One time, exactly ten years ago, I got on an airplane with three other thirteen-year-olds. I didn’t exactly know them.
We connected in Atlanta and then flew over to Zurich. Riding the tram between terminals was not at all scary; my green L.L.Bean backpack was not at all heavy.
After landing in Switzerland, we met a couple dozen students our age and got on a train to a place where every house looks the same, nobody wears shoes inside, and obesity doesn’t exist.
We talked about Zenon and the wonder of the Disney Channel. There were whispers floating around about me. I was wearing overalls. I made friends with the girl who didn’t know what a ‘hick’ was. I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth with contaminated train water. I didn’t know it was disgusting.
I also didn’t know about the whispers. I wouldn’t have thought to think about them. I didn’t know I looked like a walking stereotype; I’m a girl from Kentucky.
My teeth hadn’t grown in the right way, and I hadn’t had braces yet, but I thought I was cool. My hair was too short and my eyebrows too bushy. I’d never been out of the country before. I was terrified and independent and excited. I thought I was smart and athletic and likeable.
I ate chocolate and potatoes and snuck into the kitchen to skim the cream off the milk in the mornings. I ate too many cookies at snack.
I made friends. We planned our futures, practiced new vocabulary words, ate whole pizzas between meals, and ventured into the white unknown of the snowy Alps. We were tricksters and didn’t know how we had ever lived separate lives. I wrote it all down and recorded it on camera.
I learned some new things. I wrote a one-hundred-paged paper.
I wasn’t the best, but I wasn’t the worst. I saw myself as someone I didn’t know I could have been. I looked into the snow and thanked the world for that moment. I learned about the world, that there was a world and what it meant to be part of the world, not just my own world.
I decided that my life would never be the same.