I walk into McDonalds sobbing. One of my co-workers asks me, “What’s wrong, Carrie?” I manage to squeak out, “Luz Ma went home this morning.”
Twenty years later, I remember that day vividly -- dropping our exchange student off at the airport. She was returning to her family in Columbia. But for the past year, she had been part of our family as a year-long exchange student.
Freshmen year of high school it was just me at home with my parents. My siblings were away at college. I hated it. I hated all the attention and one on one time. So I begged my parents to let us get an exchange student. The next year they finally conceded, and Luz Maria Ortiz from Bogota, Columbia entered our lives.
Right away, the adventures began. We picked Luz Ma up from the airport, and whisked her away to Washington, D.C. to drop off my sister at college. We wanted to go swimming, so we put on our bathing suits and headed down to the hotel pool—until my mom and dad stopped us. Explaining to a 16 year old, who speaks very little English, why she can’t parade around in a G-string bathing suit was not an easy task for them. Exchange student lesson number one: That might be OK at a beach in Columbia, but not at a Marriott hotel in the US.
Then there was the time my Dad agreed to teach both of us to drive. (I guess teaching one teenager wasn’t enough!) It was an early Sunday morning, and we were in an empty parking lot. I went first, and then it was Luz Ma’s turn. My Dad told her to slowly release her foot from the break. She did that, but promptly slammed down the accelerator. We were heading straight for a building! My dad yelling, “STOP!” I’m not sure if Luz Ma didn’t know what to do, or didn’t understand him. Finally my dad pulled the emergency brake. That was the end of our driving lesson that day. I still laugh when I recall that story. I think my Dad still shakes when he recalls it.
But being an exchange student wasn’t only fun times for Luz Ma and me. Like any relationship, we had our times when we didn’t get along. I found her friends to be loud and annoying, and she probably thought the same of mine. One morning I was mad at her, so I waited until the school bus was just pulling up to tell her that she had on two different shoes. I know, that was really mean and immature of me. One night she asked me if I wanted her to live with another family. Thank goodness I said no because
... the bonding of cultures, language and friendship made having an exchange student over that year invaluable. For all of us.
Along with being very funny, Luz Ma was also a great snorter. We once tried to convince my best friend’s Dad that in Columbia they have a secret language and snort the alphabet. Luz Ma snorted the entire alphabet -- all the way up to 26 snorts for Z. My friend’s Dad didn’t believe her, but we were all amused. We loved to shop together, many times buying the same outfits. That year was one of my favorites. I really do miss Luz Ma. I wish she didn’t live continents away. I wish our kids could grow up together and be like family, like we were that year. We didn’t hear from Luz Ma for years, until September 11, 2001. She called to make sure we were ok. After that, we promised to stay in touch -- and have.
In the beginning we acted like sisters, and fought like sisters. In the end, we acted like friends -- and were best friends.