To the Moon and Back
by Vivien Fierberg
The car ride was about five hours. Looking back, I think I cried for about half of it. I’d spent the morning avoiding the gaze of my dogs, who always seemed to know when I was upset when even I couldn’t tell. In the end, I think I smiled at them before I left, but I wasn’t able to say goodbye. My parents and I loaded up the car and I waved goodbye to my beautiful farm, surrounded by the forest where I had explored as a child. I was only leaving for the school year, but it felt like a lifetime. We drove mostly in silence, but occasionally talked about some of the details of my new school.
It was mostly a day school but there were about 250 boarders who lived on campus. This year I would be joining them. I remember closing my eyes and hoping that I would like my roommate and that I would make friends quickly. I had expected this move to feel a lot more like going somewhere great, but instead I felt like I was leaving the town that had been my home for six years. We stayed at a hotel that night, only about 10 miles away from my new school. In the morning I would move in and meet the people I would be living with for the next nine months. I don’t remember sleeping much that night. A part of me didn’t even want the morning to come.
At about 10am the next morning I pulled up to Cranbrook for the first time. The buildings were old and definitely more beautiful than most schools. We walked into the main building where a group of girls and their families rushed around with bags and boxes. We walked down a flight of stairs and through two sets of glass doors. A woman greeted me with excitement. “Hi! Welcome to Kingswood! You must be new. I’m Mrs. Stevenson, I work in the dorm office. Those front tables have a folder with your room number and key. Nina will help you.” She smiled a practiced, sculpted smile, the opposite of reassuring. I walked over to the girl with the name tag that said “Nina, 11th Grade”, but before I could ask her for help she spun around and rushed off to take pictures of the incoming boarders for school records. My parents were about as flustered as I was. My dad approached a woman to ask for help but quickly learned that she spoke absolutely no English, not an uncommon event, I would soon learn. Finally I managed to get the attention of another girl, about my age, who handed me an envelope with my room number and key. My dad grabbed my pink polka-dot suitcase and we walked up two flights of stairs and down a long hallway to the room that would be my home.
My first thoughts were that it was small and hot. My second thoughts were equally enthusiastic. Though we had arrived only minutes past the time the doors opened, the girl who would be my roommate had already chosen a bed and the nicer desk. She wore sporty shorts and a plain t-shirt and her hair was pulled into a high pony tail, slightly to one side of her head. I smiled at her awkwardly, although I was already annoyed at her choice in desks. “Hey. I’m Keiko,” she said, without emotion.
I answered with my name and walked back to the car with my parents to retrieve the rest of my luggage. When I reentered the room Keiko’s dad, brother, and his girlfriend were helping her unpack. I opened the bag which contained my 60 bottles of nail polish. Excitedly, her dad told me how Keiko and her sister also loved to paint their nails. “Cool.” I said, without emotion.
Both of our parents stayed for a few hours, helping us set up our room, but eventually staff came and asked them to leave. We tearfully hugged goodbye. I was already questioning the sanity of my decision to come to such a foreign place. Keiko and I went to dinner and ate in silence. We went back to the room and unpacked in silence. We went to class the next day in silence. We did our homework in silence. We didn’t talk to each other for almost a week.
Friday we went to town to get food for our room. Even though we didn’t talk much I was happy to have one friend to get out of the dorms with. I grabbed a box of Frosted Flakes. Keiko told me that she wasn’t allowed to eat them at home, and neither was I. She winked at me and smiled for one of the first times. In a sarcastic voice she grinned and said, “Look, we’re bonding already.” I guess I didn’t know then how true that was.
Saturday was the first dance of the year, and all of the students were talking about it. Keiko and I got ready with a group of girls in the dorms. One of these girls was Natalie. She seemed shy and quiet, not the kind of girl I would usually befriend. When we entered the dance, the headmistress asked to smell our breath, and Keiko and Natalie glanced at me, laughing at how ridiculous this was. We walked into the dimly lit auditorium where throngs of students danced to loud music. The bass pumped heavily and Keiko grabbed my hand and pulled me into the middle of the mass. We danced and laughed all night. It was the beginning to an amazing year with the girls who would become my sisters.
Keiko was a lot more popular than I was. She was the captain of the hockey team, much to the annoyance to the seniors, had a popular brother, and by the third week had already gotten in with a huge friend group. With all of this, I don’t remember one time that she ever chose that over me. She invited me to all of her friends’ parties and never left my side. She even had a little party for me when I won the embarrassing title of Gardening Club President. The excited smile on her face when I made varsity soccer was almost comical, considering the numerous state championships she had won in hockey. Every night before bed she asked me what I wished would happen tomorrow, just to keep me looking forward to something. I can honestly tell you that she was better than me at almost everything, except Spanish, and she never stopped telling me how jealous she was of that, even though Yale had wanted her since freshman year.
When I told her I had decided not to come back to Cranbrook the next year, she cried, and that was the only cruel thing she had ever done to me. In coming home to my real family, I realized that I would be leaving another one behind. Keiko– my roommate and sister, Natalie– my best friend, and Nina– the junior and the girl who had seemed to ignore me that first move in day, but had become a mentor to me, and I to her, some days.
At the end of the year, Keiko came to the varsity soccer banquet with me, even though she wasn’t on the team. Our parents were there, my dad waiting to take me back to Leland, and her dad, waiting to take her back to San Jose. I sat there, usually bored by my coach’s banter, now praying for it to last a little longer. In the end, I think I smiled at her before I left, but I wasn’t able to say goodbye. The car ride was about 5 hours. Looking back, I think I cried for about half of it.