I stood in the kitchen at the restaurant where I work, idly standing as my coworker Iveta waited for her tableâ€™s food to come up. I asked her how her life was, as usual, but instead of the normal â€œgood, good, Ari,â€ she looked at me sadly.
â€œAri, they are leaving soon.â€ I looked at her, trying to think of something comforting to say. The food – a plate of steaming enchiladas – came before my words did.
Over the summer, some of Ivetaâ€™s closest friends and family visited Key West from the Czech Republic. Iveta was thrilled to see them and would spend her working hours anticipating getting back to them so she could show them the wonders of her new home, the place where she has lived for eight years now. In the days leading up to their departure back to Europe, Iveta possessed a slight but noticeable melancholy. These people were from a completely different part of her life, but a huge part of her current one nonetheless. They were reminders of what she left behind, of her first life, the one in a place 5,000 miles away.
Despite the distance, Iveta would tell me how frequently she communicates with her Czech friends and family. Instead of keeping in touch through instant messaging or Facebook, like I often do with my friends from home, they send letters to each other. They make a concerted effort to keep in touch and each exchange is meaningful because for them, their future together is unsure.
Going to school in Chicago, I often feel far away from my home in Key West, over 1,500 miles away. There have been times when I wish I could have been able to be with my brother for his birthday quickly and cheaply, to go to my best friendâ€™s graduation, to attend a cousinâ€™s wedding.
Talking to Iveta in the kitchen that day made me realize that what I go through in my bouts of homesickness is nothing compared with hers. Whereas I have winter break and spring break, two established times set aside for reuniting with the people from home, Iveta doesnâ€™t. All she has are the letters from her back home and the comfort of knowing that she made the right decision to settle down in America.
As I said goodbye to Iveta before leaving for college a year ago, she asked me for my address. Not an email address, but my real dorm address. I gave it to her, happy at the prospect of receiving tangible mail in the age of email and text messaging, but holding no expectations.
A couple of months after I departed and was settling into my new life, I received something in my tiny mailbox. My name and address were written in a familiar handwriting. Inside the envelope was a card bearing a polar bear on the front, and inside, a handwritten note wishing me good luck and happiness.
Iveta was the first person from home to write me.