Day 1- Hattiesburg-New Orleans- Detroit
Living with Jana means that I wake up early on a daily basis no matter what time I go to bed. As with Australia, I occupy the countdown with packing and not sitting around waiting for the time bomb. Allysa picks me up at 8.30am and Jana and I share a tearful goodbye on the balcony by our apartment, amidst a very long hug. We already got tearful in the apartment but I said “follow the yellow brick road in life and it’ll bring you back to me.” It’s a race against the clock to make our 11.25am flight. Allysa lifts my spirits in the car, emphasising how wonderful a person I am, “the kindest and sweetest whom she has huge respect for and everyone wants to be friends with Lisa Berrie.” She also says she admires that I don’t shy away from the pain of goodbye. This means a lot to me and I know that Allysa and this trip with her will stitch the first wounds of my grief bleeding from my heart. We talk aimlessly in the car about life and the people we know and I feel myself relaxing in her company. If you think I’m wise, you haven’t met Allysa. As I talk about the “relationships” I’ve had on this side of the ocean and how weird it will be to accept they will be truly over once distance steps in and the weird conflict of emotions its giving me, she says something priceless. “Some people are meant to be exposed to you Lisa, they have something to learn from you in order to move on to the next step of their lives. Its not always meant to be.” It’s simple yet brilliant and I make a mental note to remember that in the future. We are late to our flight and have to get an assistant to get us through the gate. The female security officer and the assistant argue about letting us through and he has our back all the way to the plane. We literally have to run to the gate. You wouldn’t believe I was still nursing a knee injury with the way I was running. It was like that scene in Forrest Gump when he is running and breaks free of his leg braces. We are seated in the emergency exit which I’m pleased with because we get extra leg room! We plug our headphones in and nap through the flight. We awake when they tell us we are about to land. And then suddenly somebody’s phone starts to ring whilst we are in the air and we all freeze and look around. You’ve not known panic until it feels like there is an anchor in your stomach; a sinking and impending feeling of doom! I think to myself “omg I know I’m sad about leaving but good grief it was never my intention to die in the USA.”
Fortunately the turbulent flight ends, we get off to meet Allysa’s mum, Kim. She is so excited to see us both, so jolly and welcoming that I have the widest grin on my face and it’s the happiest I’ve felt this week. We order pizza for dinner from Pizza Hut and then head to East Lansing to hang out with Allysa’s friends who have just graduated. Her mum Kim has bought us cute little gift bags for travelling North to attend her graduation. One thing living in the USA has humbled me by is the regularity of random acts of kindness. I do this often for my friends back home but that’s the kind of person I am. So when it happens to me, I’m always moved by such thoughtful behaviour. Allysa and I go clubbing which is fun despite the fact it’s packed and therefore boiling hot. Allysa is very popular and introduces me to everyone. Guys keep asking her for my number despite the fact she says “she has a boyfriend.” I tell her to just tell them I’m a lesbian since “I’m in a polo top and it can’t be that hard to believe” but she sticks with my false relationship status. She jokes that “everyone wants a slice of Berrie pie” which makes me laugh a lot. We head back to Carra’s apartment to nap around 3am since it’s a long drive back but we oversleep and don’t get home until 9amish. I sleep the entire journey, I cannot keep my eyes open. The end of the semester has clearly worn me out beyond belief. I even give someone a thumbs up in my sleep to which Allysa finds hilarious.
Day 2- Graduation
I sleep again as soon as I get in the house before getting ready for Kim’s masters degree graduation. Allysa makes me look pretty and we head to the university with her dad. I burnt my forehead straightening my fringe (bangs) with the curling irons and as Allysa helps me tend to it I say “I feel like you’re my older sister”- she’s wearing heels so I’m also a lot shorter than I already am standing next to her now. She says “I can be your older sister if you want,” to which I agree to happily. The ceremony lasts for a few hours and after this we head to a restaurant called Big Fish with the entire family. I get to meet all of her cousins and aunts etc and I really like them all. We have interesting conversations and we take great photos. Hanging out with them reminds me of the big family holidays I used to take with all my extended family to Center Parcs. It feels good to be a part of something again. They literally made me feel a part of the family and Lisa from Leicester felt her heart give way at this. Throughout the duration of the trip Allysa always corrected people who referred to England as merely just “London” and would say “Lisa is from Leicester.” On the way home we stop by Tim Hortons and then crash out in front of the TV on the sofa. Another thing I miss about being in the USA and university in general is being away from the comforts of suburbia. And my family, of course.
Today I went to a Pentecostal Church with Allysa’s family. My mum wanted me to go to one before I returned so I’m glad I got to go. The music was very up lifting and after the service Allysa introduced me to everyone in the room. The community feel is really heart-warming. That is something I miss about being away from home for so long, the concrete base of a community that knows and supports you regardless. It is clear that Allysa has a lot of support back home in Detroit and I know I’m friends with a phenomenal character. Kim treats us to Olive Garden for lunch and I’m so hungry it’s unreal! The waitress offers Allysa and I wine samples and the beauty of it is because I’m in a dress I clearly look 21+ so I don’t get asked for ID. A cheeky sample or three of white moscato for Bezza! I love that stuff. My mum keeps telling me how much better I look dressed more feminine today, maybe I’ll change my wardrobe, and maybe I won’t. Anyhow, we go all out on the starters and bread and end up taking our meals home in to go boxes. Our waitress is extremely kind and we sit talking to her for a long time before heading back to the house. Again I’m tired so I crawl into Allysa’s bed and nap. We talk about going to the drive in movie theatre but we are late for the viewing by the time we both awake. We go anyway and watch Reese Witherspoon in “Hot Pursuit.” It’s raining (again) so we put the speakers in the car. This is the probably the coolest thing I’ve done in America so far, almost matching the time I held a koala in Australia. Allysa wants to go out again when we get to the house at 11 and I respond with “let me nap first.” She says “but your naps are like eight hours!” To which I remark “I feel like this is a nap and not a sleep though. Don’t worry.” As I fall asleep in her bed I overhear Allysa and Kim saying “Lisa is so cute” and I soak in the feeling of the Oscar Wilde quote “true friends stab you in the front,” closing my eyes with a genuine smile on my face. They’ve both emphasised again and again how beautiful a person I am and although it makes me feel awkward, its always nice to hear! I’m wrong about the nap though, and when I wake up its 10am the next day.
Day 4- Henry Ford/ Canada.
Allysa and I are ravenous at napping and have been sleeping whenever we get the opportunity to. Clearly the semester has worn us both out as by the time we get up and ready its well into the afternoon. This is how I know I’m no longer living with Jana because she’s a true early bird. We head towards Greenfield Village which is run by car guru Henry Ford. It keeps to tradition of what the USA would have been like in the 1800s. We have fun going to the different areas and taking pictures with new born lambs. We get caught in the downpour as we leave which is something that typically happens to me in America. (Sod’s law, as my mum calls it). I sleep the entire ride home as Allysa goes to various places. We eat food at the house and then head out towards Windsor, Canada to go to a British bar called The Manchester. I instantly fall in love with the place, the walls are crammed with BPL shirts, with my team Manchester United being the team in the spotlight of the bar. I don’t even get asked for ID! The drinking age is 19 in Canada and being in this bar makes me really excited to finally return home next month. We have a pint and a half each before heading back towards the border. Allysa rants about one of my American friends, about how they’ll talk to you but not hide the fact they’re not interested in what you’re saying. What makes me almost spurt my drink out is when she says “in the end I just gave up making the effort and talked to you instead, thinking ‘Lisa’s my friend, not yours!” The last time I heard those words I was in year 6, aged 11, although there was a brief moment like that at Keele…
Getting into the USA is one thing, returning is another. It never occurred to me when we flew out here that we would definitely cross the border so I didn’t bring my J1 form with me. BIG BIG BIG MISTAKE! On the way in the guy asked “what type of visa I was here on” but on the way back when a different guy asked me for the form, which I didn’t have. They’re quite intimidating on the border, which is part of the job I guess. He sticks a cone on the top of the car and tells us to drive to the right and only take our money and documents out of the car. I’m trying not to panic but I’m worried I might be deported, or something worse, like getting arrested. They take copies of all our information and we are waiting an hour until the guy says that because I’m still listed as a student of Southern Mississippi, they have to let me go. He warns me that I’m “incredibly lucky because I would be in a world of hurt if I wasn’t listed anymore.” Allysa asks him if this affects her leaving the country on Friday for Spain to which he cattily responds “you won’t have any problems because you’re an AMERICAN citizen.” The way he says it irritates me, like a twinge or racism/prejudice/ hostility to my non-American nationality. Obviously given where I am I bite the bullet that is my tongue but in my head I’m thinking “that’s alright mate, I’m more than happy to be British and I quite literally wouldn’t swap it for the world.” It was an honest mistake on my behalf which I think he realised I was no badass when he found out that I’m a bookworm, doing a degree in English and American literature. I’m so relieved to get out of there. I’m SO tired I was wondering how acceptable it would be to sleep on the benches of border control. Allysa jokes that her McDonald’s fries will be cold now. She jokes “I remember earlier how you were saying you’ve never crossed a boarder before and look what happens when you finally do,” to which we both laugh heartily. I said my photo album on Facebook is called “grab your passport and my hand;” I should probably stick “and your visa form” on the end! We continue to joke on the way home “never thought I’d see this bed again” etc but I’m definitely traumatised by the experience. There’s me worrying about why things didn’t work out with X, Y and Z when in reality I need to get my head out of the clouds and just focus on myself! The experience leaves me with a deep longing to just be home in Burbage where I’m safe, have rights and all my homely comforts. And most of all, the strongest feeling of safety. There was recently a general election in England and after what just happened to me, I’m beyond disappointed in people on my Facebook feed who complained like spoiled brats and resorted to low blows of racism. I’ve been gone for almost a year and after everything I have seen and done, I’ve never been more grateful to be British in my life; regardless of who has political power. The defeatist attitude of people stating they would “rather live in a third world country than the UK” is not something that is going to make Britain great again. Maybe you should leave. Only then will you realise how good you’ve got it, like I did by coming to what is referred to as “the greatest country in the world.”
Day 5- Downtown Detroit
Again we are late to rise from Allysa’s bed. I tell my friends back home in both the UK and Mississippi what happened and they’re all shocked but glad I’m okay! I wash my hair and have breakfast with Kim and Allysa and we tell her about the night before. She is amused as she said “what’s new in the Lisa Berrie life?” To which I said “I’m getting so popular that Canada wanted to keep me.” We later head to downtown Detroit to have coffee with Allysa’s godfather and then heading to iconic landmarks to take photos. I enjoy walking and talking about life with Allysa, she’s so humble and even more than that, we completely understand each other. We go to the Detroit Beer Company to meet some of her old friends for an hour and then she takes me to the art walk which is really interesting. As we drive back, she asks me what I’m thinking about. I tell her, “I’m thinking about how far I would believe you if you told all the things that would happen during my year in the USA. I don’t think I would have. It’s one incredible story, that’s for sure.” We then pick up her dad and head back to her mum’s house and watch a film, where I fall asleep on the sofa.
Day 6- Detroit- New Orleans- Hattiesburg
We head out just before lunch and run errands for Allysa’s study abroad trip to Spain, like banking and saying goodbye to various people. I even get to meet her old headmaster- you see that level of community I’m referring to! Kim drives me to a few more iconic sites such as The Fist before we head to the airport. We’re on time for our flight this time thankfully and I nap again on the flight home. Allysa keeps taking photos of me sleeping so I’ve learnt that I look just as miserable asleep as I do awake; except I stick my bottom lip out when asleep. Jose meets us at New Orleans Airport and we head back to Hattiesburg, stopping for Allysa to get dinner on the way. I make it to Jason’s house around 9pm- I don’t have a key to get into my place. It’s great to see Jason, Elizabeth, Andrew and Taylor again and we eat dinner together, laughing and joking at MTV’s Catfish. And as I watch Taylor laughing and being silly, I realise that “life truly is what happens when you’re making other plans,” and it is simple moments like this with these extraordinary southerners that I’ll miss the most.
I had a great time in Detroit and although I told Allysa in the letter I packed off to Spain with that “I’ll see you in part 2,” I know I will miss having Allysa in my life. I didn’t get to see her as much as I would have liked to during my time here but I think that’s the case with anyone you care about in reality. It’s a privilege to have been a close friend of Allysa’s during my time in the USA and the bittersweet thing about it is out of all the friends I have in the UK, literally none of them are like Allysa. She is not only an ideal citizen of modern day America, she is also irreplaceable and I’m only sorry that I can’t continue the university journey experience alongside Allysa Cole. Her positive, honest, wise, smart, determined and humble attitude are all traits I will take home with me to the UK. I doubt I will ever meet a person more humble than Miss Allysa Rose Cole. There is nobody else in the world I would rather view as an “older sister figure.” Part two cannot come soon enough in my eyes.