as your family departs, and the bathroom becomes more readily available.

    The image of the earthquake splitting the coconut tree on the island?


    Like many, I didn’t notice your tenses, and I’ll confess, I enjoyed this so much I don’t want to go back and pick it apart for grammar.

  35. Renee says:

    This is a wonderful story.
    I didn’t notice the tenses. I just wanted to hold the little girl that was waiting and dreaming and hoping.

  36. Yuliya, I started to write “great post” but that diminished how I felt reading it. I was trying to figure out how to comment when suddenly it was three days and 70 comments later. So here I am at the bottom of the heap telling you that you write like an angel (when you’re not busy being hilarious) and I can’t wait to hear what comes next.

  37. Morgan B. says:

    This is a beautiful post. I love knowing this part of you. xo

  38. liz says:

    Yuliya, this is AMAZING! I can only imagine what expectations and fears a child (or family) has in anticipation of moving to the US.

    Are you happy you did come?

  39. Amber says:

    I’m not very good at criticism, I tend to glaze over the grammar and focus on the story. I really liked your story. I got all the anticipation of leaving and then the let down. I liked it.

  40. Natalie says:

    Yuliya! This took my breath away. I was watching that little girl (you) like I was watching a movie…and like the Empress said, I was so wrapped up into the story that I didn’t notice the verb tenses (but I’m bad at those myself).

    Thank you for telling me about this one. I’m so glad that I read it.

  41. CK says:

    OH my goodness, this is very moving!

  42. [...] hard being an IMMIGRANT. I have lots of stories of difficult and traumatic times to [...]

  43. Yuliya says:

    YES!!!!!!! And? Husband is in so much trouble, Nautilus Pompilius is a band he knows…now he’s claiming he didn’t know I wanted to find the song…I’m going to find a good version of it and link to it! THANK YOU!!!!

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