Three days before we planned to leave to spend two weeks with Sarah at Christmas, Pedro’s brother called and told us that the passenger loads in and out of Argentina looked horrible. Evidently, the program he had been using had not been properly updating the real numbers. It would take us three or four days of waiting in airports to make it to Argentina, and we had no guarantee we could make it back in time for school to start in January.
Reluctantly, we decided we should go somewhere else for Christmas. She said she understood. Our original plan involved meeting up and traveling around Argentina with one of Sarah’s classmates and her parents. I felt doubly disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see Sarah, nor would we meet the young man she liked in person.
We consoled ourselves by traveling somewhere else. The loads to Hawaii looked good, so Pedro and I flew standby to Hawaii to celebrate our 25th anniversary. I think God knew that Pedro and I needed that time to really reconnect after our whirlwind year of moving, new jobs and marrying off a daughter.
We encouraged Sarah to finish out the school year, and then make her decision. Meanwhile, I fretted and researched and couldn’t quite figure out why she would want to give up on living in the United States. During my college years, I remembered a political refugee from Argentina sharing his story of torture and oppression at an Amnesty International assembly. I wondered about the stability of the country and the fact that we would scarcely see each other.
But I doubted myself and my reaction—sometimes I can’t tell the difference between my helicopter tendencies and my mother’s instinct. Sarah introduced us to her good friend via Skype—the first guy she had ever wanted us to meet—and he seemed like a nice enough young man.
I’m proud of my family. They are so smart and talented! Pedro, my only Dar, is an amazing father, husband, teacher, principal, and he has the ability to be rolling-on-the floor funny (he’s the only one that can contage me with his giggle or snortle until we are nearly breathless with helpless laughter) but yet creepily serious and scary when necessary, and gives advice that I can completely trust. Anita, my Mar, is also an amazing mother, wife, teacher, she writes like a boss, and is always willing to edit peoples’ papers (at which she is also a boss). She’s easy to talk to and always has good advice to get me out of my self-inflicted conundrums (go to Argentina for a year, she suggested to me. Best advice of my life!). And my dearest favorite sister, Laura my Boa-H-Boa is the best sister and friend my parents and God could’ve given me. She’s intelligent, wise (she is full if good advice, just like my mom and dad!) and she is definitely going to win the Newberry Award some day. Soon. The stories she writes make me weep openly (I might be able to hold back the tears but why do so when I’m in my room alone?), not just because they are beautifully written (she got this talent from our mother, whose stories also make me cry!) but because I cannot believe my big sister wrote them! I can’t wait to see my family again soon-ish! I love you all and I thank you for loving me even though I am often a basket case. A Longaberger basket.” Sarah’s Facebook status on February 18, 2014
“We’re all in our private traps….Clamped in them. And none of us can ever get out. … .. . Sometimes we deliberately step into those traps…. . I was born in mine. I don’t mind it anymore….(You should. You should mind it ….) Oh, I do. But I say I don’t.” Sarah’s Facebook status on February 22, 2014
Some time in February Sarah started posting photos of herself on Facebook that seemed out of character. She would artistically paint her face, take selfies and share them with the world. In some of the photos, it looked as if she wasn’t wearing much, and both Laura and I spoke with her about deleting the photos because they looked, well, odd.
Sarah laughed it off and explained that her dorm room in the summer months reached very high temperatures, and that she would crop the photos more. I didn’t want to push the issue—after all, the face paintings were beautiful. During this time she roomed by herself, because the Argentinians had summer vacation during our winter.
She felt lonely and missed all of her Argentinian friends—especially the young man she had introduced us to. She had purchased a bus ticket to travel to his hometown and planned on visiting his family for a week. She even changed her Facebook status to “In a relationship.” We thought she had scheduled the visit during a school vacation.
When she told us her plans, I wanted to reach down and pluck her out of Argentina and shake some sense into her. Sarah argued that she had traveled around Europe, was almost 20 years old, and knew how to take care of herself. Pedro and I had many discussions about Sarah’s plans—and I reluctantly admitted that maybe I should just step back and quit giving advice and throwing up objections and roadblocks.
I hoped nothing horrible would happen to her and prayed constantly that she would make good choices and stay safe. She shared with me a little about her romantic interest’s life, and I worried even more. Although he attended the university and had started studying theology, he had grown up in an entirely different socio-economic home than she had. Gangs and violence played a part in his life. I bit my tongue, not wanting to squash her independence, and decided that I would only find relief on my knees.
And then we received a troubling email from the director of her language program. He explained that he and the other professors were deeply concerned about Sarah because she had quit attending classes, and she would miss an important trip to the embassy to extend her visa.
Communicating with Sarah proved difficult—we could only talk when she had Internet access. When we finally confronted her, she claimed that the classes were too easy and that she hadn’t learned anything. In addition, since she planned on returning as a regular student and applying to the nursing program, it was pointless to continue in the language program. We explained that perhaps she should talk to the program director and try to work something out since she had essentially wasted an entire quarter’s tuition.
Upon her return to the university, Sarah seemed to have a change of heart and plans and decided that she would stay for the final quarter and finish the school year abroad—if the school would let her.
The director arranged for her to see a counselor, who did some testing, and she spoke with her professors and asked to return to their classes. Sarah also made arrangements with the university to withdraw from all of her classes for second quarter. Once she started classes during the spring quarter, she made an effort to get good grades and attend all of her classes.
She ended up having two wonderful roommates who loved her unconditionally and enjoyed spending time with her. I once asked her about her visit with the counselor.
“The counselor said I had low self-esteem and was a little depressed. She gave me some pills.”
“What kind of pills?” I asked.
When Sarah gave me the Spanish name for the pills, I found something similar online and read that doctors prescribed them for stabilizing moods, depression and a host of other reasons. I regret to this day that I didn’t write down the name of the medicine or research it more thoroughly. If a family member tells you about a medication they've been prescribed-write down the name and… Click To Tweet
Whatever their purpose, they seemed to help. Sarah started exercising again, her sleep patterns improved (despite rooming with two night owls), and she appeared to return to her normal, cheerful self.
We spoke eagerly of her return home, and discussed possible summer jobs. The strange episode (and the young man) seemed to be things of the past.