I immigrated to the United States from Korea when I was four years old. Though memories of the trip are scattered and faded, I still remember boarding the plane—the first time in my life.
My dad guided me and my brother down the aisle while my mom carried my sister (then a baby) in her arms. We eventually found our seats—adjacent to another row of seats where a family was sitting. The two boys in the next row looked over at me and we made eye contact. We appeared to be around the same age and I wanted to share the excitement of my first airplane ride.
“You’re flying too?” I asked, beaming at them. The boys’ parents noticed me making conversation with their sons and smiled a little.
“Yeah, we are,” the older brother replied while his little brother fiddled with his seat belt. I chatted with them a little more before my parents strapped me in. The Korean Air stewardesses started passing through the aisles, getting everything secured for lift-off.
I heard murmurs from the next row. The boys’ parents were suddenly getting up and unbuckling their sons out of their seats. I leaned out to talk to them.
“Where are you going?” I asked. “Aren’t you flying with us?”
“Oh, we were just riding for fun to see what a plane is like,” said their mother with a weak smile. “Now we’re going home.” I settled myself back into my seat, a little saddened that my new friends wouldn’t be flying with me. The parents and their two boys walked down the aisle and out of the plane, leaving a row of empty seats behind.
As a child, I really believed that the family had gotten on the plane just to check it out, but as I grew up and thought over that memory, I gradually realized that the mother had told me a white lie. Maybe those parents had decided to move to America but had changed their minds and chosen to stay in Korea just right before the plane had been about to depart. I’ll never know, but I occasionally wonder what life would have been like if my parents had done the same.